Technology: A Double-Edged Sword (Day Cinco)

Hola, amigos! Today, the theme was technology, and it was a very interesting, hands-on day! We took a tour of a highly-specialized University called “Veritas,” which gives Costa Ricans and international students alike the ability to learn the arts: Fashion, environmental science, biology, computer science, etc. Most importantly, they offer majors in 3D modeling, design, and animation. We worked with former students (now professors), and they showed us the ins and outs of product design. As a business student, I won’t have as much of an opportunity to do this in the future, so I took advantage of it!

3D modeling/printing and computer software allow technicians to create solutions to seemingly unsolvable problems. For instance, imagine you are in a facility working on a machine and an important piece breaks. You don’t have time to order another piece, but you have the parts to make another one. By using 3D modeling, you can create the exact shape and dimensions necessary, provide the parts, and let the computer create the schematic. It is amazing.

Naturally, I started to contemplate the possibilities of using such technology or other technologies on the plantations we’ve visited. Certainly, 3D modeling and printing would be helpful as there are several machines that are used on the plantation; however, there would also be few drawbacks. This post, I want to discuss some positives and negatives of using technology on a plantation.

Positives:

Firstly, efficiency immediately improves and costs eventually decrease (after the initial fixed cost spike of purchasing capital.) This happens because automation improves the division of labor system. What usually took 4 workers to complete now only takes one machine and one worker to monitor the machine. This allows these other 3 workers to complete other tasks increasing output. Secondly, machines help speed up the process of transforming the bean to coffee by peeling the shells off and sometimes, drying the beans. This saves money and resources. Thirdly, presenters who worked in exports indirectly showed us the importance of technology in exportation. Technology is an ultimate necessity for organization these days. There are so many forms and documents to keep track of and fill out. Technology makes it easier for workers to share these documents across the world and most importantly, communicate with traders. It is also essential in logistics, tracking packages and managing shipments. As we can see, with automation technology and computer information systems come benefits, but now, we must discuss some drawbacks particular to the coffee industry.

Negatives (Benefits of old system & traditional methods):

I will list the negatives in order of the process, starting with harvesting the beans. Picking the beans is an important part of the process because businesses earn more money when they use red beans as opposed to green (unripe) beans. Plantation owners hire Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans to hand pick the beans, and this job can start at 6:00am and end at 2:00pm, no matter the weather. Of course, they could use machines to harvest the beans and start the coffee making process earlier, but they risk harvesting unripe beans before they turn red, which would lose them profit. In this case, ensuring quality by hand picking the beans is better than efficiency with technology. Next, they bring these beans to a wet mill. The wet mill is a great example of Costa Rican sustainability. Instead of using electricity or some other type of power, they use hydroelectric power by filling a large container with water and including tubes that help them separate the good beans from the bad. Obviously, using technology would decrease sustainability and probably, increase costs. Since the beans are all wet after this stage and after they are stripped of their shells, businesses use two methods to dry beans. The first method is using a mechanical dryer. This dryer is clearly quicker; however, they would need to sacrifice some quality. The best way to dry the beans to ensure fresh and natural coffee is to use solar power (sunlight). In this case, using the traditional method of raking the beans outside on the hot ground is the best way to ensure great coffee, so they would not want to use machines. Although, it does take about a day of raking in 45 minute increments.

Overall, technology can make things easier and increase overall output, but output is useless if it is not better quality than your competitor. Thus, the most successful businesses are ones who can combine multiple methods, comprised of technological and traditional processes which will infuse efficiency with quality. The plantations we’ve visited have done this so far. I’m excited to see how other plantations balance these ideas.

¡Pura Vida!

-Adam

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