Warning… Tomatan’s Big Brother Is Here

Dr Ross McKenzie The Startup Business

Imagine this… the Nutty Professor announces their latest invention – a robot that sits on your shoulders and feeds you tomatoes while you run in marathons!

Well actually you do not have to imagine it too much, because it has already been invented!

Let me introduce you to Tomatan and of course little brother / sister Petit-Tomatan!

You see the Japanese company Kagome came up with this idea for an automated tomato dispenser for a runner in the Tokyo Marathon in 2015. Perhaps a marketing stunt – who knows, but there we have it, wearable robots!

When Microsoft Australia invited me to visit the Kagome tomato operations located in the Goulburn River irrigation district of regional Australia, as part of my role as a Microsoft Brand Ambassador, nothing was going to keep me away… I wanted to face off with Tomatan because it might be my secret weapon for this year’s Sydney City To Surf marathon!

So, on a mild late summer day, I boarded my flight from Sydney to Melbourne, then took a three-hour bus ride to Echuca.

Everything was set for this show down… man versus machine – bring it on!

But what happened next was a little unexpected…

I met up with Nick Raleigh, Field Operations General Manager at Kagome and Bryant Alford who heads up Software Development at Advance Computing. They then took me on a tour of the Kagome plant and explained how they had been automating a largely manual paper based process, to real time data.

They discussed how they can provide some of the highest standards of quality in food production, with traceability of product (freshly harvested tomatoes) from farm paddock to finished processed, fit for market, goods.

As Nick explained to me:

“By leveraging the capabilities of the Internet Of Things (IoT) and Microsoft’s Azure functionality, we have streamlined production to such a point, that any additional efficiencies would be just incremental as we are close to, if not at the peak, of our efficiency curve in the whole process”

Now that is impressive what every you think, because their supply chain covers independent growers, harvesting, transporting and processing.

But I am being distracted by also thinking:

“Where was Tomatan in all this, will I get my face off?”

Have to focus…

So back to Kagome and the plant, this means a competitive product. For the local growers, employees and businesses of their area, a commercial and viable industry, in which their local tomatoes are being distributed all over the world.

But also for me, it showed how by being very strategic and leveraging the best technology solutions that is appropriate, and collaborating with the right people, can lead to scalability – because this whole production ecosystem is based on a tight period. Tomatoes are a seasonal product so you need to scale up rapidly and then as circumstances change like weather conditions, you need to scale down just as rapidly. In traditional operations, this is not always achievable.

Bryant put it to me this way:

“You have to be efficient and that means making the best decisions at the best possible times and of course this is achieved through information because this is a beast we have to keep feeding”

That’s when it occurred to me…

What Kagome with their partnership of Advance Computing and Microsoft Australia, had actually created was a Godzilla like big brother to Tomatan – a huge robot factory that was actually feeding the world with tomatoes… now that is really impressive!

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