Fast Company has named 3M to its list of Most Innovative Companies, with a focus on our Smog-reducing roofing granules—a sustainable product that harnesses the power of the sun to turn roofing shingles into a pollution-fighting surface. This is just one of more than 60,000 innovative 3M products used in homes, businesses, schools, hospitals and other industries, created by our 93,000 employees worldwide.
In honour of this award, we wanted to look at innovations that have shaped 3M’s history and may have impacted your life without you even knowing it – or knowing they came from 3M.
In 1914, the 3M Three-M-ite™ Abrasive Cloth became 3M’s first exclusive product. This innovation had its beginnings 12 years earlier, in 1902, when 3M’s founders had a simple goal: to mine for corundum, a mineral ideal for making sandpaper and grinding wheels. But what they thought was corundum was really another low-grade mineral called anorthosite. This discovery could have caused an early end to 3M, but our founders persisted – resulting in 3M’s first exclusive product and a foundational element of 3M’s culture: innovation.
In 1921, the company patented and introduced 3M Wetordry™ Waterproof Sandpaper — the world’s first water-resistant coated abrasive. Automobile manufacturers could use the product with water to reduce dust and decrease the friction that marred auto finishes. Also, this technology created healthier working conditions for employees.
In 1925, while testing abrasive samples at a body shop, Richard Drew, a 3M lab assistant, noted that painters were having trouble protecting parts of the car that didn’t need to be painted. He had an idea that led to the invention of masking tape. The tape was a hit, and the Scotch® brand tape product line was born, as was 3M's growing emphasis on product diversity.
In 1939, Scotch® Brand welcomed the "snail," the iconic, handheld tape dispenser. The first version was made from stamped sheet metal followed by the plastic model one year later.
In 1947, 3M Sound Recording Tape revolutionised the entertainment industry, allowing consumers to record and play back music and voice recordings at a later time.
In 1956, 3M introduced Scotchgard™ Fabric and Upholstery Protector to the textile industry.
In 1964, 3M revolutionised the dental industry by pioneering the composite category – replacing conventional metal fillings with tooth-colored restorative filling materials. 3M remains the worldwide leader in restorative dentistry, and 3M Filtek™ Dental Restoratives have been put to the test in more than 1 billion restorations worldwide.
In 1972, 3M introduced the first, U.S. government-approved filtering facepiece respirator—a lightweight and comfortable device that helped workers reduce their exposure to hazardous airborne particles. Throughout the next two decades, 3M continued to innovate and expand the line of respirator protection products, including tailoring products for welders, healthcare workers and first responders. Most recently, 3M’s Safety and Graphics Business Group has continued to develop innovative new respirator products. The 3M Versaflo TR-600/TR-800 Powered Air Purifying Respirator is an advanced system used by workers in hazardous industries such as pharmaceuticals, metalworking and nuclear energy, and for healthcare professionals who risk exposure to the Ebola virus and other biological hazards.
In 1979, 3M Thinsulate™ Thermal Insulation was introduced, with more than 30 clothing manufacturers signing up right away to use this product.
In 1980, 3M introduced Post-it® Notes, creating a whole new category in the marketplace and changing people’s communication and organisation behavior forever.
In 1981, 3M introduced Tegaderm™ Dressings, transparent, I.V.-site dressings that keep patients protected and prevent the risks of costly complications. Fast-forward 35 years, and the nurse-inspired invention is now the world leader in transparent dressings, used in more than 140 countries to cover and protect catheter sites and at-risk skin; to maintain a moist environment for wound healing; to secure devices to the skin; and more. The dressings continue to evolve to meet patient needs, and in 2007, Tegaderm™ CHG I.V. Securement Dressings were introduced – the only transparent dressing cleared by the FDA and proven to reduce catheter-related bloodstream infections.
In 2016, 3M introduced Light Redirecting Film (LRF), creating a new category of efficiency solution for the fast-growing solar module market. With origins in 3M’s unique 15% Culture, a cross-functional team developed LRF for solar customers around the world who are in constant search of improved efficiency and solar panel power. In short, LRF improves solar panel efficiency—making solar energy a more affordable source of renewable energy—and helps solar module manufacturers to upgrade their products in a cost-efficient way.
In 2018, 3M Smog-reducing granules were introduced to consumers for residential homes roofing. So how does it work? The smog-reducing granules use a specialised photocatalytic coating and when activated by UV sunlight, it turns smog that has landed on the roof into water-soluble ions that wash away over time.
For more fun 3M facts, check out 3M’s history page at 3M.com.