High-tech in unexpected industries

Working in the digital, cyber and IT sector I tend to think of high-technology in computing/electronic terms. Unsurprising I suppose, and I imagine that when most people think of high-tech...

Working in the digital, cyber and IT sectors I tend to think of high-technology in computing/electronic terms. Unsurprising I suppose, and I imagine that when most people think of high-tech then this is what they would be drawn to. But is the digital sector the only high-tech sector? Does high-tech exist in unexpected industries?

A few months ago I was fortunate to have a guided tour of a plant-growing facility in North Yorkshire. The tour was part of helping us understand their business before building their new website. I was struck by the level of science and technology that is applied to an industry that, from a layman’s perspective at least, doesn’t appear to be high-tech at all.

On an ongoing basis they have:

  • Soil imports from Lithuania – apparently it is the highest quality soil available across Europe (who knew?!)
  • A temperature-controlled system for cultivating specific plants
  • Light controls for growing plants across different seasons

plus much more. (As an aside they used to work on the basis of four seasons, but no longer – climate change has created what is effectively a single season for them. But that’s a matter for another blog.)

More recently I watched a documentary on the manufacture of tins (yes I know this doesn’t say much about my social life). Specifically tins for food and drink storage – peas, fizzy drinks etc.

Is a tin high-tech? Well, I’d never thought about it before, but once I did the answer is ‘of course. It’s absolutely astonishing that we can put food stuff into a sealed tin and preserve it for years. Apparently, the key is down to the coating used on the interior of the tin. Moreover, the coatings aren’t ‘one-size fits all’ – specific coatings are required depending on the contents of the tin. This is because different contents can react (chemically) differently to the coatings (you don’t want them to react at all).

Going further back, I recall my ten years spent at Rolls-Royce. They are a hugely diversified power generation company, yet their core business – jet engines – remains the same. The level of R&D, design, material science and testing that goes into building a jet engine is astonishing. Did you know they ‘grow’ the turbine blades from a single crystal for example? High-tech? For sure.

So, next time you look at your Apple Watch or Android phone, maybe spare a moment for the high technology industries. They’re hiding in plain sight.

Feel free to share your own examples of high tech in the comments!

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