Why night shifts solved the problem. Lessons learned from a BRIDGE fellow who faced many challenges.

Learn more today about Pierre Brémon’s own experience with his BRIDGE Proof of Concept project hosted by the Haute Ecole Arc – Ingénierie (HES-SO).

Could you describe your BRIDGE Proof of Concept project in a few words?

The best conditions to grow button mushrooms – 15 degrees Celsius, 85 percent humidity and darkness – are not attractive working conditions for humans. Western European mushroom farmers and especially Swiss farmers have difficulty finding staff and staying profitable, while competing with imports that can sell for as much as 70 percent less than their prices. The cost of harvesting represents as much as 45% of the production cost. The jobs are highly intensive, repetitive and unhealthy, with high employee churn as a result. The actual biggest challenge of this industry is, indeed, the lack of people.

Agrinium Bridge Proof of Concept aimed to develop an automated system for the fresh button mushrooms sector, working 24 hours a day – 355 days per year without affecting the quality of the mushrooms picked (no marks, no diseases transmitted).

What were the main hurdles you encountered?

One of the main challenges during the BRIDGE Proof of Concept development was to have regular mushroom beds to consistently test and improve our grasping robotic system. Indeed, growing button mushrooms is not an easy task. It requires good climate parameters to start the fructification (i.e. starting the mushroom growth) and time for these mushrooms to grow. Therefore, a good cooperation with a Swiss producer sending these beds was needed.

Additionally, having a similar control environment in our robotic test site as in the client site was nearly impossible. Therefore, depending on the temperature (doing the trails in winter, summer etc.), the humidity, and the light (non-exhaustively), we had several different types of mushroom growth, and our initial conditions of tests were quite vast and sometimes non-real compared to the client site. It was therefore not easy to perform a rigorous scientific approach for our system development, using a standard frame for the input parameters. Combined with Covid-19’s lockdown of our test lab, there were the main hurdles that we encountered!

In the end, the best way for performing the tests was to access our client growing rooms directly on their production facility. To avoid causing any problems with workers, we had to work at night.

Would you recommend young graduates to apply to BRIDGE Proof of Concept? And why?

I would definitely recommend young graduates to apply to BRIDGE Proof of Concept. It is a unique opportunity to put your competence in practice toward a real-life case and enter the entrepreneurial world.

As a young graduate, I am also convinced that you can take much more risks to develop your product and transform it into a venture; as you have mostly less duties or spending than older persons do. Even if the project fails at the end, you still have a unique experience for the market, or for a next venture.

It is also true that you will probably have little to no-experience in many fields. But this is also an opportunity for a young graduate as we must learn how to find the right people around us, to compensate for these shortcomings. These transversal competencies will always be useful in your future.

If you were to do something differently, what would it be and why?

I would have looked sooner to be surrounded or collaborate with experienced persons in some key technical fields. This may have accelerated my product development schedule.