Tyler Hulsebus oversees all aspects of engineering for Hormel Foods, including design, construction and commissioning of plant facilities and equipment, plant engineering and maintenance functions, industrial engineering and continuous improvement, as well as environmental engineering. He began his career at Hormel Foods in 1997 as an associate maintenance engineer at the Austin, Minnesota, plant. Over the years he has held many engineering positions within the company and assumed his current role in 2016.
He is a native of Fremont, Nebraska, and holds a BA in mechanical engineering from Colorado State University and an MBA from Creighton University. Hulsebus is a licensed professional engineer in the states of Minnesota and Illinois and holds professional certifications from the Society of Maintenance and Reliability Professionals and the International Council for Machinery Lubrication. Within the Austin community, he is a graduate of the Leadership Austin program and serves as a member of the board of directors for Austin Utilities and the American Red Cross serving Southeast Minnesota.
Can you describe your role at Hormel Foods and how it supports innovation efforts?
Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a brilliant set of engineers and technology-focused team members. Our role in engineering is to take business ideas and translate them into capabilities, to reduce waste in our systems, to solve problems, and to do all these things while always being a good steward of the environment in the neighborhoods in which we operate.
Why is innovation at the plants important?
Innovation is our process of bringing new technology, new processes and new ways of working to Hormel Foods, and it is extremely important to our plants. The plants are where a majority of our team members work, a majority of our products are manufactured, and a majority of our expenses are incurred. So, the plants provide a tremendous opportunity for improvement, and there are many facets to innovation. We could be focused on improving food safety or employee safety practices, on bringing a new innovative product to market or reducing costs in our operations to offset inflation. So innovation within the plants is critical to the success of Hormel Foods.
How is Hormel Foods leading the industry regarding plant and process innovation?
Hormel Foods has brought many firsts to the industry in plant process and product innovation. As an example, our early adoption of High Pressure Processing for prosciutto hams was to offset a food-safety issue that we identified. Then we furthered that technology with sliced meats to be the first manufacturer in the United States to use this technology.
Over 40 years ago, we created the engineering R&D team and a dedicated facility focused on manufacturing equipment to drive process improvements, team member safety improvements, food safety improvements and automation. One example is automating the process to move pre-cooked bacon from a belt to a piece of paper for packaging. We were also an early adopter of vision-based systems for inspection as well as label verification. This is a team that can solve problems through innovation and set ourselves apart from our competitors.
What projects are you most excited about in the next 2-4 years regarding innovations in product, processes or worker safety?
What I’m most excited about is our continued investment in automation and the advancements in technology that will allow us to solve problems that we never could before. For example, through advancements in technology, we can now replace difficult and demanding jobs within our plants with low-profile robots that can work safely in proximity to our other employees. These advances in technology will allow us to continue to improve on employee safety while saving labor challenges that we’re facing today.
Hormel Foods is developing a facility to do limited first runs of new products. How will that help the company innovate?
Some innovative products will win in the market, and a lot will not. The new Originate Center allows us to compete efficiently in this arena, so small-scale saleable products can be manufactured there to test in the marketplace. Those that have merit can be scaled up either internally at one of our existing plants or through co-manufacturers, and those that don’t can be dropped quickly so we can move our attention to the next new innovative product.
As a veteran on the engineering team, what are you most proud of about the company’s innovations in food products?
Considering innovation at Hormel Foods, what I’m most proud of is that it is a journey, starting with the infancy of the company to today. We are continuously looking for ways to make improvements, to provide rewarding careers for our employees, to get just a little bit better in what we do every single day. To originate, not imitate.