By Jennifer Meek
For this series of blogs, we sat down with some of Charlotte’s team members to talk to them about their work and what drives their passion for creating healthier spaces. This week we had the chance to speak with Charlotte Research and Development Manager Mark McInnes about all that goes into the development of a new product here, and what he loves most about the process.
Can you tell us about your career path until now?
Before I came to Charlotte six years ago, I was an academic. I spent more than a decade studying and conducting research. My initial research focus was in mass spectrometry, which is an analytical technique that ionizes chemical species and sorts the ions based on their mass-to-charge ratio. Or, in other words, it measures masses within a sample. After that, I spent my time looking at environmental modeling and toxic chemical transfers in the environment. I conducted my research scholarship on environmental modeling by working on sampling towers and looking at transfers from sea sprays to air. I even had the unique opportunity to live at a research station in Bermuda and spend a couple of months out on the North Atlantic Ocean on a research boat.
Wow, Charlotte is a long way from a research boat in the Bermuda Triangle! How do you spend your time now?
That was a really unique experience that I’ll never get back, but being on a research boat taught me a lot about the research and development process, in real time. Today, I spend a fair amount of my time with customers and salespeople, which I consider being out in the field, in real time. What we are doing is identifying problems, understanding the end users’ pain points and what the current solutions are. Most of the time, people don’t recognize the problems or understand them. Often times, they don’t know what they want, either. So I spend a lot of time asking questions and having conversations that help me and my team identify what the real problems are, so that we can then get started on finding the right solutions.
What is one innovation Charlotte has developed that you are most proud of?
The most notable one that really exemplifies how we were able to innovate to solve a problem is our spin-off company, Optisolve™. This company was recently awarded a Genome Canada grant, which is really exciting. Optisolve is a monitoring system that can actually take pictures of surfaces to get an idea of what’s going on at the microbial level. In other words, it can visually show you if a surface is being disinfected. It can also show you why a surface is not being disinfected. We started by identifying a problem with current monitoring systems. Most end users are using ATP monitors or bacterial swabs. The ATP monitors were rapid but with notable issues and the bacterial swabs were slow and expensive. Plus, neither system told you how the process failed. What is so innovative about Optisolve is that the images are able to really communicate with the end users, even if they don’t speak english or have a high level of understanding of the technology, because it’s all visual. And these images can show you what’s happening to disrupt the disinfection process. For example, they will show that bacteria is being harbored in a crevice on a surface, where the disinfectant can’t get to it.
What is your favorite part of the R+D process?
I love the problem-solving component, whether the problem is highly complex, or relatively simple. The end users are very necessary participants in the process, and it’s especially fun to be able to include those workers along in the process when we get to testing solutions and ultimately come to our conclusion. For example, when we developed the new Terrazzo/Concrete floor care line, we realized very early on that there were a multitude of problems when it came to floor care, including health, safety, time and labour. As we developed a solution that was able to make floor care programs healthier and safer, but also cut way back on effort, labour and time, it felt fantastic to solve that problem. And now when you think about all the sports stadiums in North America, for example, and you think of all the concrete on the floors in those stadiums. Think about how changing from stripping those entire surfaces to simply treating the substrate, and what sort of labour and environmental impact that has. That’s a problem solve that feels especially good.
What do you believe the future of innovation in the cleaning industry looks like?
I think of it as it relates back to personalized medicine. Historically you’d go in for cancer treatment and they’d say, “Here’s your chemo; have a good day.” And it was the same chemo they were giving almost everyone who had any type of cancer. Of course, now our treatment plans are much more personalized, based on a deep understanding of the type of cancer, targeting, and much more specific forms of treatment. It’s the same for the future of cleaning. Rather than broadly throwing chemicals at things, we’re going to see more targeted approaches to cleaning. We’ll be having a much more specific understanding of what it is we are cleaning and how to be most efficient in the process.
This interview is part of a series of expert interviews we will be conducting with the dedicated team members here at Charlotte. If you’d like to learn more about what we are doing or to connect with one of our experts, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org