University Park, Pa. --- Penn State industrial engineers are working with the University Creamery staff to make changing flavors, controlling equipment speed, and switching from low fat to full fat frozen desserts and back again easier, quicker and more cost effective -- all without tampering with the world-famous product.
Dr. Richard Wysk, who holds the Leonhard Chair in Engineering, says "The new approach has the potential to be applied to any food manufacturing process and to turn out custom goods at high volume product prices."
Wysk will describe the approach and a prototype at the Industrial Engineering Engineering Research Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., on May 24 in a paper, "A Hybrid Shop Floor Control System for Food Manufacturing." His co-authors are Manuel J. Moreno-Lizaranzu, Motorola, Austin, Texas; Joonki Hong, graduate student; and Dr. Vittaldas Prabhu, assistant professor of industrial engineering.
Writing the software to control machines and synchronize their activities can be the most expensive part of plant automation, Wysk says. Writing software for automated ice cream making has the added challenge of requiring a hybrid controller that works for both continuous and discrete processing activities. For example, the same controller has to manage the continuous process when the dasher scrapes ice crystals into the ice cream mix to control ice crystal size as well as the discrete activity when the ice cream is packaged.
Using concepts from a durable product shop floor control system, called RapidCIM, which was developed at Penn State, Texas A&M University and Systems Modeling Corporation, Wysk and colleagues have developed a new prototype hybrid controller for the Penn State Creamery. The controller software that the Penn State team has developed is not only easily changed for different flavors or types of frozen desserts but can even be used to produce a simulation that the plant manager can use to "preview" the actual process on the manufacturing floor. The simulation looks like a cartoon or video game and takes the perspective of the product moving through the manufacturing process.
Dr. Robert Roberts, associate professor of food science, who directs the Penn State Ice Cream Short Course, says, "Ice cream is about one of the most complicated food products you can look at. Nearly every physical state exists in the finished product - ice, air cells that contain flavor compounds, emulsified fat, sugars in solution, for example. This new approach offers the potential to add levels of control for those factors that haven't been used before."
At the Creamery, Wysk notes they are still making the same amount of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry as they did in the 1960s, but they are making a lot more ice cream - approximately a million pounds or 180,000 gallons a year. There are more flavors and more varieties today.
The new hybrid controller offers any food manufacturer for whom putting out a new flavor or small batches is important, a way to do it that is less expensive than using traditional methods, Wysk adds.
Currently, the new prototype is being used with new equipment donated by Gram and Taylor to make ice cream solely for research purposes. Roberts and others from Penn State's Center for Food Manufacturing are working on process modeling in conjunction with the engineering effort. Roberts says, "We don't know yet exactly what all of the benefits will be. But this collaboration enables us to move forward with the most modern of process controls."