AGRIFOOD INTERNSHIPS – POLISHING THE DIAMONDS OF THE FUTURE

What is an Internship? I suppose it depends on who you ask and in what industry sector placements happen. In the case of the Agrifood Technology Station, an Intern is a recently qualified graduate, preferably in Food Science & Technology (or Analytical Chemistry or other field as required).

Our Internship programme has been running for more than 10 years now, initially with reasonably good funding from the Technology Innovation Agency. However, this funding had been reduced significantly and the management thereof had been moved to the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research and further delegated to the South African Society for Cooperative Education. We have thus moved from the privileged position of having up to 10 Interns to the present 3 Interns, all of whom are funded by costs we recover from industry. It has thus placed strain on the capacity of ATS to conduct work just in terms of hands on board.

Our Interns are usually sought after in industry. This information is part anecdotal and part first-hand experience stemming from my interactions with industry. It would seem that, because our Interns are employed in activities relating to the real commercial world of big and smaller companies, they had developed an attitude and a set of sharpened skills which make them attractive. I personally call the experience at ATS similar to that of a finishing school. It rounds the rough edges of their skills, work ethic and personality in terms of operating in a team.

What more could a funder want? Taking raw graduates and polishing them!!! Alas, funding constraints at the Department of Science & Technology has eroded the capacity to push the workforce envelope. And yes, there are other funding streams for Internships but these are usually bound up in the red tape of application processes, the detail of which will not be expanded on here. Light at the end of the tunnel is that the FoodBev SETA had signed a contract with CPUT to allocate internship funding (hopefully 5).

Now, do not get me wrong on the cohort of Interns we have had over the years! It was not all a cakewalk in that some Interns did not perform well (a minority) or did not fit the job for one or other reason. However, we have had some outstanding Interns over the years. I had asked the collective staff in the   Food Science & Technology building to name an Intern who struck them as having had great character, skills and chutzpah! I had received quite a few names but, in the interests of brevity I have had to choose three on which to dwell. Here is a pen sketch of three (with apologies to all the other Interns):

Mr. Mmaphuti Ratau was an outstanding intern who had eventually become a Technical Assistant at ATS. This means he had completed the standard one-year contract. Since he was then also enrolled for postgraduate studies, we decided to create a new category i.e. Technical Assistant. What a pleasure to have an educated pair of hands who had some research skills and who could conduct literature searches and write summary reports.

He summarises his own experiences:

Being an Intern and TA supplemented my classroom theory with on the job-skills (practical skills). It gave me confidence in my own abilities. It also clarified the direction for my career path. I learned both the soft and hard skills. It gave me confidence during interviews as well, knowing I had this added background. The rotation between different activities (namely: microbiology lab, physical food properties, chemistry, instrument, sensory, pilot plant) made me a well-rounded individual to fit most opportunities.

 I am currently working as a Product Developer for a spice company. I just learned the difference between wors and boerewors! Oh yes, I also learned that we actually waste about 2 litres of water while waiting for the shower to get hot (in Cape Town).

Ms. Busisiwe Mazibuko, pictured below, was another such Intern. Her pleasant and sunny personality helped her do her job well, including spending a lot too much time in the microbiology areaJ However, she handled all task set for her with aplomb. See further below how she describes her own experience.

The hands-on experience we got at ATS is invaluable and it is definitely not something you can be taught in the classroom. With other Internships, you just run errands and be the “tea girl” sort of, but we were given the opportunity to be hands on, work with different equipment, run analysis/  tests ourselves, and report results. In addition, we also learnt a lot of skills like communication, team work and time management.

 As a Micro team, we used to have Monday meetings to give feedback on the previous week’s tasks. Everyone was forced to do a short report. So, I would say this helped in making a person loosen up and be able to speak to a group and answer questions.

 After leaving ATS, I worked for Task Applied Science (they do TB Clinical trials) as a Laboratory Technologist, 2 years after that I was promoted to Supervisor. I think the leadership skills I gained at ATS helped me to get that promotion. Currently, I am at UKZN, working as a Senior Technician in their plant pathology department and again, if it was not for the hands on experience i got at ATS, I would have struggled in this job.

