It was a pretty bold claim: The world’s most modern chocolate plant. Having had the opportunity to attend the Hershey Co.’s grand opening of its new 300,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing addition to the West Hershey manufacturing complex, I have to say, it’s not without merit.

Mind you, although I’ve visited several manufacturing facilities large and small during my time, I can’t say I’ve been everywhere. In some instances, companies don’t allow media in. On other occasions, the plants weren’t complete or I just couldn’t afford the time or expense to visit the facilities.

But I have seen a few. And I must say that Hershey’s new addition is…in the words of Hercule Poirot, the famed Belgium detective created by Agatha Christie…”most impressive.”

As the news item in today’s edition on the grand opening details informs, the plant will be producing 70 million Hershey’s Kisses daily. Well, after going on the tour, I could see how. Two inline Buhler depositors were creating 300 dollops of Kisses on an extremely wide belt that travelled through several hundred feet of Sollich cooling tunnels before being fed into an multi-unit array of Theegarten-Pactec wrappers, each capable of kicking out 900 Kisses an hour.

As impressive as that view was, the observations shared with me by Terry O’Day, senior v.p. global operations, were probably as important if not more so. O’Day was kind enough to spend some time with me prior to going onto the plant tour and answer some questions.

In discussing Hershey’s crown jewel, O’Day pointed out that the Kisses themselves were coming out, well, if not perfectly than pretty darned close to perfect. As most plant operations folks know, the faster the speeds, the tighter the tolerances.

When you are feeding 900 Kisses into a high-speed wrapping machine that also inserts a plume into the confection, there’s not much room for error. We are talking millimeters here. O’Day, in unwrapping a Kiss, pointed out to me the ideal shape the iconic chocolate needed to have. Moreover, while on tour, the wrappers were running at the 900-minute rate.

Another thing that struck me while chatting with O’Day, and that’s the people first design initiative. As he mentioned in the presentation remarks at the grand opening before the tour, the new facility wasn’t designed with machines in mind. Rather, people came first.

Consequently, it involved getting input from operators on what they needed access to, be it an in-process lab or a team meeting room, be it more natural light or hairnets that fit. In a facility where operators are not only monitoring production, but play a critical role in gathering information for statistical process control applications, it makes sense to make the facility people friendly.

As expected, when you have such a high degree of automation, there aren’t actually that many employees on the line. Although I didn’t get to see the entire facility on the tour, I saw enough to get a feel for the kind of planning went into this chocolate showcase.

By no means am I an operations specialist, but when one look at the gloss prevalent on Hershey’s snack size bars coming off the moulding line, that’s a good clue (ah, Poirot’s little gray cells) the folks at Hershey got this right.

Now that O’Day’s job is done here at West Hershey, what’s next on the agenda I asked the company’s top operations officer. It didn’t take him long to answer: China. Seems like the joint venture that Lotte and Hershey have in China is doing quite well; so well in fact that the manufacturing facility there is approaching capacity.

The $300-million question Bilbrey and O’Day face, expand or build new. Whatever the company decides, I just have one favor to ask. Don’t forget to send me an invite for the grand opening.