Scaling up food production from the kitchen to a manufacturing plant is all thanks to engineering. Through scientific knowledge and mathematics, engineering has allowed us to solve problems and make things happen.
It has allowed food to be transported, cooked in giant vats and mixed with large mixers. The processing of food is just as important as the ingredients. However, going from small to large-scale production isn’t easy and it takes scientific minds to figure out how this is done.
Who are the individuals who help make this transition possible? Food process engineers! Food process engineers are an essential part of the manufacturing industry because they develop and implement new processes leading to more efficient factories.
Food process engineers design manufacturing equipment and processes
Process engineers develop, maintain and enhance industrial processes. To improve the overall efficiency of manufacturing plants, they perform scientific and engineering experiments. This involves researching scientific literature, analyzing data and applying engineering principles.
In addition to designing processes, process engineers assist in the design of new manufacturing equipment. For example, they might design a machine which fills cookies with custard. When making designs, they must consider how the machines would physically fit in the factory and the maximum outputs the machine can achieve.
Process engineers also spend a lot of time researching and determining the price of the equipment. Process engineers are often involved in cost-saving initiatives, such as making processes more energy efficient. They do this by testing, monitoring and maintaining equipment to make sure that it is up to standards.
Throughout the design process, engineers ensure that everything is properly documented to show compliance with safety protocols.
Many times process engineers work with various departments when manufacturing problems arise during production. For example, if a cookie factory is struggling with the packaging of the product during production, the quality department may work with process engineers and maintenance to fix the problem.
Food process engineers have engineering degrees and certifications
In most cases, the minimum education requirement for Food process engineers is a university undergraduate degree. The most applicable degrees are chemical engineering, mechanical engineering, environmental engineering or civil engineering.
These programs teach fundamental topics which are used in the development of manufacturing processes. Courses taught in these programs include thermodynamics, process controls and plant design.
In addition to work as a process engineer, process engineers must be registered and licensed as a Professional Engineer with their provincial association. Different provinces have different licensing requirements. For example, in Ontario the requirements are:
- Be at least 18 years old
- Be of good character
- Meet the Professional Engineers Ontario’s stipulated academic requirements for licensure (an undergraduate engineering degree from a Canadian Engineering Accreditation board (CEAB)- accredited program, or possess equivalent qualifications), and, if required, successfully complete any technical exams
- Fulfil the engineering work experience requirements (demonstrate at least 48 months of verifiable, acceptable engineering experience, at least 12 months of which must be acquired in a Canadian jurisdiction under a licensed professional engineer)
- Successfully complete the Professional Engineers Ontario’s Professional Practice Examination (PPE)
Food process engineers work with software
Process engineers always come into projects with a plan because overhauling a process is a pricey and risky procedure. For example, one risk they may encounter is that a piece of equipment does not work after being installed in a manufacturing plant. An engineer would be prepared for this possibility by having dedicated plans in place to correct this problem.
In order to minimize these risks, Food process engineers use advanced computer software that mimics real-world conditions. If an operation doesn’t work in a computer simulation, there is no way it would work in real life!
Food process engineers work with manufacturing equipment
After a process has been approved for use in the plant, senior process engineers are often responsible for overseeing the installation of new equipment.
However, their guidance is not just limited to the installation of machinery. These professionals are also involved in monitoring the equipment over time. For example, they might monitor equipment to see if it performs at maximum efficiency. Factors such as friction between moving parts reduce the machine’s output.
Food process engineers perform risk assessments
Process engineers are responsible for assessing the risk of malfunction and failure in factory processes and equipment. If equipment is at high risk for failure, it could result in thousands of potential dollars lost for a company. More importantly, if a machine were to malfunction, it could become a safety risk for employees.
Since engineers are the ones who design the equipment, they are naturally the best fit to judge the risks in the system.
How do process engineers perform risk assessments? Risk assessments are specific and depend on the process and type of equipment. However, the general steps performed during risk assessment are:
- Identifying risks
- Analyzing risks
- Developing risk response strategies
- Monitoring and controlling risks
Food process engineers collect data
Most business decisions are not based on hunches, but on well collected data. Therefore, process engineers collect, interpret, and compile data throughout the design process. Engineers collect data from different sources such as production reports, inventory reports and experiments they have performed themselves.
Not only does a process engineer collect data, but they also analyze it and present it to high-level business personnel such as CEOs and plant managers. To better help them understand the collected data and make more informed decisions, process engineers provide them with the summarized facts.
Food process engineers troubleshoot problems
Problems occur daily in manufacturing facilities for a variety of different reasons. Some problems can be solved in minutes while others can shut facilities down for months. Knowing the best course of action for troubleshooting a problem generally requires a lot of experience.
Process engineers must have strong problem-solving skills, as fixing problems is the main purpose of their job. Manufacturing facilities want solutions that reduce machine shutdowns and costs. If these professionals do not have an answer, they are quick to find books that can provide insight or research if other facilities have encountered similar problems before.
Food process engineers are calm under pressure, think critically and analytically
Being a Food Process Engineer requires a range of skills. However, there are a few which are more essential than others. These skills include:
- Keep their composure – Manufacturing plants are fast-moving environments and can be demanding. These professionals are able to troubleshoot at an advanced level in stressful situations. If a problem delays manufacturing, they must be able to come up with effective working solutions quickly because there is always pressure from management.
- Critical thinking – Process engineers are logical thinkers who solve problems through a series of steps. They break down problems and make critical decisions because solutions could have repercussions.
- Analytical skills – Analytical skills refer to the ability to collect and analyze information. Process engineers analyze the data they collect and make decisions. They must be able to filter out the unnecessary information in a world of big data.