DTI Industrial Policy Action Plan 2014 -2017: Things for ATS to Ponder

The plan (an update of a serially updated document from a while back) has implications for, and responses from, relevant sectors of the food industry generally. For ATS, there are specific implications in terms of a “national agenda” and strategic directions. Some notes, observations and potential activities are outlined below in a rambling format but does follow the document sequentially.

A section on Transversal interventions on pages 49 – 50 of the document (available at http://www.thedti.gov.za/DownloadFileAction?id=851 ) touches on traceability of bio-analytical measurements in SA and also on providing reference measurement capacility for pesticides and also dioxins, dioxin-like substances and furans amongst others. This is entirely in keeping with a previous acknowledgement of the shortage of quality analytical services with quck turnaround times bythe DTI (and by the industry – anecdotal evidence). ATS still maintains its wish and intention to stick to servcing a the niche analytical market (low demand analytical techniques) as part of its own contribution in this regard.

Page 57 neatly describes our own observations in the space in which we work that innovation in SA is mostly incremental (based on % turnover generated from new innovations) rather than brand new. Furthermore, 65.4% of SA firms are involved with innovation but only 27.2% manage to bring these to market (data taken from South African Innovation Survey 2005 – 2007). An interesting recent blog by Dr. Shawn Cunningham of Mesopartner (http://shawncunningham.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/assisting-firms-to-improve-their-research-and-development-activities/ ) specifically highlights the tendency of firms to link innovation to customer complaints and specifications rather than to curiosity by staff in the firm concerned. He suggest de-linking R&D from such complaints or suggestions and rather to focus on taking interested, curious personnel (and form other companies) who are totally different from each other and “lock them in a room” to see what comes out of the wash. Interesting idea and not common practice in this country.

The second bullet on page 59 refers to something which has been on the periphery of the ATS plan i.e. the need to survey what R&D and innovation support initiatives exist, map these and identify possible mechanisms to create better linkages between them. This suggest that, just like universities, a silo mentality exists in terms of such initiatives and organizations. ATS had in 2011 developed a proposal to scan the industry and academic landscape to identify elements that could address the oft mentioned “innovation chasm”. The proposal specifically intended to identify technologies that exist but have not been applied in industry (both from academic sources and industry sources) and identify “grey” knowledge i.e. the huge experience embedded in recently required experts) with a view of putting all three together in a coordinated fashion i.e. problems, knowledge and experts.

This is further touched on under Technology Commercialization Strategy on page 61 in terms of overcoming the “valley of death” i.e. gap between R&D and commercialization. Importantly, to the purists to whom the word innovation means absolutely brand spanking new technology, akcnowledgement is given to both new-to-the-world and new-to-the-market initiatives that can ot cpature economic and social value.!!!!

Under the section on Sectoral Interventions (page 84 onward) reference is made to a number of sectors ripe for intervention viz. processing of cassava into starch, contribution of crops to biofuels and the milling sector still largely being in the hands of a few large industry players. This points to, amongst others, the need to develop a local source of cassava and also to encourage establishment of small millers close to the supply of maize and soybean feedstock. The latter has both regional implications in turns of reducing commodity costs and also to supply a gorwing international (South American) market for such raw materials. Making it even more local to CPUT, this also touches on confectionery products (chocolate and confectionery factory for WIlly Wonka), cereal-based crops and related product development and generally better beneficiation of the raw materials at hand and which could be produced on a bigger scale in future. These fit inot the research niches of ATS and the Department of Food Technology.

Aquaculture is still in the mix in terms of the need, and plan, to promote private investment in this sector. This also falls into a niche research area which ATS currently services via an aquaculture initiative in the Eatsern Cape and possibly via a newly identified niche in terms of wild freshwater fish. Watch this space!!!

In a typcially broad fashion, IPA also refers to Green Industries, a terms which in a flash brings to mind wind, solar and toher forms of clean energy. However, this “broad definition” actually needs to be teased out into other elemnts what “green” really is. ATS has previosuly been invovled in either product or process development where “green” is an element. Since it has become a KPI for the Technology Station movement, this is being looked at in greater detail presently by ATS. Examples of such are bio-remediation or greening is by working on waste from the olive industry value-adding to marine by-catches. Watch this space for more!!!

Finally, on page 127, reference is made to the overarching principle of employing Advanced Manufacturing strategies in the food industry generally:
A. Product innovation via new or advanced technologies (novel technologies are part of the research niches previously alluded to – see below).
B. Process innovation: new methods and techniques.
C. Organizational or business model innovation.

Our research niches and collaborations, we believe, supports this Action Plan.

 

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