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issue: December 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine

Appliance Engineer-Commercial Food Service Equipment
Creating the Perfect Technology Blend


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Roberto Nevarez

Engineers at smoothie machine manufacturer Enodis have developed an integrated foodservice solution that overcomes current technology limitations.

Schematic of the new “Flash Ice” smoothie machine design from Enodis.

Although premium beverages such as smoothies are growing in popularity, most quick-service restaurants (QSRs) are unable to offer customers these options due to the time limitations of the quick-serve world. Those QSR owners that do opt to serve smoothies are confronted with a common set of challenges—mainly how to sell the same franchised drink time-after-time with existing labor and equipment limitations. One foodservice equipment manufacturer brought together its top technologists and engineers to overcome these limitations and several other engineering and design obstacles. The result is an innovative smoothie machine that integrates several appliance technologies into one piece of equipment.

Assessing Technology Limitations

Multiple steps are involved in creating a smoothie drink from beginning to end, and potential issues can occur at all stages. Smoothie making requires the use of blender pots to create the drink, meaning that the operator is required to purchase, maintain, and then store small wares (blender pots). Limitations of current technology also require the transport of ice to maintain a level of usable ice in the machine. This ice transfer is an issue for many reasons. First, labor is required to transport the ice from the back of the house to the front, where the smoothie machines are typically stored. This ice transfer can create a safety hazard for employees who could slip and fall on wet floors or injure themselves by improperly carrying a heavy bucket. It can also increase the likelihood of ice contamination through mishandling.

Once the ice is stocked, the employee must manually add an estimated amount to the blender pot. Since the amount of ice is not measured, but rather “guesstimated” by each employee, this ingredient is not precise and, therefore, makes it difficult to create the same franchised drink each time.

After the ice is manually added, the juice and any additional fruit or flavor “mix-in” is added by the operator as well. Finally, a size of cup is chosen, and the drink is poured. This last step presents the largest chance for waste. Since the employee must portion the ingredients by hand, any overspill of the drink is left in the blender pot. At each step during this manual process, portion control is compromised, and money is potentially wasted on excess ingredients.

Once the order is complete and the customer has his or her drink, there is one last step to finalize the process—the method of manually cleaning the blender pot after each use to prevent the transfer of flavors and germs. Often, to save time, the blender pots are rinsed in a sink, which can compromise sanitation. While this might seem insignificant, flavor contamination can be a serious threat if customers have food allergies. Another drawback to the washing process is that it involves a substantial amount of time and labor on the part of the operator.

Each step in this process to create a smoothie takes time, typically four to five minutes, and that time could be better spent serving customers or taking more food and beverage orders, directly contributing to the bottom line.

Designing for Time

Engineers at foodservice manufacturer Enodis sought to develop an innovative piece of equipment that provides a unique solution to this issue of timing. By integrating different technologies, the engineers created a new machine that allows operators to produce and dispense consistently prepared smoothie drinks in less than 40 seconds.

The foodservice appliance is the first of its kind to generate ice through a fully integrated onboard ice system. The 20-lb ice storage system has the capability to create an additional 10 lb of ice each hour, with a peak total of 270 lb per day. Having ice generation onboard removes the risk of injury through slips and falls, and it decreases the chance of bacterial contamination through mishandling. Additionally, the ice used in this machine is nugget-style ice, which is easier to fracture and blend down into the smoothie consistency. All of this allows for a perfectly blended smoothie that fits within a normal QSR delivery time.

Each smoothie is blended in its own cup, allowing the entire drink to be delivered to the customer and, in turn, raising product yield. Having each drink blended in its own cup improves flavor control and reduces allergy issues caused through cross-contamination. The new system has the capability to consistently provide 20 16-oz drinks per hour and, at peak capabilities, 45 16-oz drinks for one-hour bursts. Money is also saved through the elimination of small wares or blender pots that were purchased and stored by restaurant owners in the past.

