Some innovations are just so simple, they make you ask yourself: “Why didn’t I think of that???”
This is one of those examples.
A small family business of Ulrike und Thomas Lutz from Bellheim, Germany has just won a prestigious Design award for an innovation which seems like it took thousands of years and yet is so simple.
They have developed a new design for the traditional oak barrel used to store and mature wine.
Instead of being round, their design is essentially a rectangular box, whose walls can be taken apart like IKEA flat-pack furniture and reassembled.
It is called rebarrique, after the barrique barrels their design replaces.
That by itself has a number of value-adding benefits which become immediately obvious:
- Up to 80% less floorspace required to store an equivalent volume of wine while it matures, making more efficient use of space possible (see the image above for a comparison)
- Up to 90% lower volume required for transport of empty barrels, as their design can be taken apart and laid flat again.
That by itself makes it a perfect example of an innovation where people had continued to make round barrels because that is the way it’s always been done.
Just because something has always been done in a certain way doesn’t mean there is no opportunity to find ways to innovate. In fact, industries that have done things the same way for a long time are the best ones to try new ways for.
But the real breakthrough from their design comes from the fact that by disassembling the wooden walls, they can be treated and reused.
You see, the reason to store wine in oak barrels is that after the inside has been burned (toasted) and filled with wine, the wine diffuses into the wood and reacts with it, you get chemical reactions producing the wonderful aromas which wine (and other aged spirits like whiskey) are known for. The problem is that a barrel can only be used for this purpose a few times (a maximum of about 3 times) before the inside layer has used up the compounds which produce the flavourful aromas and the barrel needs to be replaced.
However, with the rebarrique design, you can disassemble the barrel, shave off the previously used toasted layer to expose fresh wood underneath, and then toast this wood to reuse the same barrel significantly more often.
This reusability of the barrels means less new trees need to be cut down each year for the creation of barrels.
In fact, the inventors suggest that using this design could reduce the number of oak trees cut down for barrels each year by 85%.
The company is apparently now using the exposure from their design win to help find a partner to take the innovation forward at scale.
I wish them all the best.
Although I am a bit jealous I didn’t think of it first.
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