Rethinking Research Methods for Emerging Technologies
Written by John Pierson
Researchers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s (GTRI) Food Processing Technology Division and the University of Georgia’s Poultry Science Department have worked individually, collectively, and jointly to address current and future challenges facing the poultry and allied industries. The universities interact frequently with industry through both advisory boards and established contacts and with each other to ensure research is meeting needs. Recently, Drs. Doug Britton and Mike Lacy began a more formalized dialogue to discuss what the poultry industry might look like in the future and how university researchers in Georgia and nationally might better assist the industry.
One related GTRI initiative underway seeks to better define future research agendas, with researchers examining how emerging technologies that impact poultry processing should be assessed. The project’s initial scope sought to establish analytics associated with food safety, quality, and yield. However, the team quickly realized that identifying systematic design approaches might better identify research, which if undertaken today, could give the best results in the future.
A key consideration is how problems are formed and then solved, particularly when one is looking to the future. The relative maturity of the poultry industry indicates transformational (disruptive) change is imminent; currently, change tends to remain supply/demand-driven and focused primarily on selling propositions. Recent history has shown that disruptive innovations (digital cameras, cell phones) overtake existing customers or markets because established businesses fail to place sufficient value upon or participate in the innovation early on.
One approach, systems theory, looks at the influence of certain factors of the whole (food safety, quality, or yield) as criteria to better improve processing. System types include hard systems (those that can be quantified such as yield) as compared to soft systems (those that are qualified such as quality) versus evolutionary systems (self-regulate using feedback such as certain food safety interventions).
Another approach uses design thinking, where the goal starts with what is meant to be achieved (poultry processing in the future) instead of with a certain problem (food safety, quality, yield). Here, one only needs to define enough of the parameters to optimize a path to the goal.
While many other descriptions exist, when a task or product is defined and clarified into a product proposal, requirements list, and ultimately a detailed design ready for production, it is most often called a mechanical product design.
Work to date has identified similarities between systems theory, design thinking, and mechanical product design, although the path from innovation to invention is still ambiguous. Why? Because scientists tend to focus on systems as abstract concepts needing better quantification, while engineers typically see systems as concrete arrangements that achieve better quantification. Regardless, as global markets and distributed information exchange increases, industry needs scientists and engineers to better align their definitions of systems so that innovation can quickly be converted into a mechanical product design.
Moving forward, researchers plan to discuss results to date with experts associated with Professional Master’s Degree in Applied Systems Engineering and Certificate Programs at the Georgia Institute of Technology. They also will continue to engage other university colleagues and industry to better define research agendas to address future challenges facing the poultry and allied industries.
John Pierson is a principal research engineer in the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Food Processing Technology Division. His areas of expertise are wastewater pretreatment alternatives, environmental control systems, pollution control, and biofuels. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.