Great Innovation: Renovate, don’t replace

Werner Näf had a very simple idea. If your water pipes at home need to be replaced why not renovate them from within? So he invented the LSE-System. It can clean the pipes from the inside using special equipment, dry and then recoat them and by the way save up to 75% in costs and hassle.

Deposits in a water pipe

I got lately fascinated by firms that invented new solutions to solve a problem that we all know and where the traditional way was quite cumbersome. I introduced Mr. Krinner in a last post to you. He invented the first stable Christmas tree stand and the ground screw. He just solved an obvious problem.

So did Mr. Werner Näf. If you ever lived in an old house you know the problem of rust in your water pipes and of loss of pressure and water quantity due to congestion by deposits of rust and limescale. If you are the owner of an

old house you know the problem of leakage and high costs associated with replacing the pipes.

The traditional way is to replace the pipes. That means heavy construction work with tearing out the pipes from the wall, lot’s of chiselling, no water for weeks and if the heating system is affected no heating. The traditional way is to solve a big problem with a slightly smaller problem. Usually, you postpone the replacement up to the last minute due to the big hassle involved.

The young Näf had just founded his own engineering office when a bank approached him to find a new solution to the replacement of water pipes. The bank had several properties with old, clogged pipes that needed to be replaced. The bank looked for alternatives but there were not any. So Mr. Näf looked into other industries how they solved the problem of corrosions. The way was simple: Sandblast the surface and then apply an epoxy resin as a coating. Unfortunately, that worked only on large structures and the resin was toxic so it could not be used in water pipes. After two years he found the right, non toxic epoxy resin and developed the machines to sandblast the pipes, remove the debris and coat the inner pipes. He called it the LSE-System.

old pipe
Renovated pipe

So the next step was to convince a customer. Mr. Näf found a municipality that needed fixing of their pipe problems at a public swimming pool. The alternative for the municipality was to rip the old pipes out of the walls so they choose the less bad alternative of using an unproved new method, the LSE-System how Mr. Näf labeled his product. That was in the late 1980s and the pipes still work today.

Due to its excellent value proposition of saving time, money and lot’s of hassle, the installed base passed already in 2006 the 500.000 mark. Although the company has only 40 employees together with its franchisees it employs 700 people in Europe alone.

And in 2000 Mr. Näf extended his idea of pipe renovation from water pipes to floor heating systems. And again, it is a great success since the alternative of replacing the floor heating pipes is not a pleasure at all!

The lesson learned in this case is again, that a good innovation starts with a clear value proposition for customers. It is all about getting a job done for the customer. It is the utility of the service that matters not the product itself.

(inspired by an article in the NZZ in German)

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