Last week I visited the Japan Food Service Equipment Show in Tokyo which is Japan’s largest exhibition for the hospitality, food service and catering industries. Whilst there was a lot of globally familiar appliances and beverage dispensing systems there, much of what was on show had a very Japanese feel to it.
And that was namely in the quantity of robotics (which I guess is not surprising for a country renowned for robotics!) – there were countless machines for washing, polishing and cooking rice, making egg fried rice and rolling sushi. There were two observations I took away from it and thought were interesting:
- Nothing was fully automated – the machines were generally just performing one step in a cooking process with manual labour needed for adding ingredients or moving the produce to and from another process. Nothing was replacing the human, just taking on some specific tasks
- The robots were not adaptable, it was all what I’d call traditional robotics – getting a machine to perform a manual process – rather then more intelligent robotics of using sensors and adaptable manipulators to perform more intelligent operations.
A specific product that jumped out at me was a blender that pulls a small vacuum during the blending process. Made by Tescom, Japan’s largest blender company, by slightly vacuumising the blender it reduces oxygen and so minimises discolouration, maintains higher levels of polyphenols and also seems to produce a much smoother puree or smoothy.
It’s not the only product in the world to do that, but it resonated as it reminded me of some refrigerators that include a vacuumised drawer to keep produce fresher for longer by lowering oxygen levels at the same time as cooling. I think it is great when an idea either from academia, background research or engineering intuition is investigated and used for innovative product development.
Our science-led innovation approach does just that – using a group of engineers and scientists with a broad set of skills and industry experience to generate ideas based on some initial research, test those ideas quickly and evolve them based on the initial and ongoing understanding. And that understanding doesn’t have to be purely technical – it can, and should, include consumer understanding and insight to make any idea commercially relevant.
So whilst costs associated with pumping and sealing to achieve low pressure (and perhaps not enough consumer insight) prevent the blender and refrigerator products becoming mainstream for now, they are a great inspiration for step change innovation in general.