Monday, August 29, 2011

Alternate Plant Tour

On Friday, I went on the factory tour at Taza Chocolate ( in Somerville, MA.  I got tickets for their tour through the MIT Activities Committee (  The MIT Activities Committee sells tickets to various local events, museums, etc. at a discount to the MIT community.  Taza is a walk from the Central Square T stop and was started by some people who worked at Zipcar actually.

Taza is one of 20 bean to bar chocolate factories in the US.  All of their chocolate is dark chocolate.  There is no dairy at the facility and their bars are primarily cocoa beans and cane sugar.  Taza is fair trade, organic, kosher, vegan, etc..  The only issue is for people with nut allergies since they roast the nuts they use in some of their chocolate in the same roaster that they roast their cocoa beans in.

We got to see the beans themselves and machines that roasted the beans and separated from their shells.  They showed us the stone grinding machines that they use to grind the chocolate and all the piping that the liquified chocolate gets moved around in (the room is 85 degrees F!).  At the end, we saw employees putting chocolate into molds and then moving it into a room for cooling (50 degrees F).

The stone grinding methods came from Mexico and the chocolate recipe is traditional, too.  Most of their chocolate is disks and has a gritty texture from the minimal stone grinding, but the chocolate in the bars is ground further and is a little smoother.  They add cocoa butter to those bars.

The red machine in the background is the bean and nut roaster.  The one in the front is the shell separator.  What looks like dirt on the floor is actually cocoa powder, shell and nib bits.

Granite grinding wheels, about 20 pounds each are used to grind the chocolate
An employee adds a giant yellow chunk of cocoa butter to the big white vat in the background while watching liquid ground chocolate flow from the plumbing in the foreground
Filling the molds before they are passed into the cool room.
The majority of their chocolates are hand wrapped, though they recently got a machine to help them wrap some of the round ones.
Shelved boxes of their Mexican style round disks
Taza states that their chocolate has a shelf life of a year and that their busy season is from fall until about Valentine's Day.  They sell individual bars, but also sell chocolate in bulk to bakeries and restaurants.  During the tour there were all kinds of samples along the way, which made things even more enjoyable.  They have a few kinds of the smoother bar chocolate and then about 11 different flavors of the coarser Mexican disks, such as orange, coffee, salted almond, vanilla, salt and pepper, yerba mate and some ones with chili in them and others I can't even remember.  All in all the tour took about an hour and it was a fun short excursion for break.  I'd recommend a visit if you're in the area.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The end of the summer which is why I last posted 8/4

The final weeks of class (there are only ten in the summer, as opposed to a normal semester which has more like 14) were crazy, full of projects, papers and tests.  While many classes were ramping down, 15.064, our probability and statistics class, seemed to grow in the amount of our time it took up.  It had  the problem set that was due latest in the term, our only official final exam, and a final project.  The final project was a paper helicopter drop to see which team could get the best combination of hang time and accuracy.  For photos and video of our drop, see Steven's blog post here :-)

In 15.066, our Optimization class, teams presented their final projects where they had to both formulate and solve a complex problem of their choice.  Team 7, my team, presented a real world application of how to distribute oil, given that a company just found a new well, but Team 1 presented something more tasty: how Friendly's Ice Cream should distribute ice cream and other food supplies to their franchises.  To appease us all, they brought in snacks for the class.  David was one of the servers (as well as a presenter).
I picked the black raspberry and chocolate chip cookie dough  combo cup - now that's what I call breakfast!
In our leadership class, 15.317 (all classes that begin with the #15 are offered through Sloan), we had an art session of sorts and drew out what each of the teams wanted to leave behind from our summer work and experiences and also what lessons we had learned and skills we wanted to  bring forward.  Each group had a mix of serious and silly.
Artwork!  Drawing was one thing we didn't do much of this summer
Excited about the end of term, and curious about what other teams had drawn, most of us were out of our seats for the presentations
Finally, done with the stats exam and leadership summer wrap-up (leadership is a class we'll be checking in with throughout the two years), we gave out certificates with superlatives and nicknames for each person and then had a celebratory lunch outside of Redbones BBQ.  It hit the spot and the setting under the trees was really nice.  It kept threatening to rain, but we were able to stay dry.
End of the summer - we made it!
As lunch ended we all dispersed almost hesitatingly, kind of feeling like, what are we going to do now?  What is this free time that is now available to us?  A number of people were going home, a number of people were getting married over break actually and a bunch of people were staying in Boston.  I'll be eager to hear stories when we all reconvene in a few weeks.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

New month, new topic

This will be short since the work load has only been ramping up lately.  The end of our summer term is just over two weeks away and it promises to be a marathon finish.  Group projects, a group paper, individual projects, problem sets and a final exam.  After that we've got two weeks to spend as we please and it's going to be WONDERFUL!

Now a little about a feature of our industry partnerships - Plant Tours!

In the summer of the first year, LGO students go on plant tours.  These initial ones are usually local (in-state) and the class of 2013 has kept it up.  So far I visited National Grid, New Balance, and Raytheon.  Some of my classmates visited Amgen with the CLGOs while they were here.  We have one tour left for the summer with Genzyme. All the facilities were wonderful to host us and show how everyday operations occur.

Here are a couple of my takeaways from these plant visits...

One thing that surprised me was all the inventory that National Grid had to manage.  When I originally thought of the company, I pictured routing electricity and telling it where to go, but you forget all of the equipment that is used in doing that.  Lots of transformers, meters to read what power is used and lots and lots of cable to fix/splice/form.  One of the facilities we went to with them was a training center where we were reminded of the fact that not only do they have meters at the buildings of their customers, but these meters are of many different ages, manufactures and types, and they still need to service each one.

At New Balance it was cool to see a product made so completely in one place.  We saw everything from the bolts of fabric stage to fusing the shoe to the sole in a final assembly operation.  All of the machines were closer together than I expected.  Some were automated, but many were the equivalent still of a person and a robust sewing machine.  New Balance has existed now for over 100 years, but the current owners took over in the 1970s.  The employees seemed very happy with the owners and I have to say that their factory, set up in a carefully renovated mill building from 1909 was very nice.

Ok, the architect is talking here...they kept the original hardwood floors and left much of the exterior brick wall exposed on the inside.  Also, old mill buildings have HUGE windows so there was plenty of natural light. I enjoyed the building in addition to the tour and presentation they gave us.

Raytheon...the main thing I can say was that the scale of everything surpassed what I had imagined - building size, product size, testing area, number of employees, price tags - it was all larger than life to me.  It was also interesting to learn a little about how they had implemented lean processes and systems for products that are made in relatively small batches.  I worked for a completely different industry, but we also had issues of low demand and small batch sizes.

Now...back to work!  I did finally order a camera, so once I have that in hand and things get less busy, I'll be sure to get back to posting more frequently complete with pictures.  Thanks for reading!
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