Michael Potas – Boost Design – Ep 02

Michael Potas, Managing Director at Boost Design

In this episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, we’re joined by Michael Potas from Boost Design, who we will be talking to about how PostHarvest’s innovative sensor technology aims to reduce fruit & vegetable losses throughout the storage aspect of the food supply chain journey.



[00:00:00] Mitchell Denton: Welcome to let’s talk farm to fork, the PostHarvest podcast that interviews people of interest across the food supply chain. Today on our show, I’m joined by PostHarvest’s very own Michael Potas. Who I will be talking to about how our innovative sensor technology is working towards reducing the amount of annual food loss within the fresh produce industry.

So with no further delays, let’s get started.

Hi, Michael, how are you? Thanks for joining me on the podcast today.

[00:00:24] Michael Potas: Hello, Mitch. Thanks for having me.

[00:00:26] Mitchell Denton: Before we get into it, I just wanted to give you the opportunity to tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. And while you’re at it, please tell us something about yourself that most people don’t know.

[00:00:36] Michael Potas: Oh, okay. Um, so first of all, my name is Michael I’m based in Sydney, Australia. The weather here is generally pretty good. Um, I’ve got a degree in electronics engineering. And my whole career has been involved in working with startup companies. I’ve worked with a whole bunch of them, and most of them involve some kind of novel or special new technology, that provides, benefits beyond what’s already available in the market.

And around four and a half years ago, I founded a product design consultancy called Boost Design. And what we do is we help new inventors and startup companies develop new products, technology products, specifically. We’ve got a stack of engineers. They’ve got a wide range of experience, electronics, mechanical, software and firmware, and all sorts of things like that.

And we work on all sorts of different products and that’s, in terms of why I’m here, that’s how I met, You guys at PostHarvest, which was working on development of that product.

So something interesting about me. That’s a tough question to answer. Um, but look, one thing that people don’t know about me, or at least a lot of people I know now who didn’t know me back then, but, I used to be a DJ and I used to play techno at dance parties and tour around the place to different cities and generally have a whole lot of fun, it was some good times back then.

[00:01:53] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Wow. Okay. This is blowing my mind. What kind of music are we talking about here?

[00:02:00] Michael Potas: Uh, well, you know, there was, you know, it sort of changed as the genres changed and what was popular in different places, you know, sort of changed as well. But, I used to play a lot of house music. I went through all sorts of things like, hardcore techno, through to dark house and tech house and stuff like that so.

[00:02:17] Mitchell Denton: Amazing. I wish I knew this sooner. That’s great. I love it I love it. Michael, the DJ. I was going to ask this question later, but it seems like what currently on the topic. I just want to know. What’s one thing you wish you’d known before you began your career in engineering and developing innovative products.

[00:02:36] Michael Potas: Yeah, look, that’s a good question. Look, I wish I knew just how much fun it would be. You know, so it’s always great to have something to look forward to, but I’ve really enjoyed my career. I think I’ve chosen the right one for me. I’ll wake up in the morning thinking about designing cool stuff and being involved in, exciting projects and it would be hard to predict that and I’m pleased with my choice, but at the time, of course you don’t always know that.

[00:02:59] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Great. Great. Well, on that note, let’s talk farm to fork.

So continuing on from you telling us what you do, would you mind telling us a little bit more about how our innovative product works, what its purpose is and where within the food supply chain it operates.

[00:03:15] Michael Potas: Sure. So look your product could be simplified to be called a high end gas sensor. And it’s used for measuring trace elements of ethylene gas in the air. And look, the reason that’s important is that ethylene gas is known to both predict and influence the ripening process of fresh produce.

So it’s a very powerful tool to understanding what’s going on, to give us insights as to where produce might be in the ripening cycle, and then allow decisions to be made as to how to best optimise the storage and supply to market of the produce. What’s very cool about your product, is it uses some very special technology in order to make it work.

It’s got a special gas treatment process. And what that allows it to do is take very low levels of ethylene gas in room air. So we’re talking, measurements in the parts per billion, which is very, very small amounts and being able to amplify that, so that it can be detected using an electrochemical sensor.

