This grad works inside one of the world’s biggest crisp factories

Engineering grad Katherine Ebsworth first worked for PepsiCo on a university placement. During that time she got experience on the production line for Walkers Crisps, and even designed a computer programme that controls how the crisps are seasoned. Now a full-time process specialist at the company, The Student Engineer caught up with Katherine to talk about crisps, college and the ergonomic factories of tomorrow.

Katherine Ebsworth

Where and what did you study?

Having always been interested about how to combine technical design skills with mathematics and creativity, I decided to study Product Design Engineering (BEng) at Loughborough University for 4 years. The third year of the course was an industrial placement which also gave me a Diploma in Industrial Studies (DIS).

How did the placement with PepsiCo come about?

PepsiCo have always offered placements for students, but I was lucky in that the year I applied was the first year they had ever interviewed for an Operations placement! Normally they are in Research and Development or IT Services, but this was an opportunity to get involved with the inner workings of the factory and think about how to improve the efficiency of the business. My university guided me through the application process, and supported me all the way through.

What type of production processes did you work on?

I worked on the Crisp production lines making Walkers Snacks – the site in Leicester is one of the largest crisp production plants in the world, and uses about about 800 tonnes of potatoes each year. I was assigned to the production lines for flats, Crinkles and Deep Ridged.

Can you tell us about the seasoning application you developed for Walkers crisps?

Walkers Crisps are seasoned using large drums which turn as the product tumbles through. There is a curtain of flavour that is applied at the same time as the product goes through the drum. This provides even coverage and ensures the crisps are seasoned on both sides rather than just one side of the product. There are also different application rates depending on the flavour being applied to the crisps.

What other interesting projects have you worked on?

I have worked on several interesting projects! My favourite so far is looking at the design of new equipment coming into the factory with the supplier, and ensuring it is ergonomically designed – it’s really interesting to think about how people are best suited to interact with machinery on such a large scale in the factories that we work in. The machines can be huge, but there’s a lot of thinking that’s gone into making sure that the intricate components are all working smoothly and that they can be operated by a human.

Any plans for further training with PepsiCo?

PepsiCo often offer training to ensure we have the correct skills for the job…no doubt there will be more to come!