Ole Molaug is one of the most recognized inventors in Norway, and developed both the world's first painting robot in 1967 and the world's first centralized feeding system for farmed fish in 1979. Now the 85-year old, who is still passionately constructing new developments, is raising the alarm with regard to both the Jæren entrepreneur mentality and automation.
Ole Molaug calls himself a constructor, and he's not the first in his family. At his home farm at Molaug in Frafjord, in addition to regular farm operations, high quality furniture was also produced. Ole's father Knut and uncle Asbjørn also established their own power plant with a water turbine as early as 1911, installed a cable car to ease transport, and built their own radio as early as 1923.
“The creative enthusiasm is definitely in the genes. If you needed something at home, you had to build it yourself. I started playing around in the workshop at an early age. My teacher said that I spent so much time there that I had sawdust on my brain. Regardless, I am in no doubt that it was a key factor in establishing my passion for finding solutions and building innovations,” says the 85-year old, whose motto throughout his life has been to ‘Find at least ten possible solutions for every challenge,’ and continues:
“Jæren, regardless of whether one considers farming, the mechanical industry or aquaculture, is based on finding creative solutions to challenges, combined with hard work and a lot of effort. There are still plenty of people with good ideas and a good work ethic, but in a society where the norm is to buy everything new rather than being a problem solver and developing something oneself, creativity will of course suffer. I only hope those people still exist who can envision what will create the next big industry in Jæren,” Molaug says, who points out that it is one thing to develop good technical solutions, but something completely different to create jobs for a lot of people.
A lot of people think of automation and robotisation as a recent phenomenon and modern technology, but as far back as the early 60s Molaug was awarded a working grant by the Research Council of Norway to study automation at BIAS Bergen, and when he moved home to Bryne in 1962 upon completion of his studies, Jæren Automasjonsselskap became his new employer.
“This was a collaborative effort for industry in Jæren, where we worked for ten different companies on mechanisation and automation. We arrived at numerous interesting solutions, although nothing like what we see today. But then again that was more than 50 years ago! If you visit the patent office you'll find a lot of interesting ideas from this period that have only materialised more recently because they were ahead of their time.”
Opportunities for good entrepreneurs
Both the painting robot that Molaug developed for Trallfa, called “Ole” in honour of its designer, and the Aquamarina feeding system, which was the starting point of what now is AKVA group, automated processes that previously were difficult and required a lot of effort.
“We resolved challenges facing the various industries. Painting was an unpleasant and hazardous job, and our goal was to make day-to-day work better for the employees. Automating jobs for the sole purpose of saving money is a dangerous route to take. At the same time a greater entrepreneurial spirit is needed to develop new jobs in new industries, and that is interesting. There are both drawbacks and benefits to almost all development. Good entrepreneurs will at least have numerous opportunities in the time ahead, they just have to find an area with opportunities and a need for innovation,” Molaug claims.
Today automation is all about efficiency, and although it might remove labor tasks, it also enable and facilitate growth. Efficiency enable growth and create new jobs. Just look at the aquaculture industry, without industrialization, central feeding and other technological innovations, aquaculture would not have been the industry that it is today. A new article from the Norwegian Seafood Council says that employment in fish farming related jobs in Norway has increased by 74 per cent from 2000 to 2016!
AKVA from idea to global player
His feeding system has certainly proved to be a huge job-creating success. Since Molaug invented the first centralized feeding system for fish farming and started a technological adventure for the aquaculture industry, AKVA group has evolved into a large and robust company with an impressive product portfolio that ranges from individual components such as cameras and sensors, to comprehensive turn-key deliveries of complex fish farming systems.
“It's great to see that what I started along with Gunnar Kluge, Sveinung Havrevold and Odd Skjæveland in 1979 has grown into a global player that has created tens of thousands of jobs. I will definitely not take all of the credit for that – a large number of people have teamed up and worked hard to create a successful business. I honestly hadn't envisioned it becoming so big. But challenges remain in the fish farming industry, and I am confident that AKVA group will continue to be a forward-looking problem solver that continues to create new solutions,” Molaug says, who is still a passionate constructor at 85 years of age.