HERSHEY, PA. — The Hershey Co. is reimagining how it manufactures a chocolate bar. While most of the company’s processing lines are designed for scale and efficiency, its engineering teams are experimenting with a modular approach.

“We have our engineering teams working on a project called the Advanced Technology line, which is a completely new way of doing this,” said Will Bonifant, vice president of US and Canada supply chain. “It's a multipurpose asset that leverages a lot of robotics and automation.”

An Advanced Technology line actually isn’t a line, said Mr. Bonifant. Modular portions replace the connected units that make up a traditional processing line.

“It’s that modularity that helps us to significantly reduce the time that’s required for changeovers and cleanings between production runs,” he said. “The line can handle a more diverse portfolio so that it helps us with innovation, and it also helps us with complexity reduction across the network.”

While traditional manufacturing lines have complexity built in, the modular concept “can absorb” some of that complexity” and increase overall network efficiency, said Mr. Bonifant.

“This line will start up in the next few months and, when it does, it will take on some of our dark extra creamy and cookie and cream bar flavors,” he said.

The Hershey Co. also is incorporating agility into its fulfillment practices. Rather than send similar brand portfolios to retailers across the country, the company is using consumer data and insight to customize offerings.

“Think about if you had a group of stores in Texas, and for whatever reason, their consumer likes more Payday,” he said. “And maybe in the Northeast, they like more York. That level of precision will give us better distribution, increased sell-through, reduced waste. And the software that we’re using to develop this concept, it will reduce the innovation cycle time as we work with our customer teams to develop different display and merchandising units.”