At the heart of our innovative spirit is the ability to look at a problem and discover a creative solution. These solutions to everyday challenges require a holistic approach, incorporating everything from development to sales and marketing considerations. But there is no mistaking the important role that research and development—R&D—play in powering our ability to find, or create, these solutions.
Milliken’s R&D department, spanning our four divisions with a corporate presence, follows a long tradition of emphasizing the practice area. Ever since Milliken established its first research team comprising six associates in 1945, Milliken’s Community of Innovators has come to be a primary vehicle in developing and advancing our work as material science experts—and in propelling the positive impact we have on the world around us.
Padmakumar Puthillath—Kumar, as he is known to his teammates—is part of the legacy of Milliken’s Community of Innovators and is leading the way in its bright future. We had a chance to speak to Kumar about his time with Milliken, his passion for R&D, and why the field is more relevant than ever.
Tell us about your career path—were you always
interested in research and development, or did you find your way to that
emphasis? Do you focus your time on specific areas, like wellness impacts, or
I am always interested in finding solutions to
problems that are meaningful, unique, and impactful, and the research field provides
a pathway to that. I joined Milliken’s Corporate Research in 2010 after
completing my Ph.D. from Penn State in Engineering Mechanics. Since then, I have
had an amazing journey with Milliken working in several R&D projects with
the different businesses.
In mid-2017, I joined the Floor Covering division,
which has allowed me to play an integral part in the development of the D2
Protective Flooring and leading research in the area of acoustics and
ergonomics of flooring. Besides product-oriented research, I play additional
roles in managing projects, working with the manufacturing teams in the
scale-up of products, with customers and our sales team in addressing product
queries, and with the marketing team to convert research data into marketing
What are your passions? Do you see those passions
play a role in your position at Milliken?
I am passionate about making a positive impact in
all the areas that I get involved in. At Milliken, we play in many different
markets, and I consider them as unique opportunities where we can provide
solutions that create a positive impact in the world.
Why is research a critical component in developing
new Milliken innovations?
Milliken is primarily a materials and solutions
company, and research here involves creatively using materials to design
products that push the material performance boundaries and bring unique
benefits to the customers. This helps differentiate us from the competition,
and it is critical to our success in the market.
Do you see a benefit in a cross-functional approach
to product development?
Nothing really gets anywhere with a single person’s
effort. We involve a team right from the beginning—seeing a project through
from basic R&D to market launch. A cross-functional team helps bring in
unique perspectives, broader knowledge, and experience that always assists in
understanding problems. Having inputs from the larger research community, sales
and marketing teams, and people knowledgeable in the area of work only enriches
How has R&D evolved over the course of your
I have been in the R&D area for more than 15
years—from basic research in the area of material performance at a university
to applied new product-oriented work at Milliken. At Milliken, I got to learn
from the highly experienced team of researchers and specialists. This has
helped me tremendously in refining my approach to solving a problem, and in
taking a prototype created in the lab all the way to realizing a product. I
have also started to appreciate, through my interactions with the sales and
marketing team and with the customers, what it takes to make market inroads
with a new product.
What Milliken project or innovation are you most
proud to have been a part of?
With Milliken, I have been involved in several
interesting R&D projects. The one that I am most proud of is the D2 product
we launched last year for two big reasons. Firstly, with D2, we created a new
product category in a near commodity business; and secondly, the pivotal role I
got to play in product development and the rich experience it gave me.
D2 is a floor stable, serviceable, lighter-weight
entrance flooring that has become a game changer in the market and has resulted
in us rebranding that business segment as the Protective Flooring business. I had
an active role right from D2’s early concept stages, voice of customer
gathering, prototyping, manufacturing scale-up, sales—playing roles as a
researcher developing new materials and design of the product, then as project
leader and further on in coordinating with the sales and product development
teams in the UK and in the US, and interacting with our key customers
addressing their questions and concerns. The breadth of experience gained and
the chance to interact with people from different backgrounds and specialties
has helped my own personal growth while contributing business growth.
What is one piece of advice you have for a new
scientist or engineer?
To a new scientist and engineer I would say that do
not stop learning; keep your mind open to new ideas and collaborate with others
to solve problems in a smart and timely manner.