| Some people just have a knack in the kitchen, and my wife is among them. She transforms raw ingredients into the most amazing culinary delights, almost like she’s waving a magic wand. The finished products are works of art, hand crafted with tender loving care, and lucky me, I get to feast on them regularly!
During the course of my engineering career I’ve been employed within many industries, and at one point I made the decision to leave the electric utility industry and enter into the world of food manufacturing. I accepted the position of Plant Engineer with a wholesale manufacturer of baking ingredients and frozen pastry products. My main responsibility was the design of food manufacturing equipment and their production lines.
What I had expected to be a relatively straightforward process soon proved to be more challenging. I was no longer working with hard metal as my raw material, that is, gears, nuts, and bolts, but a whole new arena of things described by adjectives such as gooey and pastey. Engineers don’t typically create food products, and let’s face it, you probably wouldn’t want to eat anything that I cooked anyway! But an engineer working within a food manufacturing plant must act as a liaison between the worlds of engineering design and the culinary arts.
Now food manufacturers typically hire professional chefs to develop new products in their research and development (R&D) kitchens. Like my wife, they’re well qualified to produce wonderful hand-made culinary delights. The sticky part comes in when their small batch recipes and preparation techniques don’t translate smoothly to the world of mass production. When it comes to handling food, human fingers are far superior to metal machinery, and raw ingredients behave differently for each.
Herein lies much of the challenge for design engineers within the food industry. How do you design equipment and production lines to make huge quantities of food that look and taste as good as the prototype products made by hand in the R&D kitchen? Next week we’ll find out.