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  • A BUN Baker’s New Best Friend

Photonics Spectra
May 2011

As you enjoy your lunch today, imagine more than 1000 sandwich rolls per minute moving along a production line as bakers anxiously check for machine failures that could result in dozens upon dozens of less-than-perfect buns that will never be invited to the picnic.

Now ponder the fact that a prototype automated imaging system has been developed to help bakers produce consistently high quality buns for their food service and fast-food customers.

Senior research engineer Douglas Britton and research scientist Colin Usher of Georgia Tech Research Institute in Atlanta developed the system. They worked with Georgia-based Flower Foods of Thomasville, a baking company, and Baking Technology Systems (BakeTech) of Tucker, a baking equipment manufacturer.

The system, which was tested at a Flowers Foods bakery for more than a year at hour-long intervals, comprises a digital camera that images the buns as they exit the oven, and imaging software that assesses whether their color is too light or too dark to be of high enough quality. If the software detects substandard buns, it automatically sends the color information to the oven controller, which adjusts the temperature. This rapid correction could help minimize a bakery’s material and product loss.

Basically, it shortens the interval between when a problem is noticed and when it is fixed. For example, if a quantity of buns takes a total of 12 minutes to bake and a batch is checked after eight minutes and found to be less than perfect, there is only a four-minute window in which to correct the temperature for the remainder of the baking.

The current manual-based quality assurance technique – checking a sample hourly and adjusting the oven temperature accordingly – is slower to detect changes in bun consistency, which can arise through such variables as ingredients, batches, shifts, or daily and seasonal temperature and humidity.

The prototype system also provides bakers with up-to-the-minute data reports on such matters as bun shape and size, seed distribution and contamination. The buns can be in pans or on a conveyor belt of any color except the color of the buns. The stainless steel system mounts to conveyor belts as wide as 50 in.

It’s the best thing to happen to buns since sesame seeds.

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