“Once you pop, the fun don’t stop”, is the slogan of the popular American chip brand Pringles. The engineering behind the saddle like shape of Pringles is also something fun to learn about. The saddle shape of Pringles which we all know is mathematically known as Hyperbolic Paraboloid
This consistent saddle shape of Pringles mathematically known as a hyperbolic paraboloid was used by designers for several puposes. Their designers reportedly used supercomputers to ensure that the chip aerodynamics would keep them in place during packaging and that they would not break when being stacked on top of each other.
What is a hyperbolic paraboloid? Engineering of Pringles
But before we get into the “nitty-gritty” of Pringles chips, it might be useful to find out just what a hyperbolic paraboloid is. In the wonderful world of geometry, this shape is a quadratic surface and a doubly-ruled surface that has exactly one axis of symmetry, and no center of symmetry.
Often referred to as “saddles” (for obvious reasons), their name comes from the fact that their vertical cross-sections are parabolas. This shape’s horizontal cross-section, on the other hand, are hyperbolas — hence the name
This shape has many useful applications in the physical world, aside from tasty potato-based snacks. As hyperbolic paraboloids are doubly-ruled, they are relatively easy to construct using a series of straight structural elements, making them useful as impressive structural elements in architecture.
The geometrical sturdiness of a hyperbolic paraboloid is widely exploited in architecture and engineering, especially in structural roof construction. The London Velodrome, the Scotiabank Saddledome in Canada, and the Scandinavium in Sweden are some of the more sophisticated structural examples of a hyperbolic paraboloid in real life.
Why a Hyperbolic Paraboloid shape for Pringles
- The saddle shape also known as hyperbolic paraboloid is self centering hence easy to stack up
- There is no trajectory that allows you to break up into predictable pieces, it’s a saddle look it up, so increases the crunchy feeling hence that weird satisfaction. (homework: where do they find those extra long potatoes to make the fries?)
- It is relatively more feasible to manufacture the press block compared to other shapes.
In 1956, Procter and Gamble assigned a task to chemist Fredric J. Baur: to develop a new kind of potato chips to address consumer complaints about broken, greasy, and stale chips, as well as air in the bags. With these requirements in mind Baur set out to make the most successful Potato chips in the world.
Baur spent 2 years developing saddle-shaped/ hyperbolic paraboloid shaped chips from fried dough and selected the tubular can as the chip’s container. Gene Wolfe, a mechanical engineer and author known for science fiction and fantasy novels, helped develop the machine that’s cooks them. This was the inception of Pringles. Their attention to such detail has helped Pringles gain and retain the number 1 spot in the crisps industry. The saddle shape of Pringles also known as the Hyperbolic Paraboloid shape has been the key reason for it’ success
A classic example of a heavily tech-focused solution to ingeniously solve customers problems in a non-tech industry and that too, in 1956.
It’s worth noting, the double curvature doesn’t encourage lines of stress to form, which I expect not only to reduce breakage before packaging, but also gives it its distinctive crunch which is surprisingly important part of improving the customer experience. Hence their slogan “Once you pop, you can’t stop” And it’s true!
One more reason for chips being hyperbolic paraboloid is that, given a material, the best shape that gives both the structural stability and maximum strength is this shape. This particular shape was selected because of its symmetry. The symmetric nature across any selected parabola in the shape minimizes the surface area of the chip.
This means, you get crispy chips even when you slice a very thin piece and get this shape out of it. That also provides profits to the company.