With an expected capacity of 125,000 metric tons of peas per year, Roquette’s new plant in Manitoba, Canada, will be the largest pea protein facility in the world.
But it’s also the world’s first greenfield pea protein facility – and that meant a chance not just to make more plant protein available to customers but to rethink the way that protein is produced to maximize quality as well.
At the new plant, much of that quality is assured by measurements made by qualified production operators. And those measurements happen at every stage of the protein production process.
“We don’t wait for the last step – we control for quality all along,” says Lina Diaz, a process engineer who manages production teams at the new facility. “Production operators have a very well-defined monitoring program. They take samples, and they check those measurements, so we’re doubly sure we are meeting quality criteria.”
The new facility is highly automated – but that doesn’t mean production personnel are planted behind a machine or monitor all shift long, Diaz says. Just the opposite: They’re always on the move, taking samples, running lab tests, and managing protein quality in real-time.
That level of involvement requires an in-depth knowledge of how Roquette’s NUTRALYS® protein ingredients are created. And that means an intense training process.
“Sometimes in the food industry, you might have operators who know they need to push a button – but if you ask why, they can’t tell you,” Diaz says. “That’s not Roquette. Our people need to have a real investment. For our process, one person could be managing a lot of equipment, sometimes a whole building – so they need to know what they’re doing.”
Diaz co-authored the new plant’s production training with other managers and engineers. It took between two and three months, she says, for most operators to complete their training as the plant was gearing up for launch in late 2020. Here’s what they had to cover.
- Hiring. Most operators at Roquette have prior food-industry experience, so there’s a foundation of knowledge to build on already.
- The big picture. After onboarding, new operators started with health and safety training – a priority at Roquette. Then they were given an overview of the production process, including deep dives into the properties of each ingredient in the diverse NUTRALYS® pea protein product line.
- Theory. Operators spent time studying the specific physics, chemistry, and mechanical engineering concepts behind NUTRALYS® production. “We give them the theory,” Diaz says, “so that if they have to make decisions, they can make the right ones.”
- Specialized equipment training. With a theoretical foundation in place, operators could spend time learning specific operations of the equipment in their area, task by task. Because some of the equipment in the plant was designed by Roquette, this knowledge is often highly specialized.
- Lab analysis training. Lab tests are an important part of both monitoring ingredient quality and maintaining a clean and pathogen-free facility. The Manitoba plant has both a central lab and satellite labs for production operator use; they run tests several times each shift.
- Onsite visits. Before the new plant opened, much of training was offsite – but it was supplemented with frequent site visits so new operators could see and interact with the equipment and facilities they’d use when production runs began. Future operators, Diaz says, can learn the hands-on aspects of their work in the more typical way: By shadowing more senior members of production staff.
Because the plant is highly automated, production facilities can run with as few as six operators on a given shift. But those operators are essential: Part lab scientist, part facilities caretaker, part ingredients expert.
In part, Diaz says, that’s because her department is responsible for releasing NUTRALYS® products for packaging: Ingredients don’t leave their control until they’ve verified their quality.
But quality, she adds, is not the only reason they train so intensely.
“It’s also a part of Roquette culture,” Diaz says. “Knowledge is very important here, so we want everyone to be very knowledgeable about what they’re doing.”
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