And once we get those readings, then what we can do is, apply some proprietary algorithms to them. And then from that, we can work out a very accurate ethylene gas concentration level. So, in terms of where the system goes, where it fits in the sort of supply chain. It’s really anywhere that food is stored for any period of time.

And so that would be, the food storage area’s cold storage rooms, you know, after produce is delivered from the farm, and usually before it’s delivered to the market.

[00:04:43] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Great. So on the back end of that. What would you say separates PostHarvest Technology from its competitors?

[00:04:50] Michael Potas: Well, first of all, understanding who the main competitors are, is really important in answering that question. Probably the biggest competitor to the PostHarvest product is visual or physical inspection of fresh produce. So it’s just someone actually having a look at it and saying, “Does this look like it’s Okay?”

Look, it’s very subjective and it’s hard to get it right. It requires training and that’s not always easy in a food supply, storage, type of environment where sometimes the staff, may be coming through. They may not have been working there for a long time. And may not of ever had the opportunity to receive the training required to be able to, do a really good visual or physical inspection in order to make a good decision as to when it’s time to, or if something needs to be done with that fresh produce. There’s other methods, which I think are more sophisticated, including things like microbiological testing and even lab gas testing.

And both of these methods, they’re out there, they’re being used, but they are expensive and they’re slow. So in some cases it might take a week to get a result. So in that time, the produce can be completely spoiled in between when you get your sample and when you actually get a result.

So it’s not really a, you know, a great technology for making decisions now. The other problem with those technologies is because they are, they’re quite, I mean, they use expensive equipment and they’re labor intensive. They’ve, you know, nearly impossible to automate on mass. So that’s sort of, some of the issues there.

So when we compare that, To the PostHarvest system. On the other hand that takes all of the subjectivity out. It replaces that visual inspection, that instant visual risk inspection, but it puts the data behind it as well. So, it can sit in place of something like microbiological testing or lab gas testing, and provide you nearly an instant result operating sort of 24/ 7 and requiring essentially no labor once it’s been installed. So it’s pretty different to the current standard practice.

[00:06:49] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, absolutely. It seems that the sensory test methods certainly involve a lot of guesswork and leave a lot of room for human error. While some of those expensive lab tests you were mentioning simply don’t provide actionable data within a practical window. You, and I know this, but for the listeners out there, overripe fruit and vegetable products in storage can have irreversible effects on neighboring products from exposure in a window as little as two hours.

So I mean, getting them results a day late even can be a bit of a wasted practice. But following on from that, what do you think is the biggest challenge with sensor technology right now? And how are we going to overcome it?

[00:07:28] Michael Potas: Yeah, look, I think that’s a really great question. I think that the biggest issue with other sensor technologies in the market at the moment. So if we step away from what we talked about, the competitors and we look at the technology that’s out there, what we find is achieving that combination of the gas accuracy at those very low levels, plus the convenience required is really the key issue that technology needs to overcome.

And that’s why we’ve had to come up with a brand new approach, which includes a bunch of new technologies in order to provide that combination of both accuracy and convenience.

[00:08:03] Mitchell Denton: So what would you say is the biggest surprise you’ve found with working in the FoodTech industry and why?

[00:08:10] Michael Potas: Well, I think the elephant in the room is just the amount of wasted produce. Like it is incredible. We work on all sorts of different projects and we’re involved in lots of different things where we make a pretty sizable impact, but in this particular application, just the sheer quantity of produce that’s wasted is incredible.

You know, so, some of the figures that I’ve seen indicate that up to half of all fruit and veggies produced are wasted. And I’ve read figures in the US alone. It’s worth about $200 billion of food wasted every year. And fresh produce is a significant part of that. So, it’s just a, that’s pretty amazing and until we were involved in this project, I didn’t realise just how big this issue actually is.

[00:08:52] Mitchell Denton: Yeah, it’s kind of hard to wrap your head around really. So from where you stand, what would you identify as being one of the biggest pain points or blind spots in the food supply industry?

