The push for improvement – how R&D at John Guest is helping shape a better world

While push-fit fittings seem simple to the naked eye, this technology is constantly evolving through continuous R&D. Will Kilpatrick, VP of EMEA Products & Strategy at RWC, explains what drives this innovation and where he sees push-fit in years to come.

Push-fit. Two simple words, describing an innovation that has ended up transforming many industries, including plumbing and heating, since it was first introduced as a compressed air solution by John Guest in 1974. And this plastic push-fit design has become recognised worldwide as the go-to connection technology, which within the plumbing and heating industry is known as John Guest Speedfit – an RWC brand living by the philosophy of making installers’ lives easier, while speeding up building projects and bringing efficiencies to the construction industry.

Push-fit continues to evolve. Recently, JG Speedfit’s push-fit concept was combined with RWC’s Reliance Valves range to create even more choice and quality for the industry. And such cross-application has been part of push-fit’s history right from the start, with this technology also having been adapted for other applications such as automotive fuel systems, blown fibre, drinks dispense and electrical connectors. This diverse spectrum of sector specific exposure has become a true R&D asset, allowing for intelligence and learnings from one industry to be applied in another.

A commitment to innovation

This all goes to show how far a good idea can go, and there’s more yet to come – thanks to John Guest’s continued commitment to innovation.  

By applying the push-fit concept within the time-consuming process of plumbing, John Guest’s solutions completely revolutionised the industry. What push-fit did was to provide a fool-proof design that significantly reduced the chance of installer error, while ensuring reliable connections were made instantly. Plumbers were enabled to work faster, even in confined spaces, while also giving them more time, further increasing their productivity.

This commitment to making life easier has become the ruling principle of all of John Guest’s solutions throughout the decades and is now firmly established as part of the brand’s culture. As 2021 marks the 60th anniversary of the inception of the John Guest brand, it’s worth celebrating the innovation that a whole generation of plumbers have come to trust – and which can also look forward to more of the same.

Innovation is partly creative inspiration, but it also needs a robust strategy and process to allow it to happen – not just to identify new opportunities, but also to take them through design, development, and testing into manufacture. This is so that when the fittings end up on a job, the installer knows they’ll make for a quality installation, providing reliability of performance and longevity of service for years to come. This has always been a John Guest hallmark.

Making life easier for customers

This process is managed by the New Product Development (NPD) team the RWC family of brands now have in the UK. This comprises a number of roles, including Product Development Directors, Product Design Engineers, Prototyping Engineers and Test Lab Technicians, all focused on two key objectives. First, making life easier for customers. Second, it is about ‘why the customer wins’, which is all about finding ways to create products that are superior to anything else on the market and provide real added-value to the end-user. These objectives are ingrained in the business culture and have become part of the collective mind-set.

Everything starts with the ‘big idea’ and here, RWC’s team responsible for the growth and development of the John Guest brand takes inspiration from many different sources. Customers are key, and the NPD team spends time understanding their challenges, either through site visits or focus groups and surveys. They also gather feedback and data from the technical, sales and customer services teams, all of which regularly liaise with customers so have a clear insight into what’s happening out in the field.  Then there are direct links with distributors and merchants, who also provide insight.

Last but not least, there are all of RWC’s employees who know that if they ever have a John Guest solution ‘lightbulb’ moment, the NPD Team will listen. This is all backed up with market research into industry trends. As a result of all of these strands, the NPD team always has a number of ideas at varying stages of development. 

Testing in the real world

One of the most critical stages is prototyping, when the new products are actually manufactured in small quantities and then given to end-users who put them through their paces in the real-world. While these can be tooled and manufactured with traditional engineering methods, the John Guest brand’s Prototyping Laboratory has embraced digital innovation from nearly two decades ago – 3D printing – to accelerate this process. This also means faster feedback, which is then built into the next prototype in a virtuous circle of development.

Testing runs parallel with this to ensure quality and that the product performs to the very highest standards. Carried out primarily at RWC’s own purpose-built facilities, these are extensive and can even, in some cases, involve the John Guest products being placed in situ and subject to extreme stresses for up to a year.

The exact selection of tests depends on the product, but can include thermal, endurance and impact testing along with a variety of different approvals in order to gain accreditation. In many cases, the tests are developed and built specially for the product itself. 

A big focus on sustainability

Another key aspect of product development is choice of materials. John Guest’s products help manage precious resources including water and air, and so the notion of sustainability has always been a factor in their work. Today, as the world faces increasing environmental challenges, it’s an even bigger focus for the NPD team, who are committed to researching, developing and deploying sustainable materials and solutions which are both good for customers, and the environment.

Given the rich stream of new product requests, NPD projects are carefully selected in accordance with strategic alignments. For those that get through, the next step is manufacture. To ensure strict quality control and product integrity, everything required to produce product can be found in-house, from tooling design and manufacture, through to moulding, assembly and quality control. In addition to John Guest’s own wealth of experience, the brand can also tap into RWC’s global experts in the UK, USA and Australia for added assurance.

Finally, after all the development and testing, the product is launched – but even then, it’s not the end and R&D continues in line with feedback from the market and technical and sales teams who are constantly working with customers to ensure that any new products that go to market are adopted and used in the right way. 

Towards a vision of a push-fit world

The process of product development – and of adoption – can span decades. Push-fit, for example, has taken time to become the ‘go to’ connectivity solution, and even today it’s not fully accepted in some applications, including hot water in and around boilers. But with more R&D and more innovation, this will undoubtedly change.

As a brand, RWC’s John Guest has been working towards its vision of a push-fit world for over 60 years. The future will continue this focus and see the introduction of more products that help shape our world and make life easier and better. In that, you can trust.