The project's description provides an insight into possible future processing technology for a soft food that is particularly difficult to accurately portion under high-speed automated packaging conditions.
The process can result in significant physical damage that results in an unattractive appearance.
Current processes that partially chill or freeze components to make them easier to dose and dispense add significant cost and processing time, according to Ninesigma, the consultancy.
The project is being put forward for what is described as a "global" food company.
The sponsored research could lead to a technology or equipment acquisition after the project is completed. The first phase of the project is scheduled to last six months and would involve funding of between $50,000 to $100,000.
The second phase of the project would involve advanced development of the process and scaling it up for manufacturing, according to the documents.
The project calls for a mechanism, machine, automated robotic assembly or system to accomplish receive soft foods in bulk form. The soft foods involve spaghetti or fettuccini of about 12 inches in length at room temperature. The system would separate the food into discreet portions, dispense it into secondary, moving containers in a precise manner and place it into packaged food containers.
The containers are described as frozen food trays or packages.
The unnamed food processor currently processes its products by cooking and cooling pasta to about room temperature. The pasta comes into the assembly line in containers of 20 to 30 pounds each. The pasta is then individually dosed using two techniques.
Under one method it is manually weighed, a process that requires a large crew and significant cost. Under another technique the pasta is automatically dispensed. This results in poor weight control, the project description stated.
The typical line speed is 100 to 200 containers per minute per lane.
The proposed delivery system can be altered to accommodate an improved measurement and dosing system, as long as performance and line speed are maintained, Ninesigma stated.
Other additional desired requirements for a successful solution include accurate and consistent control of weight to within two per cent of the target weight. The machine must be adjustable to accurately dispense products with a variety of target weights, from 80 to 240 grams.
The equipment must be able to be cleaned and sanitized without being removed from the production line. The overall design and materials of construction must be compatible with federal food processing guidelines.
The process must be able to generate up to 100 to 200 portions per minute per lane.
Applicants can either be academic researchers or a food processing equipment company. Proposals from an equipment company from a non-food industry that can show they have experience and ideas to solve the problem can also apply.
The deadline for submissions for developing a machine that can "dose and assemble soft food components" is April 7.