Monday, January 19, 2015

"A personal story about farming and the future of agriculture" by Mark Jackson

 Maybe one of the most important things for us all is agriculture. It is an area that people do not often talk about or even notice, but for some people it is a way of life! One of these people is Mark Jackson, after 5 generations agriculture is a most important area in his life.

In 1890 his great-grandfather bought a small piece of land in Iowa. At the beginning he has problems, so he lost whole year’s crops. Something had to be changed so he planted soybeans in order to feed his livestock through cold winter. But he discovered that they are very healthy and very easy to work with!

After five generations Mark Jackson is still living and working at the same farm as his parents and grandfather. The interesting fact is that although he has big family only one person, his son, is real person for this job. He even says how happy he is for working together with him. Did you know that only 1% of the U.S. population is producing 50% of world’s soybean!

During Marks 40 years farming career, his farm increased significantly, the reasons for that are science and heavy machines that are very important. Another important technology used are computers. Using them Mark has increased production 3-4 times by reducing seeds and fertilizer, on the same land his grandfather was using. Although he has increased production he is still using sustainable production and environmental responsibility. He was one of the first farmers who started soybean farming with Unilever.

Mark says that future can be even better, but only if we start worrying about it. Because if we don’t improve and stop running water, air and earth, future generations will have serious problems with farming. If we improve our world (with mindful harvesting practices), and improve our technology (from use of grain cart scales and yield management systems), our farming will be better and production will be higher.

Friday, January 16, 2015

What Happens Inside those Massive Warehouses? By Mick Mountz

Mick Mountz talked about a new solution for managing the inventory inside a warehouse. This revolutionary solution is based on the use of thousands of mobile robots to do the required tasks around a warehouse. Today, there are human workers who perform these tasks, but this could change in the near future. When you order a product from the Internet and it reaches your door in two days, maybe you don't think how many efforts these workers have made to get the product from a warehouse and send it to your door. A warehouse worker can spend up to 70 percent of the day working around the warehouse.

In the dot com era, Mick has worked for a company that was supposed to deliver groceries online called Webvan. But, this business proved to be ineffective. About thirty items had to be assembled in a single tote. Mick came to the conclusion that there was no way of solving each base picking. Soon Webvan went out of business and Mick started to think about what the problem was and how it could be solved. He was looking for technologies that could be the ultimate among supply chain solutions.

With a brainstorming exercise, Mick began to assume different things. For example, he imagined having a large distribution center in China, where labor is extremely cheap. He imagined zero costs for every worker, which lead him to the possibility to hire ten thousand workers. Each of them will go to the distribution warehouse at 8 in the morning and pick one single product, then hold it until it is ordered. There is no way of hiring people with zero costs, so robots and certain logistics and warehousing technology can be used instead. The only task of a human worker would be to work as pick worker instead of moving around the warehouse.

It doesn't matter if it's a small distribution warehouse in Illinois or an enterprise-level supply chain warehouse in China, things like walking, searching, wasting and waiting can be eliminated. Besides productivity, there were other positive effects noticed that Mick didn't think about, such as workers not interfering with each other. Once the system is in place and working, there are ways to tune it up using adaptive and dynamic algorithms. Mick just realized that sometimes it is better to let things do their own work. When someone places an order online, they can ask themselves if there was a robot involved in the work, because it is quite possible.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Why we should build wooden skyscrapers by Michael Green

Michael Green has built buildings of different sizes using various materials during his life in New York and Vancouver. But, the only material he truly loves is wood. From all the buildings he has been into, he only saw people hugging wooden columns and maybe the reason is that wood impresses people. Michael says that there are very tall forests in the world, that reach heights of 40 story buildings, but there are no wooden buildings that exceed 4 stories.

In the near future, the percentage of people living in cities will grow from the current 50 percent to 75 percent. This means that more than 3 billion people will need a new home in the next 20 years. Tall buildings will continue to be built and buildings will become taller and taller. Concrete and steel are great materials, but these materials have a very low green contribution percentage and the industry that makes them is the main pollution source in the world, followed by the ways the materials are transported.

There is a need for new ways in the construction industry and Michael Green thinks wood is the next big thing. There are valid reasons for this, as wood is the only material that comes already grown by the power of the sun. By using it for constructions, the carbon dioxide normally eliminated when a tree dies is kept inside the wood and this can be good for the environment.

While there are many things adopting wood as its primary composition, like wooden play kitchens for children or even the utensils we eat with, wooden structures are slow to adopt on a large scale. The first steps to use wood for skyscrapers are these: starting to use less concrete and steel and building wooden structures that are up to 30 stories high. There are new products for construction right now called timber panels and they are huge: 8 feet wide and 64 feet long. Until now, wooden constructions have been built using two-by-four types of panels.

The primary concern for new wooden buildings is the probability of fires. The truth is timber panels don't lighten up that easy and these buildings can be made to be as safe as concrete and steel constructions. Another concern is the deforestation that could be involved. Different strategies can be used to minimize it. A revolution happens in the construction business right now and wood may be the big thing of the next century. Michael Green has already started to construct high wooden buildings and things go in the right direction.