Everybody is talking about innovation. Everybody is talking about ideas, creativity and invention. Very few make the cut. What does it take to succeed? Meet Gopichandra Surnilla, a Michigan Indian, who was recently honored by the President and CEO of FORD Motor Company Alan Mullaly for his innovative achievements on the Emissions and Fuel Economy inventions (Patents). For the past several years, Gopichandra has procured 160 patents which make him the recipient of the highest number of patents by any Indian within FORD. A few years back, the US Patent Office recognized Gopichandra’s contributions and invited him to make a presentation to their examiners about technology and how innovation happens. An Indian American from Michigan with many successes.
Gopichandra Surnilla joined Ford in 1994 in the Ford Powertrain Research area. Speaking of his achievements, Gopichandra stated that “research for new technologies is now seen in products. Research has become very relevant now”.
According to him, from the time a disclosure is made and the idea gets approved by the Ford Patent committee, the legalities until approval of the patent by the US Patent Organization takes two to four years.
Gopichandra has collectively worked as an inventor/innovator in most automotive technology related patents. Some of them are: Computer device to control operation during catalyst de-sulfurization to preserve catalytic function; An approach for Approach for facilitating fuel evaporation in cylinder of an internal combustion engine; System and method for controlling vehicle operation. Most of us remember his innovation of the EcoBoost Engines that was created for fuel efficiency. All futuristic technologies that have societal implications and provide positive solutions excite him.
Questioned about the invention process starting with product ideation, he exclaimed that “when I have an idea, I don’t go for a patent before talking to the experts. The idea only gets stronger when I speak to experts. All the patents I have are not my sole inventions. They include expert opinions and contributions. When you involve the right people, ideas get formulated better”. To Gopi, an idea starts with optimism, usually faces a lot of pessimism on the way to realism. Everyone has an idea but somewhere down the lane, the idea dies away because of the pessimistic attitude shown by people whom you encounter or approach with the idea. When you surpass that process of being optimistic in spite of the pessimism delivered by people around you, then you have surmounted the biggest challenge.
Gopichandra reiterated one more point going back to the traditional approach – “necessity if the mother of invention. In engineering, issues become ideas for innovation/invention”. Always value the idea by measuring its benefit, cost and complexity.
160 patents is no mean task. Questioned about his family time, Gopichandra quickly retorted that spousal/family support is very crucial for anybody’s success. Research is certainly not an 8-5 job. Research is with you all the time. I do spend time with wife and kids. He added that the best thing that has happened to him is when his idea begins to happen and he gets to see it working in a million vehicles. Gopi would like to contribute more in improving the environment. He certainly wants to create some path breaking inventions in the emissions and fuel economy sector that would help the society combat environmental issues.
The inventor sees Alan Mullaly as definitely a breath of fresh air that was much needed in the Ford environment. According to him, Alan sees opportunity in an issue. His working style has certainly changed the way things work within Ford Motor Company.
Sharing information about Ford’s working relationship with students; Gopi mentioned that Ford is always looking for diversity in the thought process. He explained how Ford is “looking at candidates from ethnic background, from different schools as it gives an opportunity to work with students, co-advising them, ability to mould them in the start-up stage and understand concepts from a fresh perspective”. According to Gopichandra Surnilla, the future will be different. Innovation has always been the cornerstone of the country and to keep doing that we have to start promoting it, outside of the box.
His advice to the innovator within you – “when you see an issue, get excited about it. That means it is a calling for an opportunity to innovate. That is the only way we can make the world better”.
Innovation is about creating value, increasing efficiency. This is a spark that knows no limits. Innovation is what keeps the economy booming and creates an all together new world of competition. As someone rightfully said - Don't look for needs to ?ll them. Create a need that only you can ?ll! Are you ready for your “Eureka Moment”?