Wirelessly automate cooking processes

Master Instruments Pty Ltd
Wednesday, 04 August, 2010

Wireless temperature sensors and ethernet-enabled gateways have allowed one of the world’s leading food production companies to automate its cooking processes.

In just one of its many facilities, a leading production company specialises in cooking large quantities of pre-packaged and freezer sealed foods such as chilli, cream sauces and other dairy products. The cooking temperatures of these food products are of the utmost importance, ranging from 40 up to 100°C.

For instance, chilli is processed by combining a collection of frozen ingredients in a large kettle which possesses a rotating mixing arm that permits the ingredients to blend properly and cook evenly throughout.

During this process, the temperature inside the kettle must be maintained at a high level to ensure proper defrosting and consistency of all ingredients. Considering this cooking process, if proper temperature measurements are not timely and accurately collected, the company runs the risk of burning and, in turn, scrapping large batches of chilli, resulting in a significant losses of time and money.

Historically, the temperatures within the kettles were monitored by the use of traditional means: a technician manually monitored each kettle once every hour by inserting a thermometer into the mixture and recording the data. This data then had to be entered into the company’s database. Trends in the records were only discernible after all of the production floor’s kettle measurements had been manually entered for each hour. This often resulted in miscalculated and slowly recorded critical temperature data, in turn impeding the reaction time of the production floor staff.

For these reasons, the company realised it needed to measure kettle temperatures in a more proactive and timely manner. It was understood that inserting wired thermometers into large cooking kettles was not practical; therefore, a decision was made to employ wireless technologies to properly manage and improve their cooking operations.

During the scoping process, Electrochem recognised the necessity of solution customisation if the needs of the customer were to be met.

  • First, each kettle requires a 45 cm temperature probe that extends deep into the mixture. At the time, the standard temperature probe length utilised by customers was typically only 5 cm.
  • Second, the entire sensor would need to be mounted on the rotating mixing arm, requiring a custom mounting solution.
  • Third, FDA regulations specify the refusal of any dyed materials being used in or around food production. The standard sensor antenna would need to be made compliant, as it was constructed with a dyed ABS material.

The engineering team at Electrochem worked diligently to manufacture a customised solution to meet the exact specifications of this application.

A custom wireless temperature sensor was designed that includes a 45 cm probe, as well as an FDA-compliant antenna designed from PEEK material. A customised mounting bracket was also designed, to attach the wireless sensor to the rotating mixing arm inside the kettle.

This bracket not only gripped the sensor in the appropriate position, but also created a seal, prohibiting any flow of the mixture inside of the sensor, along with protecting the antenna from any trauma.

In order to ensure long-lasting performance and reduce the number of change-outs, Electrochem powered the wireless sensors with lithium batteries, such as those used in demanding industrial applications. To complete the desired end-to-end solution, Electrochem also provided a gateway device that collects the kettle’s temperature measurements from multiple wireless sensors and interfaces with the company’s existing control software. The wirelessly collected data is then viewed in real time via an internet connection and an OPC interface, a standard industrial protocol commonly used for databases and historian software.

Once deployed, the measurements collected by Electrochem’s wireless sensor technology were compared to their traditional manual process to ensure quality. As a result of the quality testing, interesting findings were uncovered.

It was discovered that, in the past, all measurements were taken only a few inches below the surface of the mixture within the kettles. These measurements only varied up to 15°C at times, in comparison to the temperatures, ranging from 40 up to 100°C, being measured by the Electrochem sensors, and mounted 45 cm deep into the centre of the mixtures. It became apparent that the traditional means of data collection was not nearly as accurate as had been assumed, nor were readings achieved at a rapid pace.

In this case, the end-to-end wireless sensing solution has improved operating efficiencies, through the reduction of manual labour and scrapped batches due to inefficient monitoring processes. The advanced technology employed enables the user to view frequent and accurate temperature measurements in real time, so staff can make necessary temperature adjustments instantly, ultimately optimising their cooking processes and heightening their quality of service.

Electrochem Solutions (www.electrochem.com) products are distributed in Australia by Siomar Batteries.

Benefits of wireless operation

  • Work remotely - monitor over the internet from anywhere in the world
  • Work smarter - efficient and timely condition-based maintenance and early warning detection
  • Ensure immediate action - real-time decision-making from your desk
  • Save space and money - eliminate long cable runs to each sensor
  • Do more with your resources - realise reduced installation and maintenance costs
  • Work with confidence - designed to operate in dirty, demanding industrial conditions
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