[00:09:03] Michael Potas: Well, I think that because food has been so plentiful in Western countries for so long and to a large extent, so cheap, we’ve really been taking this wastage for granted. It’s really seen as the cost of doing business. You know, so if you’re paying for two bananas to get one as an example, due to the food wastage associated with it.

I think as the population grows, it’s just not going to be viable. To keep throwing away, half of the food that’s produced, we just don’t have the arable farming land to support it. And we’re going to have to get much, much smarter about overall efficiency.

[00:09:36] Mitchell Denton: Hmm. Yeah. I think the unconscious behaviors of both consumers and businesses, unfortunately, really are a huge contributing factor to avoidable food waste practices. So has the COVID pandemic and the quarantine that’s come with it had any effect on your day to day operations for better or worse?

[00:09:56] Michael Potas: So look, I ah definitely think its affecting lots of businesses differently and, we’re all getting to spend more time with our families and for many people, I’m sure it can be a bit of a double edged sword. So, certainly seeing that, you know, amongst, in our household and also from some of our team members as well.

But look, it hasn’t really impacted on our operations too much. A lot of our engineering team can pick up stuff and work from home. We do have some work in the office and that’s pretty socially distanced, so we’re all good there. We do a lot more video conferences, but we did a lot of anyway.

We were already set up for remote work, so we were in good shape for it. So yeah, look, it’s a bit lonelier, a bit more time with the kids. Uh, you know, so.

[00:10:40] Mitchell Denton: Nothing wrong with that.

[00:10:42] Michael Potas: Yeah, until they drive you crazy, then that’s when it becomes a problem. So yeah.

[00:10:47] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah So when it comes to food loss and sustainability, what’s the biggest area related to your role, you’re curious about and why, or to put it in another way, what are some of the things you’re researching the most right now?

[00:11:02] Michael Potas: Look, what I’m really looking forward to seeing is how the PostHarvest sensor technology is going to impact on fresh produce, wastage and efficiency. I think it’s going to be really, really exciting to see the product in the field. Capturing lots and lots of data and then making some calls and insights and seeing how that improves efficiency.

So that’s certainly something that we’ll all be keeping a very close eye on and it’s exciting times.

[00:11:28] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Great. So on the back end of my last question, is there a particular group or innovation within the industry that you’re excitedly keeping a watchful eye on and why?

[00:11:38] Michael Potas: Yeah. I’m really interested in how technology, the application of new technologies is going to be used to help impact, efficiencies and improvements. In particular IOT technologies or internet of things is what IOT stands for, for those who may not have heard of it.

That’s really where we get connected devices that can capture data from the field or from wherever they’re located and bring them into a central location. So you can get a really good idea of what’s happening in operations and be able to make very well-informed decisions as to how to make things work better. So the IOT trend is a, certainly a trend across many industries. We’re doing a lot of IOT projects, along with PostHarvest. And there’s just the potential for so many benefits, so that’s gonna be very interesting to keep an eye on.

[00:12:27] Mitchell Denton: Yeah. Great. So as we come to a close, I just want to ask you, what is the number one takeaway you really want the listeners to absorb from this episode?

[00:12:36] Michael Potas: I’m hoping that listeners understand that food wastage is actually a really big problem. And there are technologies that are coming. And, or or potentially already here that in order to improve it. And I also would like listeners to watch out, perhaps you’ll see a PostHarvest gas sensing system in a storage room next time you go and visit.

In this episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, we’re joined by PostHarvest’s very own Michael Potas, who we will be talking to about how our innovative sensor technology aims to reduce fruit & vegetable losses throughout the storage aspect of the food supply chain journey. [00:12:56] Mitchell Denton: Yeah awesome. Well, that’s all for today’s episode of let’s talk, farm to fork. Thanks for listening. And thank you, Michael, for joining me.

[00:13:03] Michael Potas: Thanks Mitch. I certainly enjoyed our conversation and look forward to speaking again soon.

[00:13:08] Mitchell Denton: For any listeners who would like to know more about PostHarvest and our technology, check out the link in the description of this episode, make sure to subscribe to this podcast so that you never miss an episode, and don’t forget to leave a review and share with your friends.

Until next time you’ve been listening to let’s talk farm to fork a PostHarvest podcast.

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