 When I left Western Cape (ATS to be specific), I thought I would die without those Gatsby Fridays… but I got to KZN and was introduced to bunny chow. WOW! FIRE! I can now eat while sweating and blowing my nose all at the same time! #Multitasking101!!!

 Unathi Solilo is an Analytical Chemistry graduate who brightened up our lives in that particular context. I found him to be a particularly pleasant gent who is multi-skilled as he describes below. Always willing to help, even when it was more in the area of food technology itself. I think he got a lot more than he expected since his training was used specifically applied to a commodity i.e. food. I suspect that diversified is skills significantly outside of the pure analytical field of chemistry.

In his own words:

ATS has helped me in so many ways. Firstly, it helped me out of my unemployment I was in for a little over 2 years. Truly Grateful for that. It also help me regain confidence in my ability to perform well and improve my skills in the field of study I had chosen. It helped me with the skills to harmoniously work with others and be a team member others can rely on.

 It has helped me with Job Interviews (not that I had many).  ATS Allows Interns to be hands on, especially with expensive equipment. That gives a boost in confidence to be able to adapt to any instrumentation presented in front of you. So, in interviews, you can talk about something you have worked with before. I’m currently employed by the Agricultural Research Council since the time I left ATS as a Research Technician in an Analytical Services laboratory.

 On weekends and in my spare time, I created a business of my own. It is in 3 parts:

(1) Clothing Label called TOTB (think out the box) e.g. a Winter Sweater goes for R370 each.

(2) Created a Shooter I call “The Babylon Shooter” @ R15 a shooter. Pretty looking and great tasting shooter that honours and compliments Women’s beauty.  

(3) Then I Sing/Rap with a stage name Mr Babylon with a single out called ‘’Just us two”…!

 One day this year I’ll come perform a song or 2 at ATS!

I think you will agree that these are three individuals of character who will add value to an employer and to the country, both in terms of skills and also in terms of all their other character traits that make them who they are! Special!!

Larry Dolley

LISTERIA AND THE CONTROLLING CAVALRY ON THE SHOP FLOOR

The food safety scenario in South Africa has, by virtue of the sad consequences of the outbreak, been given a violent shake-up. The ripple effect of this will be felt much further than the companies potentially implicated as the source of the products contributing to this. However, this blog serves to look a little deeper into some elements of the scenario, in particular the role played by the unseen cavalry which safeguards against such occurrences.

These role players are myriad in any production system and range from senior management to the person cleaning the floor. Every single employee in any food production and distribution facility has a role to play in ensuring the safety chain. More particularly, a critical part of these teams are the food scientists and technologists employed by companies. They are key to implementing, managing and conducting internal audits of such systems. Obviously there are other auditing and verification layers but these staff members are where the rubber hits the road.

On a personal level, during my teaching career, I had always advised students about the fact that they are, in essence, the guardians of public health by ensuring that safe, nutritious food enters the consumption chain. The present disaster, for that is what it is, thus serves to illustrate this point. However, notwithstanding the crucial role played by such staff, they are sometimes not rewarded accordingly. My understanding of value for money in terms of a salary is that you are paid based on the risks that presents itself in meeting your job requirements. I had written a blog in this regard previously about the plight of graduates in this field. Ensuring such safety practices in this environment does carry many risks, with failure leading ultimately to that we are reading about today.

When engaging in casual or formal talks with many different role players, it does not seem as if this is always taken into account, and recognized as such, by all companies, both large and small. In fact, in instances, the quality management and control teams are sometimes deemed a necessary nuisance and are treated as such. Similarly with salaries paid. Young food technology graduates are place in positions with a large responsibility at minimal salaries to appease the gods of food safety while minimizing the payroll. On occasion, based on adverts I see and feedback from alumni, in some smaller companies especially, employees are kept on a short-term contract immediately prior to audits to fix a system and then dispensed with soon after the audit. And one could expand on this in detail were there space for it.

I have two problems with this:
a. By devaluing the crucial role played by such persons based on an inappropriate salary certainly has implications for food safety. The incumbent feels this lack of appreciation of their role and it may, especially for younger personnel, lead to stress and demoralization. This in turn could lead to shoddy workmanship.
b. Furthermore, fellow staff may also view the position of such an incumbent as being of lower value, concomitantly affecting adherence to standard operating procedures.

