Take a trip down the aisles of any grocery, department store or big-box retailer and you’re likely to encounter a wide range of consumer products that more or less define us as an early 21st-century civilization. We are a society of avid consumers, with an insatiable need for items of every conceivable description, to meet every imaginable need.
These days, items are flying off the shelves at discount shopping clubs, and workers are struggling to keep shelves stocked with virtually every product one might conceivably need.
Everything Under One Roof
From cosmetics and personal care products; over-the-counter and prescription medications; household cleaning and maintenance products; packaged snacks, foods and drinks; to paper and plastic products—it is possible to buy enough supplies to survive off of for months without shopping, all from one store. You could accomplish this all in one trip, provided you had a truck large enough to haul it all away. You can even stock up on various pesticides and lawn care products should the need arise.
Thanks to modern manufacturing, processing, packaging and storage technologies, some of these products could stay perfectly preserved for years to come with an expiration date in the far future.
More Than Meets the Eye
That brings us to the hidden engineering behind modern consumer products. It’s unlikely that most consumers think twice about most products they consume and use on a daily basis. However, manufacturers know that these items did not end up on store shelves by accident. With the exception of certain produce items, almost everything in a given store will have undergone significant processing and packaging to earn its place on the shelf.
Take personal care products, specifically sunscreen as an example. Modern sunscreens are big sellers in the spring and summer months. Consumers trust they can buy a given sunscreen product and lather it on before spending time in the sun, secure in the knowledge that they’ll be protected against damaging ultraviolet radiation from the sun. What they probably don’t consider are the complex manufacturing processes involved in getting that lotion into the bottle.
Proper Mixing Technology is Key
Whether it’s a popular whole-grain cereal, packaged soup (representing a complex blend of ingredients), jars of mayonnaise (an oil-in-water emulsion), body wash with “extra moisturizers” or sunscreen, manufacturers know that highly engineered consumer products don’t appear by magic. Rather, they involve complex processing and mixing of rheology modifiers and other ingredients, usually under highly sanitary conditions where the health of workers is as important as the appeal of the final products.
Manufacturers are also aware that industrial mixers are crucial pieces of equipment used to produce such products. In some instances, as in the production of nutraceuticals, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals or certain personal care products, there might even be need for more sophisticated mixing equipment, such as a high shear mixer or homogenizer.
These precision-engineered pieces of industrial equipment facilitate difficult processes, such as the hydration of thickening and suspending agents, producing stable emulsions, disintegrating solids, dissolving powders, blending liquids of different viscosities, mixing thickeners, and creating fine emulsions for products such as the sun screen in the original example. With the right equipment and manufacturing processes, it’s possible to create safe, effective, and/or nutritious, shelf-stable products that do no separate, discolor, or lose flavor or effectiveness — all without requiring any additional thought or effort from consumers.