September 30, 2020

BY JOANNA DITTMER

Conestoga students placed fourth in this year’s PACK Expo 2012 that was held in Chicago, Ill., on Oct. 30.
Isabelle O’Connor-Wong and Erik Westerveld, both third- year students in Conestoga’s mechanical engineering technology – robotics and automation program, spent from mid- September until the competition designing a potato chip packaging line to be entered into the contest.
The students’ objective was to design a potato chip bagging line for four flavours and three different-sized bags. The entry included obtaining and selecting quotations from machinery suppliers as well as making a schedule for the company that would utilize the line.
The Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute (PMMI) ran the contest, with the top three groups receiving scholarships. Westerveld said first prize was a $4,000 scholarship, second was a $2,000 scholarship and third place received a $1,000 scholarship. O’Connor-Wong said she and Westerveld were approached by staff at Conestoga’s Institute of Food Packaging Technology (IFPT) about representing the school at the expo.
“They weren’t sure that the students in their current program would actually have the ability to make that line (because they are in their first semester). So John Tielemans, the co-ordinator of robotics and automation, thought that we might be able to do this,” O’Connor-Wong said.
The pair placed fourth out of the seven schools in the competition; all of the other schools were U.S. universities.
O’Connor-Wong said, “We were pretty pleased with how it came out in the end because we started the entire project not knowing anything about packaging lines; we were watching How It’s Made videos on potato chips and things like that, and at the end of it we were so proud that we managed to beat three uni- versities whose students go to school just for this. To sit there and put all our hard work into this and come out with fourth was impressive, especially being a small college.”
The pair’s design began with chips being fed in from the fryer and carried through selected machinery to a finished product of packaged bags at the end. The quotes were supplied by TriMach, Schneider Packaging Equipment, PFM and Marq.
“We opted to run a flavour a day, with one repeat day per week,” O’Connor-Wong said.
According to www.pmmi. org, the PMMI is a trade association with nearly 600 member companies that manufacture packaging processing and packaging-related converting machinery.
The pair said they created the design after viewing a lot of online chip packaging lines and by touring the IFPT facilities at the Cambridge campus.
“It was all done on paper basically, so we had to come up with what equipment we would be using for the production line, and then we had to contact these companies to get information on it, and also get quotes for it,” Westerveld said.
Barry Bremner, an IFPT pilot plant technologist at the Cambridge campus and a chaperone, recollects how exciting it was to be at the expo this year.
“It was my second PACK Expo and having the students with us added energy and a new perspective to the show. The show is vast, (there were) literally thousands of equipment suppliers to the industry, and the first-hand opportunity to experience just how big the food processing industry is through their eyes was exciting,” Bremner said.
He said placing fourth was an obvious letdown.
“The proposal was sound, detailed and perfectly presented. They (the students) showed an obvious bias for their passion (robotics), which may have cost them a few points,” Bremner said.
Mihaela Simion, the program manager for the IFPT and the other staff member who went to this year’s PACK Expo, said a great time was had by all.
“It was the first time we participated at Pack Expo which is the largest trade show for packaging equipment manufacturers in North America, and one of the largest in the world. We were part of the Education Pavilion sponsored by PMMI and we shared the space with universities from the United States that have a packaging engineering program as part of their academic offering. We had an opportunity to promote Conestoga College and the School of Engineering to packaging industry representatives (equipment manufacturers, packaging manufacturers as well as food industry companies),” Simion said. “The students had an opportunity to interact with industry members in a real-life environment, make contacts that could support them in their future careers and observe first-hand the most advanced technologies on display.”