We need to ensure that personnel employed in such quality assurance and control positions must be made to feel valued, encouraging scrupulous attention to food safety detail. The reward is a better internal food safety system and better compliance with good manufacturing practice.

Furthermore, some form of certification or accreditation is needed to place additional value on such positions and qualifications of the personnel involved. This needs to go beyond the tertiary qualifications needed by such personnel, akin to registration of engineers with the Engineering Council of South Africa. One avenue that may be followed, but is not yet valued by the food industry, is registration with the South African Council of Natural Scientific Professions.

In terms of the bigger picture, a valued and happy workforce will inevitably lead to better outputs, including that of food safety. Recognize your personnel involved in this crucial role or else you may have to ‘fess up one day, heaven forbid!

Larry Dolley

FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION (4IR) AND THE FOOD INDUSTRY

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 dolleyl@cput.ac.za for more information.

THE FOOD INNOVATION CHASM AND GREY KNOWLEDGE – A LINK

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!

SAVING WATER AT FOOD SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

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

FOOD ENTREPRENEURSHIP – AN EXPERIMENT!

 The Station produced a book for new entrants to the food industry entitled “So, you want to start a food company?”. As luck would have it, the Department of Agriculture (Western Cape) offered to polish, translate and print the document in all three official languages as part of their Project Khulisa. Ms. Helen Heynes of the aforementioned department played a key role in this.

It is highly unlikely that any one single manual can fully advise on the do’s and don’ts for such a large industry and long value chain. Presently, the document, in the interests of being easily usable, only contains the more pertinent and “in your face” issues that you should be aware of to at least enter the industry. This manual is also to be considered a “living document” i.e. if you read it and think something is missing and critical enough to be included, please let us know and we will consider it for inclusion. This document should therefore be considered a micro Foodie-pedia to which you may contribute for the good of the industry.

In the meantime, after its release, the interest shown in it has led to a few ideas and decisions:

  • PGWC has asked (and I already had it in our plans) to update the document. Great!
  • Students (past and present) have expressed an interest in it – does this mean we have budding entrepreneurs? We need these!!!
  • I have dug out a 7-year old document with the outlines of a course in Food Entrepreneurship. It would seem that the booklet is easily matched and integrates with this concept of a workshop on entrepreneurship. It marries entrepreneurship principles with the hard facts of starting a small food business. What do you think of this as a concept?
  • I have started discussions with our own Business Faculty on assisting with integrating these two things in the workshop and possibly assist with offering it.

So we are going to dabble in this workshop concept while expanding the booklet and also eventually put it online with the assistance of PGWC. Obviously, it will also be introduced into the mainstream academic programme.

Your comments and constructive criticism are wamkelekile / welkom!

Larry Dolley

 

WHAT IS REVERSE TECHNOLOGY TRANSFER?

I love reading books about cosmology and evolution. Authors such as Neil de Grasse Tyson, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox and Richard Feynman are among my favorites. I pretend to understand some of the mathematics and struggle to understand some of the broader concepts. My unfortunate mind is not tuned to the philosophical and cosmological gymnastics required. But I enjoy it nonetheless.

This brings me to the term “reverse technology transfer” (RTT). Einsteinian theory speaks about relativity, general and special. When using the term RTT, and to understand it better, it must be agreed that relativity applies here. Who is transferring to whom? When is it reverse and when is it forward? Traditionally, in the world in which I work, forward technology transfer (FTT) relates to the university (or ATS) transferring skills and knowledge to someone else e.g. a small company. When ATS in turn transfers technology into the university curriculum to benefit students, this is defined as RTT. With ATS as the fixed reference point, this is easy to understand.

But one cannot use these terms indiscriminately and, if we do, we may lose the other forms of transfer happening or available to us. Some of these include transfer from firms to academia (including ATS), from students to ATS and between SMMEs with the involvement of ATS. I suppose one could go on with more permutations such as these. The key point here is that the traditional version in my field is from university to industry. And this is what we have been trying to do most of the time with mixed successes. What we have not fully addressed is transfer from industry to academia.

