Sugar can be blamed for many things, more often than not rightly than wrongly, but the food industry has many particularities that give it a special place in this environment. In particular, the sugar cane factories (80% of the world's sugar comes from the cane), willingly accept to open their doors to any sugar engineer curious to see other practices in other places.
In the 1990s, the Bois-Rouge sugar factory started producing "special sugars" with a wide range of colours and granulometry set by demanding customers (a jam manufacturer needs a very different sugar than a biscuit factory). This is how I wanted to better understand the "colour" issue in the manufacturing process and during my holidays I decided to spend some of my time and money visiting sugar factories in Mexico and Colombia to understand their approach. These two trips will be full of teaching:
In Mexico, on a family holiday, one of the factories that welcomed me in 1995 was Puga. That's how, in order to discover the sublime beaches of the Pacific coast, I imposed to my family detours towards these factories out of the tourist map. By "chance", 11 years later, in London, a group of traders offered me the opportunity to work with them and the PUGA sugar factory appeared in the discussion; to everyone's surprise, I was able to mention that I knew this site. Thus, a few hours of holidays lost in 1995, turned into a job placement ... My hello to Puga, one of the most innovative sugar cane mill & refinery in Mexico.
In Colombia, my so-called contact to give me access to their famous sugar industry was desperately missing when I arrived at Cali airport in January 1996. I sped angrily and anxiously to a hotel without an appointment, wondering how I was going to get out of this mess. How could I have been so naive and disembark without a plan B in Cali? My last card to play was that of an agronomist who had visited Reunion Island during an ISSCT (issct.org) workshop a year earlier, he had left his contact with me on a piece of paper because I was the only Spanish speaker who could help him with a few details and give him some of my time to visit my factory. It was a miracle! A few calls later on a Saturday afternoon and the Colombian Arabic phone was working beyond my expectations. With South American mutual aid, three of the largest sugar producers in Colombia were giving me free access to the sugar factories.
All the exchanges with the most influential technologists in these groups were of great help to me in my future career.
So working on holiday was useless? Helping someone without expecting something in return, a waste of time? Speaking several languages, tedious? Share your experiences.