At the heart of the researchers’ experiments is the TorqSense transducer made by Sensor Technology in Oxon, which monitors the constantly changing flow characteristics of materials as diverse as tomato ketchup, chocolate, pasta sauce and chicken tikka massala as they are mixed.
Ireland’s national economy has always had a strong agricultural element and more recently considerable value has been added to this by becoming one of Europe’s foremost manufacturers of processed ingredients and ready meals.
Many foods are presented in a sauce or as what physicist could describe as a neo-liquid and can be produced in a process-type environment. But to date real time control has been virtually impossible due to the non-uniform nature of the food, which may contain particulates, fibres, vegetables, meat, nuts, raisins, biscuits etc.
“Real time process control is vital if food processors are to achieve the ultimate in product quality,” says PJ Cullen, who leads the research team. “To achieve this the sensor has to be pretty special to detects the changes with sufficient sensitivity, yet be robust enough for regular wash-downs and general industrial abuse. Of course it must not compromise hygiene standards and regimes either.
We tried a number of sensors and TorqSense stood out as by far the best at meeting all our needs.”