Real value in­no­va­tion

Business First - - INNOVATION -

Oliver North in his book Coun­ter­feit Lies writes, “An easy life is rarely mean­ing­ful and a mean­ing­ful life rarely easy.” It is a sen­ti­ment held by ev­ery busi­ness owner as they bat­tle the highs and lows of run­ning a busi­ness, but what is a mean­ing­ful busi­ness? Is it one that has change-im­pact within an industry or sec­tor; a big tech com­pany that has changed the way we com­pute or bank? Per­haps it is the smaller, un­her­alded com­pa­nies whose sto­ries have had just as much im­pact in in­dus­tries that we rarely think about.

Take the fruit sort­ing industry for in­stance. All many of us know about pick­ing fruit is how we choose our ap­ples, or­anges and cher­ries at the lo­cal green­gro­cer. We ex­pect that the fruit shop owner will have a de­cent se­lec­tion of fresh pro­duce to choose from. e rare bad ap­ple may sur­face, and one may even have trick­led down the bay and hit the oor with a so thud be­fore be­ing picked up by a con­sumer with a slightly guilty look on his or face. Be­hind the scenes it is much di er­ent. When my fa­ther Geo Payne started GP Graders in 1963, with no for­mal en­gi­neer­ing train­ing, he set out to cre­ate ma­chines that would more e ciently sort and pack the fruit that was be­ing pro­duced on the fam­ily farm.

As sur­round­ing farms in the re­gion caught wind of the new tech­nol­ogy they ap­proached Geo to sup­ply the ma­chin­ery to them. e busi­ness then ex­panded across coun­try and by the mid-’80s he was pro­vid­ing grad­ing and pack­ing so­lu­tions for stone, pome and cit­rus fruit grow­ers around the na­tion.

An even big­ger break came in 1987, when cherry grow­ers ap­proached Geo to cre­ate a ma­chine that would sort cher­ries. e del­i­cacy of the fruit would make this task a chal­lenge, but Geo was up to it. e ma­chin­ery, how­ever, was still prim­i­tive and ac­cu­racy was ques­tion­able.

Dur­ing this time, I was a 17-yearold nish­ing up school. Yet the fam­ily busi­ness and cul­ture of in­no­va­tion was in my blood. When I joined the fam­ily busi­ness in 1998, I set out to build on the foun­da­tions of my fa­ther and set a path for fur­ther trans­for­ma­tion.

I looked at struc­ture, ad­min­is­tra­tion, mar­ket­ing and brand­ing, sta re­mu­ner­a­tion, dra ing and de­sign. It was a com­plete over­haul.

By 2000, I had em­barked on a path of global ex­pan­sion. I met agents and ap­pointed them to sell the ma­chin­ery. e break­through came the fol­low­ing year when I ne­go­ti­ated a dis­tri­bu­tion ar­range­ment with a large French based com­pany. is rapidly ac­cel­er­ated over­seas sales and es­tab­lished the com­pany’s brand in­ter­na­tion­ally.

In 2005, with my brother Ian, we identi ed a ma­jor fu­ture trend in the industry and be­gan the de­vel­op­ment of a cherry grad­ing line ca­pa­ble of grad­ing pro­duce elec­tron­i­cally us­ing cam­eras.

I was in Spain and the Span­ish were talk­ing about mov­ing to elec­tronic siz­ing and grad­ing of cher­ries. e tech­nol­ogy was in its ele­men­tary stages but I be­came con­vinced that the fu­ture lay in a ma­chine where cher­ries would pass un­der a cam­era sys­tem and be elec­tron­i­cally sorted on the ba­sis of size, shape and colour.

is new tech­nol­ogy would re­place the me­chan­i­cal grad­ing method­ol­ogy that tra­di­tion­ally had been used for cherry grad­ing. It proved to have im­me­di­ate suc­cess and led to signi cant and sus­tained growth for the com­pany.

Yet, a ma­jor chal­lenge pre­sented it­self: cher­ries are del­i­cate things.

We could never store them or test pro­to­types in our own fa­cil­i­ties be­cause cher­ries have such a short shelf life. What we did was ask our best cus­tomers to be­come in­volved in our R&D us­ing their fa­cil­i­ties. Once our cus­tomers were on board we de­vel­oped a cam­era and so ware to make the elec­tronic grader work.

From this came the next big break­through. e cam­era tech­nol­ogy was so good that it could iden­tify de­fec­tive fruit, al­low­ing pack­ing­houses to re­place hu­man sorters with more re­li­able cam­eras, thereby im­prov­ing prod­uct qual­ity and sav­ing mil­lions in labour costs.

e tech­nol­ogy was de­vel­oped for a Chilean cus­tomer called Cope­fruit. It worked. e re­ject fruit was ejected and busi­ness be­gan to boom with GP Graders se­cur­ing global dom­i­nance.

How to cre­ate mar­ket dom­i­nance

GP Graders ma­chines are now in 20 coun­tries, so it is im­per­a­tive that the cam­era tech­nolo­gies we use to grade fruit are the best in the industry. We plough a huge amount of resources into re­search and de­vel­op­ment into th­ese tech­nolo­gies, en­sur­ing that our fruit-sort­ing ma­chin­ery is sec­ond to none.

Any de cien­cies in mech­a­nised grad­ing sys­tems will be ac­counted for nan­cially by our clients, either through de­creased sales or through in­creased over­heads as sta will be needed to rec­tify the er­rors. ere­fore the en­tire cul­ture of our com­pany re­volves around mak­ing sure we are on the cut­ting edge of tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion.

Stu­art Payne is the MD of GP Graders the world’s lead­ing man­u­fac­turer of cherry sort­ing and pack­ing ma­chin­ery.

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