Andy Moritz Brings Mechanical Expertise to NCFIL Pilot Plant
September 27, 2023
Experience from serving in the military and knowledge of building and repairing a car’s mechanical systems laid the groundwork for Andy Moritz to take on a new role helping keep North Carolina Food Innovation Lab’s pilot plant operating smoothly.
Moritz joined the NCFIL staff in June 2023 as pilot plant operator. As the demand for NCFIL’s services has grown, the operator position was created to help plant manager Joe Hildebrand with production runs and equipment maintenance and cleaning.
“When you’re maintaining equipment properly, it’s less likely to break, and if it breaks that's money,” Moritz says. “Food safety also comes into play. Cleanliness is a huge aspect of the job.”
While Moritz works largely behind the scenes, his work is invaluable to the lab.
“When entrepreneurs have an idea in their head, they’ll come here to work out that idea with the food scientists, and the food scientists will come up with a game plan to make it happen,” he says. “Then with the equipment here, we’ll try to make that happen on a very small scale to see if it’s something the entrepreneur is looking for and wants to pursue,” he explains.
‘So Many Capabilities’
Moritz helps maintain technology that allows the plant to deliver a range of services, especially for entrepreneurs wanting to market plant-based foods. He’s helped with production runs of products including almond milk, coffee beverages and even soy pellets for animal feed. The plant includes equipment for processing wet and dry food products; applying thermal processes; extracting oils, sugars, proteins, fibers, colors and phytonutrients; and reducing the size of ingredients.
The lab’s wide range of equipment is one of the things that draws clients from around North Carolina and the world to NCFIL.
“For example, they might be able to find somebody that can do microthermics, but they can't find somebody that has a retort processor, rising film evaporator, a spray dryer or a Likwifier®” Moritz says. “There are just so many capabilities that we have to offer here.”
Moritz’s favorite piece of equipment is the plant’s bar line, designed to process foods like granola bars.
“I just learned that not too long ago,” he says. “It’s my favorite because there are so many moving parts and pieces, but the whole process is out in the open so you can see it.”
Ingredients go in one end, Moritz explained, are combined, then pressed, then go down a conveyor belt where they are cut into their finished sizes. Clients can then taste the products in the plant or test them in the market to see if they meet their goals.
Divergent Interests Align in One Job
Moritz first learned of NCFIL from his mother, Susan Nealey, who works as an office administrator at the Plants for Human Health Institute, an NC State University unit that’s across the street from NCFIL on the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.
“She told me how cool NCFIL was and what they were doing there,” Moritz says. “I was online one day, and I saw some of the qualifications that they were looking for in this job and a description of the research that went on here in health and nutrition, which I’m really interested in.”
Discipline and a Talent for Troubleshooting
To his new position, Moritz brings both a work ethic fostered by experience in the U.S. Navy and mechanical skills he learned and practiced in the automotive technology lab at the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville.
While working under the hood of a car might seem a far cry from working in a university food laboratory’s pilot plant, Moritz says they do have things in common. Both the race to a car’s finish line and the journey to a food product launch require well-maintained machines that deliver top performance, safely, and reliably.
“A lot of what I’ve carried over from there to here is being able to troubleshoot equipment when it breaks and taking equipment apart, cleaning the parts and putting it back together, so I feel that I have the mechanical background for this position,” he says.
Being in the military, Moritz says, also helped shape his capabilities in the workplace. It taught him the importance of discipline, punctuality and cleanliness that he draws on now at NCFIL.
Up to the Challenge
Since he started the job, Moritz has grown increasingly excited about being part of NCFIL.
“It’s the innovation part. There’s always something new that they’re trying to come up with or something to improve upon,” he says. “Every day we come in, we know there’s going to be some new challenge that we’ll have to face, and I like that challenge.
“It's a great environment with great people,” he adds. “And it's just a joy to come into work every day.”
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