Sustainability Series Op-ed: The Food Tech Revolution

By Christina

The food industry is the largest economy in the world, its market size around €2 trillion in 2015.  Cereals are the planet’s primary food source, fish provide three billion people with one-fifth of their animal protein intake, and consumption of dairy and meat is rising.

The world’s population is expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, generating concerns about food supplies as more people will require additional resources. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that the food supply necessary to accommodate this population must increase by 60 percent.  This means, among other estimates, a 19 percent increase in agricultural water consumption, more than a billion tons of cereals in addition to existing supplies, and increased livestock production—already the largest user of agricultural land.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem.  However, business and technology are playing a role in helping to alleviate the issue, one small bite at a time.

Focus on waste

As the world looks to solutions that will alleviate stresses on the planet’s food resources, focus is being placed on food waste, estimated at 1.3 billion tons or a cost of $750 billion each year (excluding fish and seafood).

Consumers, grocery stores and restaurants all contribute to food waste.  Expiration dates that serve more as guidelines than as “laws to live by” mean that food is often discarded while still edible.  More food is purchased than is needed or supersized packaging delivers more food than would have been desired in the first place.  Much of this food waste and its packaging rests in landfills or pollutes the ocean.

The food tech revolution

Plug the computerTechnological advances have transformed industry over the past few decades, from airplane design to the size of our telephones.  Such developments have impacted the way in which we live.  Can technology help solve the world’s eventual food resources challenges?  Can the fusion of technology and food start a “food tech” revolution?

For many, we are already there.  Creative initiatives are now helping to avoid, reduce, repurpose or recycle food waste and make the food industry more sustainable.

A recent movement in France has inspired consumers to purchase malformed – yet perfectly edible—fruits and vegetables at a discounted price.  “Les Gueules Cassées” (literally “Disfigured Faces” and a play-on-words of the inversed expression “casse gueule” which means risky or dangerous) is an association of French food producers whose business model has now expanded from fruits and vegetables to include certain cheeses and cereals under this label.

LiquiGlide is a new, non-stick coating that can be used on the inside of a bottle, so that food never gets stuck inside (apparently the idea was born from research to solve industrial challenges like preventing ice formation on the wings of aircraft).  A German startup, Qmilk, is using sour milk to manufacture textiles.  Several online service providers deliver the exact amount of ingredients needed to make a meal, saving potential food waste and costs.

These are just a few examples, and the venture capital world is taking note.  According to Dow Jones Venture Source, approximately $1.1 billion was invested in food- and beverage-related startups in the U.S. in the first half of 2014.  Although these startups’ activities vary wildly—from food delivery to e-commerce with local farms—the basic message is still there: the investors who traditionally have been behind major shifts in technology and healthcare are now looking at food.

Software’s role in the food tech revolution

Software also has the potential to play a profound role in this revolution by taking it a step further:  focusing on sustainability before food even hits the marketplace.

Solutions can help make industries involved in food production or packaging more environmentally compliant by reducing their use of natural resources or improving their processes.  This has a “pay it forward” effect, reducing waste of water, air, plants and soil.

Orange juice fabrication processConsumer goods packaging companies are using new manufacturing techniques such as “lightweighting” to optimize plastic packaging design, reduce their use of virgin materials and lessen the environmental impact of their plastic packaging throughout its lifecycle. This involves 3D virtual design, finite element analysis, collaborative innovation and workflow management.

Industrial equipment manufacturers are focusing on green agricultural machines that help effectively use water and energy resources for a greateroutput with less input, such as energy or fertilizer.  This can be achieved through collaborative design processes that link mechanical, electrical and hydraulics engineers in a digital environment, before any prototype is made.  Also, stored and managed design data for a machine can be accessed to upgrade equipment and increase its lifecycle.

Drones are being explored for potential applications in farming such as providing data on field irrigation or crop health that help farmers make informed decisions.  High-tech designers and engineers can create complex 3D shapes using cloud-based design tools and social collaboration to enhance a drone’s structure, weight, stability, size, maneuverability and power.

These are just a few examples of software’s potential for sustainability.  In tandem with initiatives to reduce food waste once in the marketplace, technology in general, by attacking the entire food waste lifecycle, has the potential to create a digital disruption in the world’s largest industry.

Spotlight on Desktop Engineering: Helping architects embrace the full, collaborative nature of modeling tools

By Akio

In 1986 it was just becoming apparent how computers could hugely improve engineers’ efficiency in design and analysis.

It was with this realization that Geoffrey M. Haines, BSc(Eng), ACGI, C Eng, MIMechE, FRSA, founded Oxford-based Desktop Engineering Ltd. (DTE), writing engineering software and serving as a reseller for established software houses. Since then, Haines has kept an eye out for ways to improve efficiency across various industries.

