Food Matters Live 2020, 13-14 October, Convention Centre, O2 InterContinental

25 May 2016

Henry Chesborough defined Open Innovation as “Combining internal and external ideas as well as internal and external paths to market to advance the development of new technologies”, back in 2003, it can also be considered as the consideration of analogous technologies or looking at neighboring worlds. However, it is considered it is an essential tool in enabling food and drink companies to be more outward looking and to build the networks that can help move the business forward in terms of innovation and development, but also problem solving.

It must be noted however that it is not a new approach, an old African proverb says that if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. Swiss candle maker, Daniel Peter, took an Open Innovation approach in using his knowledge of melting and setting wax, combined with Henri Nestle’s condensed milk, to collaborate and develop milk chocolate.

The application of open innovation techniques can be bi-directional i.e. outside-in or inside – out. In essence where opportunities are sought from external sources to solve an in-house challenge, or where your own expertise or solution is applied to another’s problem. Needless to say the opportunities it presents are numerous, and to quote Einstein: “Problems cannot be solved with the same thinking that was used to create them”.

Send in the Robots – applying ‘Open Innovation’ thinking

Food and drink manufacturing has many challenges, and along with large sector of industrial sectors in the UK, productivity must be improved. The UK steel industry has suffered greatly at the expense of cheaper imports, and is undergoing great upheaval to steady the ship. The food and beverage sector needs to take a long hard look into its own situation and challenge itself to ensure it does not suffer the same fate.

Open innovation provides a framework to achieve this, as it prompts the problem owner to look at the issue and compare to external industries who have responded positively, and adopt the same underlying principles that helped them overcome the issue.

In decades past the UK car industry has been threatened by cheaper imports, their response was to invest heavily in Robotics to enhance productivity and compete on a global, level, playing field.

Across all of the industrial sector countries exhibiting some of the highest levels of GDP per capita – such as USA, France and Germany, are also those investing heavily in robotics. Whilst the UK investment levels stagnate and GDP per capita falls.
The food and drink sector lags a long way behind the automotive sector in terms of adoption of robotics and in the years to come is in danger of losing further ground. In fact food and drink accounts for 10% of the number of robots installed in automotive sector.

A report by Barclay’s bank in 2105 recognized this and forecast that with investment of £1.2bn in automation will add £60bn to the UK economy and represent a £49 return for every £1 spent. Ultimately safeguarding 106,000 jobs. Barclays also note that the food and drink sector would be one of the primary sectors to benefit, with productivity improvements of 25% being achieved by 2025.

This simple application of Open Innovation principles – looking at neighbouring plants to solve problems, highlights not only the real issues, but the severity of issue and the opportunities to solve those challenges, underwritten by the successful application of the solution in other sectors and geographical locations.

The next generation of industry is here in Food Manufacturing 4.0, and to maintain pace with other leading industrial nations robotics must be adopted by the UK food and drink manufacturing sector. Open innovation is a tool that can be used to help identify the way forward and solutions to some of the challenges that lay ahead.

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