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Digital imaging system helps bakery produce perfect buns.

The perfect bun: That's one of the goals of an automated product-inspection prototype under development by Georgia Institute of Technology researchers working with Flowers Bakery, Villa Rica, GA. The first phase of the work involves introducing continuous imaging technology to the large-scale production of sandwich buns for fast-food restaurants, which hold to exacting product specifications.

The fresh-baked buns are scanned by a digital camera as they move along Flowers' production line. Items not measuring up in terms of color, shape, seed distribution, size or other criteria are identified by computerized imaging software and eventually are removed automatically from the conveyor.

The system is under development by engineers from the Georgia Tech Research Institute's (GTRI) Food Processing Technology Division in association with researchers from Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) and BakeTech, Tucker, GA, a baking equipment manufacturer.

The computerized imaging system will automate the inspection process at Flowers. Ultimately, the new approach will save money and time by increasing yield and reducing waste. It should reduce the time between noticing a problem and fixing it. Also, the system will automatically record data, such as product count and the number of out-of-spec buns, to generate production reports. Flowers will have all this data immediately for doing statistical process control so staff can implement changes that reduce the number of poor-quality buns.

The second phase of the project will extend automation by providing in-line mechanisms to correct the vagaries leading to poor-quality products. Proofers and ovens are subject to normal disturbances that can affect product quality. Automatically compensating for those disturbances reduces time spent correcting problems.

ECE researchers, working with the GTRI team, are using data from the screening and image-processing phase and from additional sensor inputs to build a supervisory control system. It will be able to make changes in the proofer and oven settings to fix problems as they are detected.

Good bakers are able to react based on experience and feedback from the process. The researchers are trying to enhance the ability of expert and novice bakers alike to make better quality control adjustments, while also adding automation that can mimic some of those adjustments dynamically. While the computerized quality control and self-correcting production system holds great commercial promise for the baking industry, generic aspects of the technology may be adapted to other food processing industries as well.

Further information. Doug Britton, GTRI/EOEML, Food Processing Technology Division, Georgia Institute of Technology, 575 14th St., IPST-EC, Atlanta, GA 30332; phone: 404-385-0418; fax: 404-385-0416; email: douglas.britton@gtri.gatech.edu.
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Publication:Emerging Food R&D Report
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Words:423
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