Since 1999, DTE has engaged CATIA-based solutions to designers, engineers and building manufacturers.

A few years later, the company began to realize that its customers in the automotive and aerospace industries were light-years ahead of the architecture and construction industry.

Years of training and supporting its customers in the use and application of this software had taught DTE’s experts that there were ways designers and engineers could reap big benefits.

It was this observation that pushed Haines into discussions with early adopting customers, who were exploring with Dassault Systèmes how to bring the architecture industry into a new world of design possibilities.

At the Heart of AEC

Haines’ work has benefitted not only from good timing, but a good location.

“I’m very lucky because London is one of the centers of the architecture, engineering and construction industry in the world,” he says. “There is a great deal of respect for the quality and, in some ways, the boldness of design that comes out of some of these firms in the UK.”

The city boasts world-leading architects, engineers and contractors, giving service companies like DTE the opportunity to help connect a variety of members of the architecture, engineering and construction industry.

But DTE’s services aren’t in demand simply because of London’s reputation as a hub for the industry experts — the British government has taken a leading role in promoting digital modeling with its 2011 announcement that the government would require the use of collaborative BIM on state projects by 2016. At this time, the government has committed to BIM Level 2 in an effort to greatly reduce the costs of state-owned projects.

That goal has gone a long way towards opening the conversation on the efficiency benefits of digital modeling in London, and around the world, but Haines notes that the challenge for companies such as his is in pushing the conversation further.

“Level 2 is something the automotive industry did many years ago and the architecture, engineering and construction industry really needs to move further to more of a 3D space where the collaboration element is far deeper,” Haines says.

Click to TweetTweet: “Auto industry reached Level 2 years ago; #AEC needs to go further to #3D, to deeper collaboration” -@Desktop_Eng #BIM

Better Design, Faster

But pushing the conversation on BIM further has its share of challenges. Haines notes that in many cases architects and engineers are unwilling to sacrifice time on a project, due to the observation that more time spent on design can lead to a better end result.

What is often overlooked is that today’s technology can speed the process to a better end result, making everyone happier in the end.

“General contractors’ margins are so thin they have to be efficient. But on the design side, my challenge has always been to help the architect to see that digital modeling is not a cost, it’s an investment in doing the job faster,” Haines explains. “The challenge I find in dealing with architects and engineers is getting them to appreciate that spending money on the technology should be justified on improving efficiency. In other words, doing it faster so then they can get a better return on investment.”

Click to TweetTweet: “Digital modeling is not a cost, it’s an investment in doing the job faster” -@Desktop_Eng

Today, more and more owners are looking to speed along high-quality design, and architects are looking for new solutions to meet that demand.

Across the Board Improvements

DTE is bringing this logical argument to a number of players in the architecture, engineering and construction industry who are realizing that better tools can lead to better — faster, cheaper, more complex and more unique — buildings.

Among DTE’s clients are:

  • Architect Allies and Morrison, which began running 3D projects to free up some of their limited time, before discovering that these tools could increase design productivity, capture creativity and control supply chains.
  • Façade Consultants Newtecnic, which put digital modeling to use, creating innovative beautiful and buildable structural building facades. The company adopted 3D tools to move beyond conceptual design to create a fully functional façade system.
  • Structural engineer Price & Myers, which has used 3D engineering to secure a reputation of engineering geometrically and structurally complex projects and take on more challenging projects.

Price & Meyers elegantly showed how digital modeling can make complex geometries come together easily even in large assemblies with its recently completed Slipstream sculpture in Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 2.

By Smuconlaw (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

By Smuconlaw (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The 78-meter-long swirling design is meant to evoke the motion of a stunt plane swooping and tumbling through the sky.

The engineer’s research involved tracing the swept motion volume of the plane using digital modeling, and ultimately dividing those motions into more than 32,000 unique parts. The modeling information was translated to laser cutting machines that crafted the exterior aluminum panels and a hidden interior structure of continuously undulating plywood.

Next Steps

Haines has seen a number of improvements in the industry, but believes there is further to go. Moving to the cloud, he says, has provided tremendous benefits for customers.

It is by moving beyond simple file sharing to fully integrating the work of all parties from design through fabrication and construction to boost project efficiency while providing the highest quality in design.

Click to TweetTweet this post:
Spotlight on Desktop Engineering, Ltd.

Related Resources

Technological Changes Brought by BIM to Façade Design [Whitepaper]

Collaborative and Industrialized Construction

Façade Design for Fabrication

Desktop Engineering, Limited


#3DXforum – 3DEXPERIENCE Partner FORUM 2015 in Paris

By Muriel

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