3M Bolsters Security Business in Post-9/11 World

The Maplewood-based company spun off its security operations into a separate division shortly after the 2001 attacks-and it has since increased its focus on developing comprehensive security systems for the United States and other governments.

With the 10-year anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks right around the corner, 3M Company is looking back at a decade of quickly evolving security demands, and in turn, a need for fast-paced business innovation.

3M's security systems division-which is based at 3M's Maplewood headquarters but operates facilities in the United Kingdom and China, among other locations-now provides a breadth of security solutions to government agencies, commercial customers, airports, and other entities.

Martin Kenner, global technical director for the division, told Twin Cities Business on Thursday that prior to the terrorist attacks in 2001, the company was only involved in security solutions “in a very small way”-focused more on materials used in security procedures as opposed to developing entire systems. For example, the company used its adhesive expertise to create laminate materials used in Minnesota state driver's licenses, which feature a matte finish with an image of a loon. The material's construction is designed to make it apparent if someone has tampered with the card, Kenner said.

But after September 11, governments-especially the U.S. federal government-strengthened their focus on security, particularly as it pertains to the issuance and authentication of official security documentation.

By 2003, 3M had positioned itself to meet that demand, and it spun off its security operations as its own division of the company, Kenner said.

“We identified back then that governments wanted to go to one source” for security solutions, including the issuance of documentation, making sure those documents contain stringent security features, technology for border patrols, and other products, Kenner said. “Our approach was to try to bring in the full breadth of those solutions”-including software, hardware, and all other technological elements.

Today, the company plays a leading role in international security systems. For example, international travelers leaving the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport may use kiosks to check in. The systems-developed by 3M-read passports and verify the information against each traveler's boarding pass. 3M's hardware is contained within about 90 percent of those types of check-in kiosks throughout the world, according to Kenner.

Travelers arriving at MSP from an international location, meanwhile, hand over their passports to a customs agent, who uses a 3M-developed desktop device that authenticates the document.

3M is also focusing on the growing field of biometrics-including fingerprint and facial recognition systems-which recognize unique characteristics of individuals at the time of document issuance that can later be used to verify whether the document belongs to the individual who possesses it.

Kenner declined to discuss the security system division's financial figures, but he said that 3M's recent acquisition spree-especially the $943 million deal to buy biometric identification solutions provider Cogent, Inc.-has grown the company from being a “small, materials-only niche player” to an industry leader. “Since 9/11 and including the acquisitions we've made, the business is significantly larger and now comparable to the standard businesses” that consumers traditionally associate with the 3M brand, like Post-It notes.

Regulatory documents indicate that the company's sales for its overall “Safety, Security, and Protection Services Business” increased 8 percent in 2010 to account for 12.4 percent of the company's overall sales-and “the security systems business led 2010 sales growth.”

Looking ahead, Kenner expects 3M's security systems business to build on its existing products but also meet the changing needs of governments. “Where we sit right now we have the portfolio in place to do what we told [3M] we wanted to do” when we launched the division, he said. “The next 10 years will involve leveraging that portfolio and expanding the footprint in the market-especially in the U.S.”

Kenner predicts that during the next few years, governments will increase their focus on efficiency-without compromising existing security measures. “A lot of that is based on capturing information like biometrics that travelers voluntarily provide” and can be used to automate the process, especially for business travelers, he said. “We play at all parts of the process and it's something that will benefit us.”

3M is Minnesota's fifth-largest public company based on its 2009 revenue, which totaled $23.1 billion. The company reported revenues of $26.7 billion in 2010.