International Women in Engineering Day – Elsebeth Baungaard on Why listening and understanding are key to successful innovation – and great ice cream

Ice cream is a fixture on most family holidays – but perhaps I’m an unusual parent in that I take more interest in it than my children. As Portfolio Manager at Tetra Pak, I oversee a large range of extruded, moulded and filled ice cream products. In other words, I am an ‘ice cream engineer’ – one of those rare people who has a career most five-year-olds dream of.

But, it hasn’t always been easy. There is real appreciation for diversity at Tetra Pak. This is not always the case for every organisation, and there have been times in my career when I’ve felt the effects of gender bias. When a man holds a position, it’s often readily accepted that they can do the job, but women really have to prove themselves. Earlier in my career, this made me very focused on results. Everything needed to be 100 per cent perfect, but as my confidence has grown, I’ve learnt that this doesn’t always have to be the case. Women also tend to be more empathetic; this often makes us more attuned to customer needs and likely to pick up on any tensions.

On International Women in Engineering Day, it is important to take the time to reflect on the importance of diverse innovators and celebrate women engineers driving forward innovations in the industry.

Take ice cream – while ice creams and frozen desserts might be considered ‘simple pleasures’, the manufacturing process can be complex, with significant demand and opportunity for innovation in the field. My role – and the role of my team – is to be a conduit between our customers (ice cream companies) and Tetra Pak’s internal innovation teams.

From a business perspective, this is an industry with huge opportunities for innovation, with the global ice cream market set to grow 5% with revenues of $20.2bn by 2024.

From low calorie to dairy-free or protein-boosted ice cream, it is certainly an area of our industry where innovative ideas can thrive.

I love that my role gives me the opportunity to have a holistic view of projects and my mechanical design background helps me understand the complexity of projects. I never minimise a task by saying “just” do this, because I appreciate it’s not always easy. There are obstacles and challenges that need to be carefully thought through by field or automation engineers. You need to be a team player and curious about what other people do. It’s only by understanding everyone’s role that you can work well as a team.

The longer I work in this industry and specifically my role, the more I view being a woman as an advantage. I hope that by sharing my positive experience, I can help encourage more women into science and engineering careers, because we really do have so much to offer – and to gain.

In my role, listening to our customers’ pain points and applying our expertise is key. Our customers look to us for an understanding of where the market is headed in the short term, but also what consumers will want in 2030. For example, we’re seeing increasing demand for non-dairy alternatives to traditional ice cream, suitable for those on a plant-based diet, or just wishing to eat fewer animal products. We need to make sure that the factory roadmap enables it to evolve and deliver on shifting requirements for years to come.

At the same time, we’re listening to our engineers about the innovations they’re working on – or the customer requirements they see when working onsite. It’s so exciting because we’re at the centre of everything – helping to marry customer (and fundamentally consumer) need with innovation.

Over recent years we’ve identified a growing trend towards customisation; ice creams made with two colours so that they look like objects, animals, people etc. Historically, it has been very difficult to run two types of ice cream simultaneously and achieve a consistent result, creating a lot of waste. There has also been a marketing issue for manufacturers and retailers, as it’s difficult to include these ice creams on advertising posters when the product may not match the picture.

Digital technologies can now offer a solution. Working alongside an external 3D printing partner, we have developed a new multi-section extrusion nozzle for creating shaped ice cream products. This enables our customers to adjust the flow of different product sections, and create clearer, more consistent designs with less waste.

Waste reduction is an incredibly important part of my role. This is a commercial imperative for our customers, but also ties to Tetra Pak’s continued drive to operate evermore sustainably. New digital technologies are paving the way here. Our ice cream line insight tool, for example, enables us to collect and structure around 200 data points from across a production line to calculate overall equipment efficiently and identify any challenges that can be rectified. We want our customers to have a fact-based route cause analysis system, that enables their line to be as efficient as possible.

Elsebeth Baungaard is Portfolio Manager, Ice Cream at Tetra Pak  



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