College of Engineering

General Mills – Food Processing

General Mills is an international company with a wide range of food products. The company’s major business includes Big G cereals, the leader in the $7.5 billion U.S. ready-to-eat cereal category, with consumer favorites like Cheerios, Wheaties and Lucky Charms. Other business divisions focus on meals, baked goods, snacks, and yogurt. Our interaction with General Mills involves the Pillsbury division which produces dough-based products.

Our relationship with General Mills began with Pillsbury before it was bought by General Mills. Pillsbury has a manufacturing facility in nearby Swedesboro, NJ, and Pillsbury engineers were involved with the Rowan Chemical Engineering Capstone Design Course. As the relationship between Rowan and Pillsbury evolved, and Pillsbury saw other successful Clinic projects, we began to discuss possible Clinic projects with Pillsbury (now part of General Mills). In September 2002, General Mills boldly sponsored three Clinic Projects for improvement and optimization of their dough line processes. One project focused on the analysis of raw materials, the second project aimed to optimize a process line, and the third project investigated wastewater minimization.

The structure and lifetime of the Clinic Project was very similar to that described above for the Johnson Matthey Projects. The nature of the work, however, required a significant amount of time on-site at the manufacturing facility. Students were required to complete the General Mills safety training program and to learn good manufacturing practice (GMP) requirements for food production before they were granted permission to work in the production area. They were given access swipe cards so that they could enter the plant at any time without having to sign in and have an official host from the company.

The on-site work included careful observation of the current process, quantitative analysis of the individual process steps, and modification of the process to test proposed solutions. The wastewater minimization team investigated several novel technologies both in the laboratory at Rowan and on-site at General Mills. They have designed a water recovery system that will be implemented at the plant this year, and will likely be implemented at several other facilities around the world. The dough line optimization team performed a thorough analysis of all process steps and proposed a process modification that has already been implemented and will result in more than $1 million annual savings.

The students working on this project benefited tremendously from working directly with operators and technicians at the plant. Engineers from General Mills also reported to us that their operators had an increased sense of pride and ownership in their own work, because University involvement meant that their project was particularly important to the company. They were highly cooperative with the students who were working on the plant floor. The students were invited to give a short presentation to the entire company at their quarterly meeting last spring; this high visibility showed the students how significant their work was to the company.

Regular project meetings were limited to weekly meetings between students and faculty. General Mills engineers did not attend regular meetings at the University, as was done with Johnson Matthey. Frequent meetings with General Mills engineers were unnecessary because of the regular informal contact between students and sponsors on-site at the plant. Two formal presentations were given by the students to the sponsor each semester. These presentations were given on-site at General Mills, and they were attended by engineers, technicians and operators, as well as managers from Finance Operations, Manufacturing, Maintenance, Quality and Regulatory Control, and Human Resources.

General Mills worked diligently with the students to produce different types of documentation, some for internal use and “sanitized” versions for external use. This helped overcome what is often a limitation of industrially-sponsored projects: the inability to share/publish work externally. Some of the work was presented by an undergraduate student at the AIChE Spring Meeting in New Orleans, LA [ ]. The students’ fall semester report was nominated for consideration as the best paper in the AIChE student paper competition – and received the First Place AIChE Zeisberg Award for the best report.