What stops or inhibits this from happening? A recent chat with Shawn Cunningham brought this out i.e. why do we not establish working projects where industry comes into academia in a bigger way? Why not place industry staff in academia more often for two way exchanges? Usually, when industry does come in, it is for a short period e.g. 1 hour to 1 day, but seldom more. At ATS we always profess to not being experts at everything (or maybe anything at all) but we have not fully exploited the idea of more concerted transfer into academia from industry.

There have been two successes of this nature to date:

  1. The Blue Karoo project involving catfish product development. The aquacultured fish was transported from Graaff Reinet to be processed and trialed at Food Science & Technology. This was part of a project funded by the DTI via their Technology and Human Resource for Industry (THRIP) programme. As part of the project, equipment was installed temporarily at CPUT to expedite project work.
  2. The CMD Industries project regarding kelp beneficiation from a number of different research angles. After the completion of a Technology Innovation Agency seed fund project, this has now grown to include a quadripartite arrangement involving the company, CPUT, University of Stellenbosch (Process Engineering) and the DTI (THRIP). Technology transfer in all directions!

In both cases, ATS assisted with babying the projects into the academic fold. Both fourth year and Masters’ students have become, or are being, involved in the research process. A perfect example of multiple transfer directions.

This type of arrangement perfectly fits one of definitions of the way ATS interacts with academia and industry i.e. ATS shoots first and aims later while academia aims properly and then shoots. ATS takes a high risk approach to research i.e. to make quick wins. This is then used to guide a much more risk averse academic approach i.e. well-planned research.

Putting this together with moving industry staff into the ATS/academic programme can only facilitate this in a mutually beneficial relationship. We will be putting more emphasis on this in the near future to generate more such collaboration. Call us if you see the potential for this in your present situation.

Larry Dolley

FOOD INNOVATION – OPEN, CLOSED, LEFT, RIGHT?

To be, or not to be, involved with open innovation? That is the question today!

We all know that South African companies generally spend a tiny fraction of their budgets on R&D compared to international trends and figures. Also, sharing of information is sometimes inhibited (or prohibited) based on whom you work for and with whom you collaborate or with whom you compete. Shrinking budgets in a shrinking economy further drives down R&D-spend and, for young graduate entrants into the practice of food science & technology, you hit a wall with graffiti in the corridors of companies, saying: “Don’t ask for it, we do not have money for it!” And you know what? I think it may become part of your own mantra and understanding (or misunderstanding) of how R&D and innovation is stifled by financial realities. You then become accustomed to the fact that there is no way around this.

Being in the position I am in, I see this also with SMMEs in the industry, although on a different scale and with different outcomes. When potential clients approach us with novel (or sometimes pretty mundane) ideas, they are usually extremely hesitant to divulge information in order for us to help them. It quite amuses me sometime to see how cagey they are with information and it is only after persuading them of our honest intentions that they will, under a standard non-disclosure agreement, share information. I fully understand this and also that it is a function of being a victim of intellectual property theft before or not understanding that, without sharing with us, we cannot help them. In some cases we are under-fed with important information while we are busy helping them, further delaying progress or a satisfactory outcome.

The open innovation concept, which started in the early 19060s, is not something always easily understood by all firms, especially smaller ones. The concept (aptly described in Wikipedia), just from its name, may be scary since the word “open” can be perceived as “reveal”, “show”, “give” or even “lose”. However, for bigger companies with appropriate financial and human capital muscle it does not pose a potential misperception. In a nutshell, it really is all about being open to collaboration, licensing in ideas (or licensing out), sharing of best practice and putting it all together in your company to produce your new product or process.

SMMEs, in particular, stand to make the most out of an open innovation approach to R&D, business management, IP management and protection and also mutually beneficial sharing of ideas. Without wanting to describe the open innovation process in more detail, I would sincerely suggest that you read the latest version of the British Food Journal (2017) where 13 papers on a number of topics and issues related to innovation have been published. This special issue is thus dedicated to open food innovation and its practices. Read it, learn from it and employ it in your own business (or when you start your own business)!

ATS considers itself to be a link in the matrix of open innovation in the South African food industry. We encourage entrepreneurs and innovators to contact us to share in the open innovation process to our mutual benefit. We are constantly on the lookout for projects of this nature and look forward to assisting you in the innovation process.

Larry Dolley

British Food Journal, Volume 119, No. 11.

