Photo by Peter Pearson [CC-BY-SA 2.0], via Flickr
What does engineering have to do with chocolate?
Creating your favorite candy bars is a complicated process during which thousands of pounds of chocolate, sugar, milk, and other raw ingredients are pumped, blended, mixed, cooked and formed into those familiar treats.
Engineers are critical in all phases of candy making - everything from developing products to delivering them to the stores. A team of people from all the major areas of production are involved whenever a new product is introduced and engineers are important members of this team. A team including several engineers recently produced Celebrations Chocolates, 8 varieties of miniature chocolate bars in a gift box.
A Sweet New Gift!
Whenever a new candy bar is developed engineers ask: How can it be kept fresh and wholesome from the time it is made until you purchase and eat it? The taste and texture of a candy bar with separate layers of nougat, caramel, and chocolate can change when ingredients in different layers mix with one another. This is the kind of challenge chemical engineers might work on during product development. In the case of Celebrations Chocolates, the engineers were faced with the challenge of making familiar candy bars in a new miniature (only an inch long!) size.
From Test Kitchen to Mass Production
There is an art to candy making. If you were to make a candy bar at home, you'd need a sense of the temper (the amount of crystalization) of the chocolate to get just the right consistency and texture. In a candy factory, that sense must be replaced by a scientific process that uses sensors and meters to measure the amount and size of the crystals in the chocolate. Process engineers take a product made in small batches in a test kitchen and develop the means to produce it on a large scale. Once the Celebrations team had developed a way to make the candy bars small, they had to figure out how to make LOTS of them.
Keeping a candy bar at its optimum taste and appearance and getting it into your hands without damage are critical points in packaging. The role of packaging engineers is to develop a delivery system and design a package that will deliver the product in a fresh and wholesome manner. All of the foods we purchase in stores are packaged and stored to withstand the demands of both shipping and storage. Celebrations Chocolates feature a unique twist wrapping. So unique in fact, that there are even directions for opening the packaging.
From Conveyor Belt to Convenience Store Shelves
Putting the actual candy bar into its own package presents different problems. Mechanical engineers design systems that take fragile food items, like candy bars, place them in packaging, and move them around a processing plant at high rates of speed without damage. Sometimes this is a real challenge: how do you get the right number of each candy into a box of assorted chocolates?
The Chocolate Factory
A well managed food plant starts with a well designed building. Civil engineers design and construct the building that house candy--making equipment. In food manufacturing plants, it is especially important that products be produced in a safe and clean manner, meeting all rules and guidelines. The actual equipment needed for the process is often designed by chemical and mechanical engineers. For Celebrations, the team took existing space, redesigned original equipment, and installed additional required equipment.
Imagine designing a computer control system that can track 10,000 pieces of candy per minute! Working with advanced sensor technologies, computer engineers and electrical engineers are developing smart control systems to monitor and manage the production of candy bars. Artificial intelligence and fuzzy logic are also being applied to control complex processing systems.
Keeping it Clean
Air and water coming into the plant must be clean to protect the candy and air and water leaving the plant must be clean to protect the environment. Environmental engineers develop the water management and air handling for manufacturing plants. They also have responsibility to handle discharge permits and oversee government reports that show environmental compliance.
Making it Better
Engineers are best suited to evaluate equipment downtime and repairs, and to direct maintenance crews. Continuous improvement of processes is also important, and industrial engineers analyze operations and make recommendations for making the candy bars faster, at higher quality, and for less money.
To be an engineer in the candy making industry is much like being the conductor of a great orchestra. The conductor of the production team must allocate resources and provide the problem solving skills. You can make your life a little sweeter with a tasty career in food processing engineering.
Much of the information on this page was adapted from a November/December 1994 article in SWE Magazine by G. Jean Hoppert, P.E. Jean, an operational manager at M&M Mars, also provided the information for the Celebrations® project.