Controls & Sensors
In the past, these conflicting demands were difficult to meet. To get around that dilemma, Integrated Control Corp., Huntington, N.Y., developed the InteMod™ control system, a scalable, modifiable, plug-and-play system comprised of modular software and hardware components. By virtue of the InteMod design, the prototype control product can be delivered in half the time and at one-third the cost of comparable custom control system designed from the ground up.
The InteMod has been designed to be fast and flexible throughout the product life cycle. The modular concept not only allows an application to be quickly prototyped, but also permits features to be added during development, changes made during testing, and customization performed during production.
It is important to note that this modular approach does not restrict customization, but rather expands the potential to meet specific needs. In fact, it has been the hallmark of ICC to take user-centric approach to control design. In the past, controls were often designed for the engineers who built the appliances.
By contrast, the philosophy of ICC is that controls should be designed for the people who will use them, which is why each project begins with a “use case study” that ICC performs in the actual working environment where the control will be used. Taking this approach makes it easier to design a controller that allows non-technical people to control complex equipment while reducing human error.
Reducing human error is especially critical in the realm of quick-serve restaurants (QSRs), where employee turn-over is high and the where the workers are relatively unskilled and come from a variety of cultural backgrounds. Yet these same employees must use technology to master the QSR dilemma. The kitchen must keep enough partially cooked food in the pipeline so that customers can have their order with about 2 ½ minutes, yet, at the same time, the kitchen must avoid preparing too much food in advance, which results in overcooked food and waste.
ICC controls have found a home in many such environments because of their ability to meet the QSR control challenge. One huge example is Burger King. Like many QSRs, Burger King uses holding cabinets, designed to hold cooked, unfinished food. A typical holding cabinet has eight slots, each of which is independently programmable for food type, cook time, hold time, etc. These slots must be often reprogrammed when special promotions or new product launches changes the volume mix of food items being prepared.
As part of a program to revamp kitchen operations, Burger King wanted to make this programming an easier task. After performing a use case study at a Burger King store, ICC produced in six weeks a prototype Product Quality Timer (PQT) that was installed on the cabinets in the case study outlet. The PQT was based on the InteMod control, and proved more intuitive and easier to use.
However, the PQTs still had to be manually programmed, which could take up to a couple minutes for each slot. With eight slots per cabinet, and as many as two dozen holding cabinets at a given location, programming was still a time-consuming exercise.
Burger King wanted it accomplished faster. So ICC developed a solution using a handheld Palm computer. The customized application graphically depicts all eight slots of a holding cabinet on the Palm’s screen, along with all the slot settings. Using the Palm’s stylus, the user of the system needs only to write a few letters on each of the slots on the screen to indicate the desired settings. The settings are then downloaded into the holding cabinet via a serial port, reducing cabinet programming time to only 5 to 10 sec.
That’s how it’s done for kitchens involved with the first phase of revamping. For the second phase, Burger wanted to do even better. During this phase, ICC modified its InteMod to incorporate infrared communications, so that the Palm can program equipment wirelessly. These controls were put into holding cabinets in the Phase II kitchens, improving both the speed and consistency of programming. To make it even easier, program settings can be e-mailed to store managers, who can load them directly into the Palm, and from the Palm to the cabinets, without any writing at all.
The holding cabinet project proved so successful, that Burger King decided to base its new Flexi-broiler on the InteMod control with IR communications. The Flexi-broiler is going into Phase II kitchens, but it was also designed to serve different chains owned by Burger King Corp. As a result, the Flexi-broiler can broil any type of food based on the settings indicated. The Flexi-broiler’s control, with its IR port providing instant communications, allows Burger King to accurately coordinate complex cooking instructions across multiple chains.
While ICC was working with Burger King on the Phase I project, ICC came into contact with Duke Mfg.
Duke contributed the unique product holding design that is presently installed in virtually every Burger King across the globe. Duke’s mission includes a solid commitment to exceed customer expectations. Very often this means delivery of a new or modified product often within weeks of the customer’s initial request.
Working with Duke, ICC has utilized the flexibility of the InteMod System to create custom PQT timer systems for many other companies including Lotteria, Dairy Queen, Boston Market and YUM, to name a few. Each of these operations had unique requirements regarding control scheme, size, display and interface options. And in each case, the modularity of the InteMod system allowed ICC to reconfigure the various options in virtually a matter of weeks to meet the aggressive timetables required by the Duke marketing team. Even infrared heating control requirements could be included by the use of an InteMod.
While working with Duke’s marketing team, ICC noted that the broiler control concept developed for Burger King could also be applied to an oven control with an Palm IR interface. ICC met the challenge to produce such a control in four weeks for testing by a major convenience store chain.
In a similar example, ICC was tapped to develop a bakery oven control for Lang Mfg. The OEM had decided that their new bakery oven needed a new control that was easy to use but still had lots of features. The InteMod, with its simple user interface, graphic display, IR port/Palm connection, real time clock for auto preheating, was exactly what they needed.
There was just one catch. The Lang design team felt that the bakers needed to see the oven temperature and time remaining from their bread work area, and that numeric timers were necessary to achieve that.
The solution was to add a customized I/O board to the control. The LED board was designed to contain a large ¾ in. LED clock that showed the cook time remaining and a ½ in. LED display that showed the time.
Lang had one other requirement. The company wanted a prototype ready in three weeks to exhibit at a trade show. ICC met the deadline, producing all the custom hardware parts in seven days, then assembling and testing the system in another seven days.
After that trade show, a couple more product development changes were necessary. Lang wanted to add the ability to deactivate the bread rotating rack and oven lights, features that were omitted during the initial design phase. These features were quickly added to the IO board along with the software to drive it. The ability to add features during the development phase helped the company produce a more competitive product.
While ICC’s controls can be found on many foodservice appliances, the modular design concept can also be applied to many other appliance applications. In another example, ICC developed a control system for the Sterilox liquid chemical, high-level disinfectant system, made by Sterilox Technologies. The appliance creates a highly effective, non-toxic and biodegradable disinfectant used by physicians, clinics, and hospitals to disinfect medical equipment such as flexible endoscopes. The technology is based on the electrochemical activation of dilute brine solutions. The disinfectant produced is single-use and generated on-site and on demand at the point of use.
When Sterilox was developing the device, company came to ICC to design the internal power supply and control system required to generate the disinfectant. The prototype would be run by a PLC with the ICC Power control operating in the background.
When the prototype system was evaluated there were some major problems observed, problems that seemed big enough to postpone production. The PLC control was hard to use, the PLC components (operator interface, high voltage drivers) were not cost effective, and the assembly time was very high.
ICC was able to quickly reconfigure the InteMod so that it could control the entire system. The InteMod’s modularity also allowed Sterilox to add dynamic pH control of the disinfectant.
ICC’s products and methods have helped numerous other companies solve their control challenges, companies that make everything from treadmills to popcorn machines. In each case, ICC was able to deliver a customized solution in a short period of time, a solution in which the design was directed by the process, the use of the machine being controlled.
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