Press release | 26.4.2017
Munich, 26 April 2017 - Swiss innovative all-rounder Elmar Mock is best known for his co-invention of the Swatch wristwatch, which revolutionised the watchmaking process and revitalised the Swiss watch industry. The plastic welding technique the inventor first applied on that watch also became the building block for an entire "innovative factory". Today Mock, who is the inventor or co-inventor on 178 patent families across a variety of industries from watchmaking to mechanical and medical engineering, heads a company of professional inventors which develops solutions for a host of multinational companies and has also generated several successful spin-offs.
For his achievements and prolific output over a three-decade career of inventing, Elmar Mock has been nominated for the European Inventor Award 2017 as one of three finalists in the category "Lifetime Achievement". The winners of the 12th edition of the EPO's annual innovation prize will be announced at a ceremony in Venice on 15 June.
"Mock is a prolific inventor who dared to challenge the status quo," said EPO President Benoît Battistelli announcing the European Inventor Award 2017 finalists. "By breaking all conventions he not only gave the world an iconic timepiece with the Swatch watch. He has also come up with countless solutions to other technical problems, and built a successful creative company whose very essence revolves around the business of invention. He is a truly entrepreneurial inventor."
In retrospect, it seems counterintuitive to think anyone could have ever doubted the Swatch's chances of success. But Mock faced more than scepticism while his plans to reinvent the wristwatch were still on the drawing board. That was partly because what Mock and his team were trying to do was unheard-of in the 1980s: namely build a watch from plastic (instead of - sometimes precious - metal), and reduce the number of pieces necessary to build a wristwatch nearly by half - from the 91 pieces found in standard timepieces down to only 51.
To achieve this, Mock developed a new manufacturing technique that involved injection-moulding of some of the components of the watch and welding them together using ultrasound, which created strong and lasting bonds. Mock was the first to use ultrasonic injection-welding techniques - at that time largely restricted to automotive production - in watchmaking. His first patent for the novel plastic watch was filed in 1982. Five additional patents would later protect the Swatch's unique technical make-up.
While the invention of the Swatch marked a creative milestone in the history of watchmaking, it also had its impact on life in the company he had been working for. "For a chaotic person like myself, [the period before Swatch's launch] was a wonderful time," says Mock. "But then, the success of Swatch suddenly brought in order, structure, rules and systems that made me feel uncomfortable. So, I wanted to get back into innovation again." Nevertheless, the number of people whom Mock would touch with his creative spirit continued to grow after he left the confines of a corporate structure.
Mock followed the same career as his father, becoming a watchmaker and micromechanic and was put in charge of Swiss company ETA's plastic moulding operations when he was only 21. After a brief hiatus to earn a graduate degree in plastic technology engineering he returned to his employer to co-invent the Swatch. By the time it had hit record-breaking sales, he was already looking for his next project.
Mock spent several years as a self-employed consultant and university lecturer as he tried to find his calling, which he eventually did in the form of his own consulting firm, Creaholic, which he describes as his most important "life's work". An innovative think-tank that now develops solutions for over 200 clients across a wide variety of industries, ranging from medical technology and fabrication to foods and beverages, Creaholic thrives on technical treasure hunts to search for answer to its clients' very specific problems. "Invention isn't the goal. No one says: 'I'm going to invent something.' Innovation comes when you have a problem and are looking for the best possible solution," says Mock.
Several of the company's nine successful spin-offs found their beginnings in such a way. These include Smixin, an amalgamation of "smart" and "mixing", which designed a touch-free, autonomous hand washing station that cuts down on about 90% of the water and 60% of the soap used in a typical wash basin. Smixin's roots lay in a solution for beverage spouts Creaholic designed for a client. It then repurposed this technology for an entirely new field: water conservation. The ideas led to two further spin-offs: the Gjosa showerhead and the Joulia drain that dramatically reduce the amount of water and energy used for bathing.
Even Mock's original idea of ultrasonic plastic welding for watch parts has since found new life in derivative applications, for example in connecting wood and other porous material used in furniture, flooring and panels, brought to market by Creaholic spin-off WoodWelding. Or in adhering orthopedic implants to vertebrae, which resulted in the company SpineWelding. One of Creaholic's newest divested companies, Miniswys, has developed a tiny, efficient piezomotor that uses ultrasonic frequencies to move a ceramic plate. Employed in smartphone cameras for autofocus and zoom and macro-zoom functions, some of the technical origins of this motor can be traced back to ultrasonic-welding techniques.
Founded in 1986, Creaholic has a workforce of around 50 people and has completed more than 800 consulting contracts. The company has yearly revenues of just under EUR 5 million and estimates that the ideas provided by its consultants generate some EUR 3.75 billion in annual revenues for its clients. Creaholic has worked for companies including Würth, Ikea, Nestle, Du Pont, Bosch, Nespresso, BMW and Roche. The nine spinoffs from Creaholic's start-up incubator belong to the employees themselves.
In 2010, Mock was awarded the International Watchmaking Museum's Gaïa Prize for his invention of the Swatch (shared with co-inventor and watchmaker Jacques Müller).
While many people might associate innovation with ever increasing complexity, several of Elmar Mock's inventions - from a simpler watch movement, to easier ways to affix different materials - buck this apparent trend. Mock joins the ranks of other EIA finalists who were recognised for innovations that help strip back complexity. These include Joshua Silver, who adjusted "liquid-lens" eyeglasses that help those in economic need see clearly at a fraction of the cost of regular solid lenses, and António Velez Marques, who developed an easy way to greatly expand cork, making limited reserves of the precious material go much further.
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