How to nurture innovation
This year’s iba proved very interesting. There were not a lot of huge fanfare introductions of technology as I have grown accustomed to seeing at the triennial show in Germany. And it wasn’t just me who felt that way; it was the consensus of all those I talked with as well.
But scratch a little below the surface and some neat things were there for the taking. For example, the following discernible trends were visible in the marketplace:
• Increased line speed and efficiency in makeup and packaging
• Improvements in process consistency achievable through enhanced batching and mixing technology as well as optimization of proofer and oven control technology
• Reducing the dependency on non-value-added labor through better process control and packaging automation.
Particularly, innovations in mixing and flour hydration exhibited at iba are likely to become more mainstream in the coming years as are advancements in machine controls and programming to make equipment more operator-friendly. Also, the simplification of robotics will make this technology more accessible to bakers, and advances in machine speed and efficiency will translate to improved productivity and reduced capital expenditures for bakers. Bottom line, if I had to characterize this year’s iba, I would say it was practical innovation — things we can really use.
This got me thinking about innovation in our workplace. Where does it come from? Where should it come from? How should we nurture it?
Innovation comes from each of us and from paying attention to what is going on around us and giving it consideration. It arises from understanding the needs and opportunities for our businesses and from listening to others. We are surrounded by opportunities. Innovation, therefore, stems from deciding to make a change — doing something to alter the status quo.
Years back, before flatbreads became the trend, Serop, the maintenance manager at the bakery I worked, brought to work pita bread he’d made at home. He explained how it could be made on production lines we already owned. Together we visited our R&D and marketing departmetns, as well as the vice-
president of operations — all heard the same story. His suggestion planted the seed, and another baker dreamt of pita breads by the millions with them “marching off the line like soldiers in a row.” They joined forces and became what is now a national brand of flatbread. The suggestion did not come from marketing or sales or product development; it came out of the blue — but the culture allowed it to surface.
Yet what does it take to foster innovation? Certainly the old adage, “necessity is the mother of invention” has relevance here. But innovation needs to be more than that. Innovation is about new ideas and products; what needs and opportunities we can see for ourselves or learn from others about the unfulfilled needs of today and possibilities for tomorrow.
On the other hand, it is recognizing what problems and obstacles can be solved. Sometimes it means taking a step back and questioning why is something being done and is it even needed? If it is, what opportunities exist to make improvements and design out the bottleneck, or problem?
One of the obstacles is controlling or channeling the innovation process. What are the priorities? How do they get identified and communicated? Who gets to work on them? Just asking these questions creates limitations to the process. As soon as an organization identifies a group with responsibility for innovation and development, it limits creativity by others. Successful organizations foster the opportunity from all. You never know who your Serop will be.
As for trends, expect bakeries and process lines redesigned for energy and waste minimization — lines that are truly 95%-plus efficient. Also, the application of handheld mobile and smart applications technology in operations, maintenance and QA functions will provide real-time reference, instruction and data collection functions. For maintenance, the mobile device will assign and track PMs and lubrication requirements based on running times. It will be as common in the toolbox as the hammer.
In addition, production and order status will adjust with real-time data acquisition; order processing will be automated with the ability to make adjustments being determined by real time analysis. No longer will adjustments be controlled by cut-off times, resulting in opportunities missed, the time is coming when the salesman can have his mobile unit advise him if the adjustment can be made and then seamlessly it is fitted into the production schedule.
Improvements in information technology that simplify all of the administrative tasks from manufacturing processes to order fulfillment. This, in itself, will reduce processing time and errors and improve overall business efficiency.
A parting thought, when we look at the future, it is well to keep in mind that North America represents only 7.8% of the world’s population. Given the global marketplace, the changing demographics of our population and changes in our eating patterns, the innovation required to prepare for the evolving marketplace is a challenge we will face together.
What will be the sliced bread of tomorrow? Who knows? However, one only has to look down the bread aisle to see the emergence of thin rolls, bagels and specialty products to know it is changing.