Simply innovational

January 7, 2006
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Joyce Fassl
As we prepared this issue's cover story on innovation in food manufacturing, I was reminded that innovation comes in all shapes and sizes. Whether is it a unique piece of equipment from another industry adapted to fit food processing or an earth-shattering software breakthrough, most innovation starts with a simple idea.

Operator interfaces should be easy to use and deliver only the information plant operators need. Keeping it simple has never been out of style, so why do we have to keep reminding ourselves to do it? Simplicity in this area of the plant could provide much more overall efficiency.

Keeping it simple and trying to apply technology simultaneously is no easy task. About five years ago, I worked as a content director for a packaging website. The web developers and I tried to find an efficient method to search a massive database and receive results that were clearly relevant for the industry and for our user's jobs. I am not sure any website will be able to deliver this type of information without flaws. While technology makes rapid advances, it will never be able to match the power of the human brain to filter information.

I have a few problems interfacing with technology in my everyday life. Last week, I picked up a new remote control from my cable provider. After spending 45 minutes trying to get the volume control set up, I called customer service. After a round of questions, I was told to key in a certain code. Viola! Problem solved. After I hung up, I wondered why this magical code was not listed in the 24 pages of instructions. Over the years, I have quoted Regis Philben a few times in this column. Regis recently got a new Honeywell programmable thermostat for his home in Connecticut. Problem was, Regis couldn't figure out how to program it and groaned about it on his show. When Honeywell got wind of the dilemma, it sent the model back to engineering for redesign. Regis may be a multi-millionaire with a national TV show, but he truly represents Everyman's battle with technology.

Regis' suggestion to Honeywell was simple. Forget the technology: just give me an off and on switch.

This solution may be too simplistic for food manufacturing applications. But my point is this: don't lose sight of simple solutions when dreaming about innovation.

Food Engineering Editorial Advisory Board

David Watson
Vice President, Engineering
Pepperidge Farm, Inc.

Mike Shulman
Manager, Process Engineering
ConAgra Foods

Ron Yockey
Beef Products, Inc.

Scott Butler
Vice President Engineering and Technical Services
Del Monte Foods

Dave Gemellaro
Director, Sector Engineering
Kraft Foods

Peter Migchels
Director of Engineering, Fresh Bakeries
Maple Leaf Foods

Tom Wolters
Senior Manager Technology
Pepsico Beverages & Food

Sam Casey
Director of Engineering
H.J. Heinz

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