8 Facts About Food Process Engineers

Food engineering is a multidisciplinary field that merges engineering concepts with food science to create innovative solutions for food production, preservation, and distribution. Alternatively, process engineering is the practice of designing, optimizing, and improving industrial processes to ensure that they are efficient, effective, and safe. 

Both of these fields are essential for the food industry to operate at its best, but they require highly skilled professionals who can analyze complex problems, design innovative solutions, and implement them safely and effectively. The professionals behind these operations are food process engineers. Without the expertise of food and process engineers, the food industry would not be able to meet the ever-changing demands of consumers while maintaining high levels of quality and safety.

1. Food Process Engineers design manufacturing equipment

Food Process Engineers are integral to the food and beverage industry and are responsible for developing, implementing, and improving manufacturing processes. They are involved in various activities, including conducting scientific and engineering experiments, utilizing engineering principles, reviewing literature, planning, setting up equipment, and collecting and analyzing data.

One of the primary responsibilities of a food process engineer is to design, implement, and enhance process equipment. This complex task involves several crucial steps, each vital to the equipment’s operation. For instance, food process engineers help manufacturing facilities set up equipment efficiently to maximize the flow of food items within a plan. They also maintain the safety and quality of food products, which is a key concern for both consumers and regulatory authorities.

Food process engineers also play a crucial role in helping companies save costs and reduce environmental impacts by working on cost-saving initiatives that make processes more energy-efficient. Additionally, they ensure that proper documentation and drawings are produced and maintained throughout the design process, contributing to cost savings and efficiency.

As part of their work, food process engineers collaborate with various departments depending on the company’s initiative. For instance, they provide technical support to plant safety professionals and plant staff when designing or redesigning work processes to eliminate workplace injuries and illnesses. Overall, food process engineers are essential players in the food and beverage industry, ensuring that food products are manufactured efficiently, safely, and sustainably.

2. Food Process Engineers have degrees in engineering

Individuals interested in pursuing a career as a food process engineer in Canada are required to hold a diploma or degree in mechanical, manufacturing, industrial, or a related engineering field. These degree programs are needed as they provide students with the fundamental knowledge necessary to improve processes. However, it is important to note that these programs mainly cover broad engineering principles and may not specifically focus on food engineering. Some programs may offer specific courses related to this field.  

Moreover, process engineers in Canada must register and acquire a license as a Professional Engineer from their provincial association before they can practice their profession. This ensures they possess the necessary expertise and qualifications to design, develop, and manage food processing systems safely, efficiently, and ethically.

However, some colleges and universities offer advanced degrees in food engineering. These programs provide graduate-level coursework and research directly related to food. This allows students to go in-depth on specific topics such as food process technology, food microbiology, edible oils, engineering design, post-mortem biochemistry of muscle foods, proteins and enzymes, food rheology, and beverage science. 

3.  Food Process Engineers work with software

Process engineers always approach projects with a detailed plan, as overhauling a process can be costly and risky. To minimize these risks, food process engineers utilize software that mimics real-world conditions to test and refine their processes before they are put into action. This software is an essential tool in their work, enabling them to test and refine their processes, reducing the likelihood of expensive errors and enhancing efficiency. Examples of software that food engineers may use when developing processes include:

  • COMSOL Multiphysics:  Is a general-purpose simulation software that allows users to create and deploy simulation apps for various engineering applications and phenomena. Food engineers use it to model and optimize processes like baking, drying, and food packaging.
  • MATLAB: Is a multi-paradigm programming language and numeric computing environment that can allow users to model processes essential to the food industry
  • AutoCAD: CAD software is used to design food processing equipment and facilities. Engineers can create detailed 3D models of machines, production lines, and plant layouts to optimize space utilization and workflow efficiency.

4. Food Process Engineers work with equipment

Process engineers deal with machines used in food factories. When a process gets the green light for use in the plant, senior process engineers oversee the installation of new equipment. They make sure the machines are installed according to the process specifications. However, their job is not limited to the installation of equipment only. These professionals are also responsible for monitoring the equipment over time. For instance, they work with production staff to find ways to streamline the process. They also play a key role in designing new equipment, ensuring that it meets the specific needs of the food production process and is safe and efficient to use.

5. Food Process Engineers perform risk assessments

Process engineers are responsible for assessing current processes and equipment to determine the risk of malfunction/failure, employee/personnel injury, etc. This is a critical task, as it helps identify potential issues before they become serious problems and contributes to the overall safety and efficiency of the food manufacturing process. If equipment is at a high risk for failure, this could mean thousands of potential dollars lost for a company, highlighting the importance of this task.

How do they perform a risk assessment? An example of a simple risk assessment plan is.

  1. Planning for risk
  2. Identifying risks
  3. Analyzing risks
  4. Developing risk response strategies
  5. Monitoring and controlling risks

Assessing risk is an essential job for a process engineer.

6. Food Process Engineers perform data collection 

Most business decisions are not based on hunches but on well-collected data. Therefore, process engineers collect, interpret, and compile data from different sources, such as production reports and experiments they have performed. This data can include information on production volumes, energy consumption, equipment performance, and product quality. By analyzing this data, food process engineers can identify trends, pinpoint areas for improvement, and make informed decisions to optimize the food production process.

Not only does a process engineer collect data, but they also analyze it and present it. When high-level business personnel see data, they want it presented in a way that summarizes the facts so they can make better, more informed decisions.

 7. Food Process Engineers troubleshoot problems 

When a problem arises in a system or process that is not expected and requires corrective action, it is known as a troubleshooting problem. 

Consider a chocolate manufacturing facility that produces a wide range of chocolate products. One day, they might encounter an issue where the molten chocolate is not flowing as expected in the factory. In such a scenario, they would need to follow a series of steps to identify and troubleshoot the problem. 

The first step would be to investigate the flow of the chocolate from the processing equipment to the storage tanks. They would need to check whether the chocolate’s temperature and pressure are maintained at the right levels. Next, they would need to examine the pipes and valves for any signs of blockage or damage that could be causing the issue. 

If the above steps do not resolve the problem, they must dig deeper and evaluate the entire production process. This would involve reviewing the chocolate recipe, analyzing the quality of the raw materials used, and verifying that the equipment is functioning optimally. 

By following these steps, the facility can identify the root cause of the issue and take corrective action to ensure that the production process runs smoothly.

Choosing what to do generally requires a lot of experience. Process engineers need strong problem-solving skills, as this helps to reduce machine shutdowns and costs. If these professionals do not have an answer, they are quick to research, looking to see if other plants have had these problems before, or books will provide insight.

If you are interested in honing your skills, there is an entire book on the subject called, Successful Trouble Shooting for Process Engineers: A Complete Course in Case Studies.”

8. Food Process Engineers are calm under pressure, logical thinkers and can analyze data 

Being a Process Engineer demands a diverse range of skills, but some are absolutely essential. These skills are not just beneficial, they’re crucial for success in this role:

  • Calm under pressure Manufacturing environments are fast moving and this can be stressful for some. These professionals need to be able to troubleshoot at an advanced level in multiple situations.  If a problem is delaying manufacturing, they must be able to come up with effective working solutions quickly as there will be pressure from management.
  • Critical/logical thinking Process engineers need to be logical thinkers in order to solve problems. They have to break down problems and come to conclusions as to how to solve them. They should be critical when making a decision, as each solution has its own repercussions
  • Analytical skills Analytical skills refer to the ability to collect and analyze information. Process engineers use their analytical skills to analyze the data they have collected and make informed decisions accordingly.

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