With this new technology, the blender spindles go through a rinse and sanitization process after each use to prevent flavor transfer and eliminate the need for manual dishwashing. Additionally, the two mixer modules included in the machine allow for the creation of a second drink while mixing the first, contributing to higher drink output and, consequently, to the bottom line of the operation.

Overcoming Design Challenges

One of the major design hurdles the Enodis engineers faced was the challenge of mixing the drink in a cup. The blender pots that are currently used are made of hard plastic, with the ability to withstand the forces used to crush ice into an acceptable consistency for a smoothie drink. Grinding the cube-style ice, most commonly found in QSRs, would put too much stress on the machine’s blender and the customer’s cup.

To overcome this challenge, engineers developed the new machine to use nugget-style ice. Nugget ice is softer than the more commonly known cube ice, and it is formed in a freeze barrel with an internal auger that continually scrapes the freeze surface. This flake-style ice is moved to the top of the freeze barrel by the ice auger, where it is extruded into the ice nugget. The resulting smaller ice greatly reduces the amount of blending required to create the drink.

Additionally, the noise generated from the blending process is reduced by using this smaller nugget ice. This becomes especially important when the equipment is placed in the proximity of the front counter or near a drive-through window.

The blender pots in current smoothie machines are designed to fully mix the drink and grind the ice to a grain size that meets customer taste profiles. When mixing in a cup, there is no geometry to assist the mixing and grinding of the ice. In order to achieve the proper drink consistency, the new system utilizes a linear slide to move the blender spindle up and down in the cup. This process simulates how a drink is made using a handheld stick mixer.

The engineers designed the spindle to lower into the drink (about 25%), at which point the mixer blades are energized. Once engaged, the spindle is lowered fully into the cup and allowed to dwell. This process grinds the majority of the ice, but at that point, the drink is not fully developed. The spindle is then raised and lowered following a profile created for the specific drink, taking into account the viscosity of the fluids, ice-to-fluid ratio, and the drink cup size.

Size limitations (footprint) required creative packaging of the subassemblies. To match the footprint of current smoothie machines, the engineering team had to be creative in designing the way components fit together. While a traditional machine creates drinks in a blender pot to mix more than one flavor, the new machine blends each drink in the serving cup, calling for dual spindles to maintain throughput and delivery times. The new design addresses size requirements by vertical placement of the components.

To maintain the accuracy of the blender spindles—used to create drink consistency—stepper drive motors control the linear slides. The stepper motors provide the ability to create different blending profiles for the various types of drinks (coffee-based, fruit-based, fruit-plus-yogurt drinks). Counting the number of steps that this motor travels allowed the developers to precisely locate the blender spindle every time a drink is blended.

Production accuracy was also a critical design component. The developing engineers designed a portioning system that maintains ice dispense accuracy. The ice dispense was then divided into portion cups. As the drink size changes, the number of individual dispense cups dropping ice into the beverage increases or decreases to match. To measure the number of ice dispenses, microswitches (located outside of the ice bin) were incorporated to count the number of cups. This method provides consistent ice delivery regardless of the level of ice in the bin.

Conclusion

As this new piece of equipment demonstrates, the concept of integration can lead to new appliance categories. By marrying equipment platforms such as blenders, ice machines, and refrigeration systems, engineers were able to develop an innovative appliance that not only overcame current industry limitations, but also created a new opportunity for the QSR industry.

William Smith has more than 20 years in refrigeration research. He has a BS in technology education from Eastern Illinois University and holds patents in heat transfer and food equipment. Prior to joining the Enodis Technology Center, Smith built and managed laboratories at Krack Corp. and Standard Refrigeration after starting his career in the laboratory at Bohn Heat Transfer.

Roberto Nevarez is a product development engineer who has been at the Enodis Technology Center in New Port Richey, FL, U.S., for eight years. Nevarez holds more than 12 patents in foodservice equipment design and is credited with developing one of the first conveyorized cooking systems used by McDonald’s. Prior to working with Enodis, Nevarez was a product development engineer with Middleby Corp.


To contact Smith or Nevarez, e-mail lisa.bonnema@cancom.com

 

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