As you may already know, all of the existing flour quality assessment/measuring methods are somewhat time consuming, and to some extent accuracy of results contingent upon operator technique. The use of IR addresses both of these issues, but that isn't the driving force behind our work, as our world population grows, producing food will become ever more problematic and critical. The conceptual vision of a bakery in the future (we're only talking at most, 50-years) is one that is essentially fully automated. The variability of flour has presented the greatest challenge to developing this bakery. Our work is targeted toward using IR to measure (in real time) the absorption and mixing time characteristics of the flour, and then to make automatic changes as needed to produce doughs that are consistently the same (remember GIGO). We also use IR to look for specific ingredients in the dough to ensure the automated ingredient delivery systens are functioning properly. The level of confidence here needs to be high enough to allow for automated correction of any ingredient(s) during the dough mixing cycle, all without human intervention. The rest of the processing line is pretty straight forward and pretty well automated to a hands-off level already today. A good example of this is in the Rheon Bakery in Orange, California. The Rheon Company operates a bakery there making croissants to the tune of several thousand pounds per hour with only two people operating the entire line, and most of the time those two people are pushing brooms doing light cleanup work. If anyone is ever out in this area, check to see about getting a tour of the bakery...it's pretty amazing.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor