These depend on the initiating actors, the prevailing motivation for the establishment of IS, and the applied procedure. Boons et al. Moreover, Chertow [ 3 ] describes two different ways in which IS in by-product exchanges may emerge in companies. The first of these is planned IS , where companies from different industries are clustered locally, in order to exchange resources. However, this practice is only possible if the application field for the by-products is already determined at the beginning of the investigations.
For example, application fields for the by-products coal ash, sludge, and recycled paper, have been well known and successfully applied for decades coal ash is primarily used in cement production; sludge in the production of fertilizer, clay building materials, or cement; recycled paper in the production of cardboard and other paper products or for printing; [ 10 ]. They are thus well suited for the creation of planned IS. Secondly, in the case of self-organizing symbiosis , the IS is not developed with the aim of establishing a network for the symbiotic exchange of by-products.
Rather, it emerges autonomously through self-motivated decisions by companies that expect to gain advantages from this symbiotic exchange [ 3 , 7 ]. In such cases, however, the potential application fields for the by-products within the self-organized IS may not always be clear a priori. Therefore, companies have to be creative in assessing how various by-products can be re-used in an innovative way, as substitutes for primary raw material in other production processes.
Even if the self-organized IS is established without a master plan for network development, it is crucial to identify and quantify the gains from this by-product exchange for all parties involved in the network. For instance, there should be a significant difference between the price of virgin material and the price of the by-product, the by-product needs to be available in a sufficient quality and quantity, and a sufficient number of potential network partners should be available [ 8 , 11 ].
Thus, an analysis of influencing conditions technical, economic, geospatial, social, and institutional conditions is also necessary at a very early stage of attention. Using FEI, an initial picture of future applications can be defined at a very early phase of the innovation process. All of the decisions made within this phase have a huge impact on subsequent innovation and product life cycle development. It is here that the quality, cost, and phasing of the entire production process are fixed, and its subsequent environmental and social impacts are determined [ 12 , 13 , 14 ].
However, classic innovation models are of little practical use in the specific case of innovations.
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Although there is a rather broad consensus that innovations have an important role in the field of IS e. As stated by Chertow [ 3 ], the emergence of self-organized IS implies that there is no master plan for the network-development. Rather, IS develops autonomously via a company that is motivated to establish symbiotic collaboration for a variety of reasons.
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Hence, a market test needs to be carried out at the beginning of a resource exchange, in order to assess whether further exchange activities are to be pursued. According to Boons et al. A detailed description of how these steps proceed is not defined. This article aims at gaining a better understanding of the a-priori identification and assessment of potential application fields of by-products and, hence, at establishing a link between IS and innovation theory.
We provide a framework including different conditions that helps to enhance the overall understanding of EFE innovation decisions in the specific field of self-organized IS. In order to achieve this, we conceptualize a theoretical framework for FEI decisions within self-organized IS, based on the existing IS and innovation literature. Subsequently, we illustrate the application of our conceptual model, with a special focus on EFE decisions, to a case study on lignin utilization within the Austrian paper and pulp industry.
The results of the study contribute to a better understanding of the peculiarities of self-organized IS networks, and of the resulting early decisions that need to be taken for the development of such a network. This ought to be particularly useful for supporting companies engaged in such decision-making processes. The generation of innovations can be seen as a process which is triggered by various events e.
The search for waste recycling possibilities represents a completely new trigger in the classic innovation process. While the classic innovation process often starts from scratch in developing innovative product ideas that fulfill customer needs, the generation of by-product innovations starts one step earlier. Based on the by-product and its characteristics, potential fields of application and substitution need to be taken into account right at the beginning of investigations.
As this practice does not directly correspond to the standard approach discussed in the literature, the classic innovation process has to be reconsidered and adapted to the requirements of by-product innovations.
This is described in the following section. The innovation process entails a sequence of different phases and covers all of the activities which are necessary in moving from initial conceptualization to practical implementation. According to Koen et al. FEI is the first phase of the innovation process and includes all of the pre-development activities, from the initial idea generation to the definition of future application fields. Filtering and selection in the course of assessment are used to reduce the initial possibilities to a manageable number of promising application fields, which may then enter the subsequent NPD phase.
