Monthly Archives: December 2017


Recently CPUT had, as part of its strategic planning, itemised the concept of a Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) as a key part of its future plans. This implies both preparing for, and exploiting, this concept. The question then arose, as part of our own strategic planning exercise at ATS, how we and other departments should react to this. However, to be able to react, one needs to understand what the nature of this beast, called 4IR, really is.

The term is still relatively new and not that well-defined. As with all other industrial revolutions before, the concept is still shaping while science and technology makes progress and industry actors explore what makes economic sense. The basic commodity of the 4IR is data. Data is collected everywhere, on fields, on food production lines or on check-out lines in supermarkets. In the center of the collection activities stand digital sensors that have become very cheap to manufacture. The processing and exchange of the data is made possible by both very cheap computational power and the availability of internet connections even in the most remote parts of the country.

Using agriculture as an example, autonomous drones survey large plantations and collect data based on heat emission or other information patterns. This information is translated into optimal patterns of irrigation and fertilization, which is immediately modulated into commands for fully-automated systems installed on the ground. Together with meteorological data, the right time for harvesting can be easily established. Self-driving harvesters will stand ready to respond accordingly.

This continues with food processing, where different monitoring technologies are in use or still need to be installed.  An example of such monitoring technology is near-infrared spectroscopic analysis1 which can continuously provide data at different points in the food processing value chain.  Fermentation1 is another field where continuous monitoring of different parameters may be used to predict, warn or prepare in terms of such data emerging for analysis.

The data generated may be shared among the different actors on a digital platform. Hence, the word digitalization has emerged for this new form of information exchange. While in the early days of the internet only major institutions were connected, and later on individuals, now a greater multitude of devices are individually connected to the internet to send and receive data (the internet of things). Previously, collecting data was mainly a manual process (resulting in questionable data quality), but now data is collected alongside every possible step of the production process. This data is stored and used for decision support (big data).

These developments surely will have a lasting impact on agricultural production and food processing. Yes, it may cost a large number of jobs – but mainly in those geographic regions that don’t respond actively to these changes. At a second glance, especially for South Africa, these technological developments provide a welcome opportunity to make progress in the up-skilling of the labor force.

Engineering skills on different levels will be in high demand – much in contrast to unskilled labor. Also, to be economically efficient, these data flows need to be integrated into internationally operating value chains, which requires a great deal of IT-skills and managerial talent. There is little doubt that the drive towards Industry 4.0 is effectively taking shape! A literature search on the Scopus database shows how the topic is trending in the academic community. We wish to assist in bringing these developments to the many agri-processing firms, clusters and cooperatives in the Western Cape and South Africa generally.

Do you or your company want to engage in an exercise as part of your own preparation toward meeting the challenges of the Industry 4.0? Speak to us. We can assist you in applying for funding if your project proves worthwhile. We may even be able to assist you in defining a project and then applying for funding with you.

Finally, to summarize some of the effects on, and activities of, the food industry, see this as encapsulated in an article entitled “How the industry must adapt to survive”:

  • All stages of value chain of production will be affected;
  • Businesses will need to create a roadmap to plan for new technologies, data and training needs;
  • Jobs will be created, but a new skills set will be needed;
  • To survive, companies will have to re-skill and retain such staff;
  • Costs of down-time will increase exponentially as efficiencies increase, impressing the need for staff who can manage electrical faults immediately;
  • Electrical (and other) skills training costs would be negligible in terms of costs based on down-time.

Larry Dolley

 1ATS and the Department of Food Science & Technology have access to, and expertise in, near infrared analysis and inspection which may be used as a tool for quantitation as well as for comparison of samples .e.g. identifying fish species purely from a spectral fingerprint.

 In addition, the group also has a niche research area in food fermentations, including non-alcoholic and alcoholic fermentations. The brewing of beer is an example that is just developing in the unit. Parameters being constantly measured during production include pH, O2 and CO2 levels, antioxidants, humulones / isohumulones, color, etc.

 We wish to partner with small and medium companies wishing to use such, and other, technologies in their processing environments. Call us on 021 95338615 or e-mail for more information.


I had recently placed a post on the CPUT Food Technology Facebook page (for Alumni, feel free to join it since it is a page since it is a valuable tool for networking). The post itself dealt with grey knowledge (or retirees in the industry to be more precise) but there is a bigger picture to this request.

This bigger picture relates to elements of the food innovation chasm as it exists in South Africa toward identifying products, processes and stakeholders for the design of, and implementation plan towards, the utilization of existing, under-utilized or un-utilized solutions to problems in industry. The actual identification of some elements that constitute this chasm may be explored by:

  • Researching the literature and using retired industry experts (grey knowledge) to assist in specifying innovation gaps;
  • Matching unused solutions to existing problems;
  • Identifying not-yet-explored problems and possible solutions to these.

