Carnegie Mellon University
October 23, 2019

Students Offer Green Twist to Twizzler Production Process

Working with the Hershey Company, Heinz College students helped optimize energy efficiency in the production process of their iconic licorice

By Scottie Barsotti

Caitlin Kizielewicz
  • Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy
  • 412-554-0074

If one of your top products is known for its bright red color, you need to think creatively about how to make it green.

Twizzlers — especially in the original strawberry flavor with their signature twist — have been one of the Hershey Company’s most beloved candies for decades. They come in many flavors and varieties and are vegan-friendly. But, to give them that famous twist through a process called extrusion, it takes a fair amount of electricity.

Hershey tapped a group of students from Carnegie Mellon University’s Master of Information Systems Management (MISM) program to analyze the Twizzlers manufacturing process with an eye on energy efficiency as part of Hershey's broader environmental goals. The students found several ways for Hershey to reduce electricity use without sacrificing product quality.

"The goal of the project was to target a 10 percent improvement in energy efficiency at Hershey's Lancaster confectionary plant. The project explored opportunities to refine or transform production and maintenance processes," said Louis Melocchi, an adjunct instructor in the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy who served as the team’s adviser.

Twizzlers production spans five main phases: cooking, cooling, extrusion, drying and packaging. The team determined the extrusion phase provided the greatest opportunity to reduce energy consumption.

The student team took data from sensors and other sources collected at Hershey's Lancaster facility and used predictive analytics to identify variables that affected electricity consumption at the plant. Once those variables were determined, the students came up with 14 distinct recommendations for Hershey. Recommendations such as optimizing warm-up times for temperature-sensitive processes and investigating ways to recycle energy from steam and other gases could be implemented quickly for relatively low cost. Other options involved longer-term investments such as transitioning to renewable energy sources or generating power on-site.

"Our team offered practical ways for Hershey to implement energy-saving procedures," Melocchi said. "The project recommendations could also have broader appeal to other manufacturers who are searching for ways to not only be smarter in their operations, but also to address the increasing environmental, social, and governance demands we are seeing from regulators, shareholders, and consumers today."

For Heinz College students, capstone projects provide a priceless opportunity to learn by doing, taking a hands-on approach to an actual business issue. That type of applied experience stands in stark contrast to the typical grad school experience of writing a thesis paper — capstone projects allow students to have a real impact on a real company before they graduate. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Except, of course, when candy is involved.

"We were surprised at how many varieties of Twizzlers there actually are. During one session, we sampled most of them and had a lot of fun eating our way through class," Melocchi said. "Our students enjoyed the sugar rush, and the opportunity to make a difference for one of our valued partners."

Carnegie Mellon University is committed to educating, empowering and aligning its community around the world to address the Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals, which aim to create a more peaceful, prosperous planet with just and inclusive societies. Recognizing the critical contributions that universities are making through education, research and practice, CMU publicly committed to undertaking a Voluntary University Review of the Global Goals. The 17 Global Goals cover wide-ranging issues, including reducing violence, ending extreme poverty, promoting equitable education, fighting inequality and injustice, advancing economic growth and decent work, and preventing the harmful effects of climate change by 2030.

The preceding story demonstrates CMU's work toward attaining Global Goal 7.