A few weeks ago, I encountered an article in the Wall Street Journal about a new invention that seeks to revolutionize the poultry industry, specifically the way that chickens are “wrangled.”
Just to give you a little bit of background, the article states that currently, about 95% of all chickens are herded manually. It’s a smelly, somewhat dangerous (chickens scratch and peck, after all) and messy (due to something else that chickens do quite often) job for the men and women doing the work. It can also be bad for the birds too. A chicken’s attempt to evade her would-be captors can result in bruised flesh and broken bones, resulting in financial losses for the poultry companies and accusations of abuse from animal rights groups.
But that’s all about to change, thanks to a new invention dubbed the PH2000. Author Scott Kilman describes how the device works: “Out of the gloom and dust of a chicken house as long as a football field, a PH2000 emerged. Hundreds of fluffy white birds tipped their heads and stared. The nine-ton, 42-foot-long contraption crept closer, slowly sweeping a low metal ramp back and forth like a giant scythe. The ramp gently nudged the birds in their chests. They lifted their feet to get out of its way, only to find themselves standing on the ramp itself. As more birds stepped on, they crowded one another toward a conveyor belt. Whoosh! Each chicken was whisked up the belt into a small compartment, where a burst of air pushed it into a metal chute. Within seconds, the bird came to a rest, blinking, still on its feet inside a wire cage.”
Sounds almost genius, doesn’t it?
The reason that I mention all of this is that the PH2000 probably doesn’t strike most people as being the most exciting innovation to come along. I doubt that it will garner the kind of attention that the Space Shuttle, the Mars Pathfinder or even Dean Kamen’s Segway Scooter received. (In other words, don't look for it on the cover of TIME magazine anytime soon.) The large majority of people will probably go about their daily lives without even knowing that the device exists. Yet, in spite of this, the PH2000 is poised to revolutionize an entire industry.
The article got me thinking about the nature of innovation. Sometimes, a new invention is widely heralded as the “next big thing.” At others, you don’t even know how innovative something is until years after the fact. That’s certainly true for our industry. For every major innovation like quick color-change powder coating booths or the electroless nickel process, there are dozens of hardly-even-noticed innovations that have made every bit as much of an impact on our professional lives.
In the months ahead, I encourage each of us to think about the jobs we do, and the as-yet-unexplored possibilities that lie around each corner. What are some aspects (great and small) of our jobs that could benefit from a dose of innovation? How can we make that masking job go a little more smoothly? How can we perform processes faster without compromising product quality? Let’s work with our suppliers — and one another — to explore new ways for revolutionizing our industry.