As proceeding on the basis of instinct alone is not advisable when attempting to initiate an innovation process, one needs to gain a broad understanding of FEI activities. The subsequent phase zero provides the product concept, which includes a preliminary identification of customer needs, market segments, competitive situations, business prospects, and an alignment with existing plans.
Within phase one , which represents the last FEI step, the financial and technical feasibility are assessed, the product is defined, and the project is planned. Based on Cooper [ 19 ], Murphy and Kumar [ 25 ] distinguish idea generation , product definition , and project evaluation as important predevelopment stages of FEI.
Based on the existing literature, Reid and de Brentani [ 26 ] differentiate early front-end activities e. For Herstatt and Verworn [ 12 ], the FEI consists of the tasks of idea generation and concept development.
Depending on the degree of newness of an innovation project, different application fields of FEI are possible. Koen et al. Although there is a large body of literature, no uniform description of FEI activities could be found. Furthermore, both the number and type of FEI activities differ, depending on the author consulted [ 23 , 27 , 28 ]. Due to its simplicity and versatility, the stage-gate model provided by Cooper [ 29 ] appears appropriate for the present case.
Although it is a simple linear model, it remains one of the most referred to tools in innovation management. Within this model, the innovation process is systematically structured into three FEI stages idea, preliminary assessment, and concept and one NPD stage development. Within each stage , activities are performed and an evaluation of the results is carried out.
At various decision points gates , the current status of the innovation-project is evaluated in terms of established criteria.
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Depending on the results of the evaluation, one then either proceeds to the next task or abandons the whole project [ 29 ]. The basic structure of the stage-gate model with different stages and gates is suitable for use in analyzing by-product innovations. Figure 1 shows the resulting theoretical framework. As Chen and Ma [ 10 ] have stated, raw material may be replaced with by-products if the characteristics of the two are similar. For this reason, the technical characteristics of the by-product have to be investigated by specialists at an early stage of the whole process.
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Based on this, one then needs to consider which materials may be replaced with the by-product, and which potential application fields are available. One also needs to note that the linearity of the stage-gate model is not directly compatible with the requirements of by-product innovations, in that market screening may lead to a situation in which there is little or no market potential for the defined application fields. In such a case, it is necessary to take a step back and define new applications.
In order to identify those application fields that will generate the greatest benefit for the company, its shareholders, and its employees, existing authors have tended to focus on methods used in market assessment and in technical assessment at the preliminary assessment stage e. Market assessment allows for a comprehensive evaluation of the potential fields of application for products and services to be made.
It entails an assessment of various factors, for example, the number of possible buyers, average selling prices, average annual consumption, market size, market growth rate, competition, and so on [ 33 , 34 ].
In contrast, technical assessment concerns itself with qualitative and quantitative parameters, with a view to reducing associated technological uncertainties. A number of studies have indicated that there is a strong positive correlation between the favorability of the preliminary technical assessment and the success rate of the project [ 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 ]. Both types of assessment may be used to gain a deeper insight into by-product innovations.
Integrating various aspects of sustainability at the FEI is particularly important in the case of by-product innovation. For example, the reuse of waste as a substitute for raw material in production processes, instead of its disposal or incineration, needs to be considered not only from a financial perspective, but also from an environmental and social perspective. It is also not sufficient to merely consider potential material substitution in terms of expected profit margin or technical feasibility alone.
In other words, one also needs to take into account the social and environmental costs associated with the achievement of such a profit margin. This thus makes it necessary to add an assessment of sustainability to market and technical assessments within the second stage of the stage-gate model see Figure 1. However, many sustainability assessment tools are retrospective and designed for later phases in an innovation process [ 39 ].
For instance, life cycle assessment LCA is a frequently mentioned environmental assessment tool, but is of little use in the early stages of the innovation process due to the probable lack of accurate data for inputs and outputs [ 40 ]. All of these results are integrated into the preliminary evaluation of the gate, during which a more specific selection is made.
The outcome of the second stage shows which innovation needs to be investigated more deeply within the final FEI stage, development of concept. The concept stage also contains technical and market perspectives and serves to determine a concrete business case including the concept, strategy, and design of the future product. In order to facilitate informed decision making, it consists of three steps: concept identification, concept generation, and a concept test. These finally lead to concept evaluation.