Agrifood Technology Station in Namibia – A Safari of Sorts

A delegation of four Technology Stations, headed by ATS, visited Namibian institutions and industries based on the signing of an accord between the National Commission on Research, Science & Technology (NCRST Namibia) and the Technology Innovation Agency (TIA) of South Africa, including the decision of TIA to increase its African footprint toward furthering collaboration and exchange in the southern African region. This was conducted in the week of 14th September 2017. The project was funded by TIA under a specific proposal written in this regard. The specific Technology Stations involved were Agrifood, Clothing & Textiles, AMTL Adaptronics and Limpopo Agrofood Technology Station.

The delegation met with four Namibian entities viz. Ministry of Trade & Industry, NCRST, Namibian University of Science & Technology (NUST) and the University of Namibia (UNAM) as well as a number of industries and companies for individual discussions. The SA delegation was thus looking to explain what their present activities were, to learn from Namibian counterparts and to plan work with each other toward mutually beneficial outcomes. This was specifically in the fields of food/agro-processing, clothing & textiles and mechanical engineering.

 

The outcomes of this may be summarized as:

  • Specific services, exchange possibilities and other forms of interaction were identified for future implementation between entities;
  • Specific and immediate, low-hanging fruits for quick wins were identified;
  • A working committee was established;
  • A return visit by individual Technology Stations will happen;
  • Management and recording of future interactions under this collaborative will be coordinated by the NCRST.

The entire delegation as well as all hosts considered this a welcome and positive intervention toward industrial and academic exchange for the future.

If you know of any specific companies in Namibia related to the fields of endeavour mentioned above, please let us know. If not on our database, we will attempt to engage.

Larry Dolley

CONVERSATIONAL TOPICS in “THE CONVERSATION” No. 1

The Conversation has proven to be a hit….well, in my own academic and private life….and it has nothing to do with shooting an hallucinogenic substance. This digital platform has provided me with sharp and incisive articles on numerous topics, some having direct impact or input on my day job. It’s something akin to subscribing to Popular Mechanics and Foodstuff SA. I personally hold no brief for either of these publications other than that I find them fascinating. Thinks: by the way, are they really called publications (compared to journal articles) or are they correctly called something else? And, if so, what are they called? Suggestions welcome!

The topic related to the half-heart is one related to academic outputs i.e. what they are, who insists on them and how do they influence or affect academic standing in this country? Incidentally, the Mail & Guardian of 2nd June 2017 also carried an article on the issue. In a nutshell, a narrow definition of the term “academic output” relates to publications in peer reviewed journals i.e. journals which carry standing and are listed on the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) approved list.

This generates funding and stature for the institution and academic concerned. However, as the article points out, this leads to a skewing of the nature of these publications (read it and see for yourself since I cannot re-hash it all here). The bottom line is that some people publish for publication sake viz. to push their own academic standing, keep the institution happy and to feed further research.

But what about other forms of output such as artefacts, products, gizmos, whatchamacallits and other forms of IP? Yes, institutions did not initially recognize this in terms of policy and especially in terms of actual appreciation of this!! Y’know….it almost seems like: “Oh yes, that’s what you do! Great!! Keep it up guys”. Kerry Faul in the M&G titled her article as follows: “Publish or perish”, or “innovate to thrive” – a symbiotic relationship.

Like afterthoughts or step-children (mmmm!!! not good play on words considering the state of our nation regarding the treatment of, and caring for, kids!). For myself as an aging academician and for us as ATS, I did not get the joy of seeing our score added to the chart. Or am I too obsessive and too sensitive about this? This is pretty subjective stuff at this point!

I suppose I could have console myself with the fact that, if you speak to some of our clients whose lives we have touched, they appreciate our interaction more than a publication regarding the cost of kneecaps in a kneecap-less world in a low impact journal! We touch their lives and make a difference. The latter was written with crossed fingers behind my back since we also disappoint some of our clients – no risk of pain, no possibility of gain.

However, the CPUT Policy on Ad Hominem Promotion recognizes that it is more than just “publish or perish”. This means there is recognition but, at the end of the day, this recognition needs to be accompanied by acknowledgement of the value.

I am pleased to say that I’ll go with this and keep on doing the best we can in the background!

Larry