In terms of a number of national policy-based statements as well as rhetoric in the public domain, the term “innovation chasm” has cropped up regularly over the past few years. This is true for the Department of Science & Technology (DST) via the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the Department of Higher Education and Training and also the Provincial Government Western Cape (PGWC) as well as numerous other state, public/private and private organizations.

In the second draft of the Industrial Policy Action Plan (February 2011) of the DTI, this particular issue of the chasm is addressed. On page 76, three levels of intervention are suggested regarding commercialization, one of which is exactly something which this blog addresses viz.:

Consolidation of existing commercial opportunities from research work previously carried out but which has not been fully commercialized and with respect to technologies that can be acquired in order to upscale production capabilities in defined sectors where opportunities exist.

These references or statements about the “innovation chasm” have different connotations, including those related to very broad issues and also, at the other end of the spectrum, very narrow ones e.g. international, continental, national and local. This is further narrowed per economic and industry sector. This is so for the food industry.

For the purposes of this blog, the term “innovation chasm” will be deemed to include the following general concepts:

  • The gap between the fields of academic study versus the needs of the industry itself;
  • The existing body of knowledge with respect to these fields that had not yet been applied and
  • The existing body of un-expressed needs and potential solutions vested in experts (retired or otherwise) in the field.

As mentioned in the previous Facebook post, my own observations when talking to highly experienced and/or retired experts, they usually tend to expand on a range of problems (old and new) that have not yet been properly remedied in their respective industry sectors for whatever reason. As a University of Technology, these practical problems are just what we need to conduct research on and also supply solutions for.

To actually conduct such research and also to assess the viability of setting up a database of retired experts will require that personnel involved, individually or collectively, must themselves have an extensive general knowledge of the national food product development game, processing and packaging experience (preferably from primary agriculture upstream), including appropriate networks and also the gravitas associated with the nature of interrogation required by such an endeavor. This includes an appropriate scientific and technical background to identify potential gaps to be further investigated by specialists in the field.

ATS will attempt to investigate both these solutions i.e. a database of experts and also identification of innovation chasm gaps. Mind the gap and watch this space.

Larry Dolley
p.s. Alumni, please feel free to contribute your thoughts on this!


This topic is on everyone’s tongue due to the extent, impact and uncertainties of such a one in a hundred year drought. Ways to save water, and new sources of water, are the order of the day on all media platforms and from all agencies. The most recent thrust deals with your water usage at your place of work since. You control your home consumption but, when at work, you approach this with a different mindset.

It got me thinking about how to manage and possibly control such usage. However, since it is the silly season, I approached it with a silly mindset, using technology already in the building. Here are some of my solutions

  1. Install an automated refractometer which can measure soluble solids in the loo. Under a certain solids limit the loo would not flush, thus taking the desire to flush away from the user. This is the cheaper route. It could be done via a spectrophotometric sensor to comply with the “mellow yellow” concept. An even more expensive concept would be a sipper cell in which a colourimetric reaction could be initiated occasionally to determine flushability.
  2. It could also be suggested that no solid waste disposal is to take place in all the loos. Much knyping would be encouraged. Any liquid waste should be encouraged to be done behind a tree.
  3. A sniffer detector attached to a GC-MS could be used to monitor people approaching a tap/urn for coffee. Based on the identification of tea or coffee aroma, hot water would only be released (330ml). For cold drinking water, limit the release to 330ml only without any option of a repeat in under 60 minutes. However, the latter will require some form of identification of the user. This could be done via near infrared spectroscopy of the skin using appropriate software. We have this capacity in the department.
  4. Copious sweating of all staff will be encouraged to push up the humidity in the hope of the increased load of water in the air, together with the updraft due to increased temperature, may cause air to rise, with consequent adiabatic cooling followed by precipitation. This “rain” however must be trapped and stored and would thus require a “dam” of sorts, possibly in the foyer. It could possibly also be pumped to the relevant cisterns to assist with flushing.
  5. All grey water could be funnelled toward a new “soak away” or natural sump behind the Pilot Plant where it could be cleaned by natural processes and pumped back to be re-used. This could also act as a natural lake around which we could build a golf course for putting and chipping practice. This could then generate funds to assist with any capital expenditure related to points above.
  6. On a serious note, some of the equipment in the Pilot Plant needs a lot of water periodically e.g. boiler and retorts, especially the water curtain retort. A holding tank fed by municipal water should be installed (1000 litres) to ensure water needed for processing is on hand, even if the water supply is cut. This is not a solution but is merely a stop-gap if water is cut during a production run. Funding will be sought for this.
  7. As a group, we should also look to doing some research into dehydrated water. This would allow us to store large quantities in small containers for use as need.
  8. Finally, no staff will be allowed to use water as a chaser in their alcoholic drinks at work.

On a very serious note, as a group and as CPUT, we need to do a water usage audit and come up with ways to change our behavior toward a smaller water footprint.

All suggestions welcome, tongue in cheek or otherwise.

Larry Dolley