If you’ve ever made homemade pasta, you know it can be a real challenge to get it right, especially if you’re a perfectionist. Scale up your recipe to make tons of pasta a day, and it’s an even bigger challenge to get the consistent quality you want. And with today’s increasing commodity prices, you can’t afford to get it wrong.
Bühler’s Pasta and Noodles business unit had been hearing from pasta makers facing this dilemma of getting the pasta perfect. Testing it both before and after cooking and before and after drying means a lot of time passes, and the “pasta controls” are based on grab-sample tests—not exactly what you’d call real-time process control.
Pasta production lines are long, so having a person running the grab samples back to the lab, getting results and running back to the appropriate spot on the line to make changes to the process may be good exercise, but it’s not good process control.
Marco Loschi, Bühler AG product manager, pasta, and his application engineers decided it was time to put appropriate sensors at the critical spots on the line to collect data and provide key information on the process in real time. I asked Loschi to give us some background on this new Bühler system.
Loschi has a bachelor’s degree in food science and technology and obtained an MBA from the University of Phoenix (USA). Before joining Bühler, he worked within R&D for Barilla in Italy and the US. He has been a pasta business unit product manager at Bühler since 2015.
FE: What have been the issues with typical pasta production lines? Do pasta makers often have equipment from more than one supplier?
Marco Loschi: While pasta is a simple product, its production is much more complicated. The process is very delicate, and deviations from the ideal drying conditions can lead to waste because of late cracking issues. This situation applies to all types of technologies, companies and pasta manufacturers. They all rely on manual operations: periodic sampling and testing to check that pasta is dried according to the expected kinetic.
FE: What quality issues were pasta makers typically experiencing?
Loschi: Focusing on drying, any substantial deviations can lead to structural defect and breakage in pasta. If this defect is detected early enough, the product can be managed at the plant, but if the issue is detected too late (if at all), it will show up on the dinner plate of people at home, therefore, adding reputation issues to the economic ones.
FE: What types of sensors are needed to produce the data to control the process?
Loschi: We use Bühler proprietary sensors of two kinds. One monitors the moisture of the product and the main characteristics of the incoming raw materials; the other one monitors the color of both the product and the raw material, as well as dark specks in the raw material.
FE: Where are these sensors placed in the line?
Loschi: We can place the sensors at the incoming raw material and at the technologically relevant points in the dryer: pre-dryer, dryer, stabilization, cooling. The system is quite flexible; therefore, we can customize the application.
FE: To achieve the best results, would it be advised to locate sensors at each of the relevant points you just mentioned—or isn’t that necessary?
Loschi: By locating the sensors at the points above, pasta manufacturers can change to PastaSense more easily: it combines information with what they are already doing (or should be doing…) to monitor their process; therefore, they are not adding additional complexity to their existing procedures and can profit immediately from the sensors.
FE: Tell us about PastaSense and its capabilities. What parameters does it monitor?
Loschi: To us, PastaSense is a full solution. Therefore, we also have developed a tool to have a quick overview of the data, as well as [a] comparison of historical values and summary of production lots. We all have too many data, so we have worked to have the situation under control with a quick glance, allowing the possibility to deep dive as needed. All Bühler digital solutions make it easy for the pasta maker to understand data and optimize production, and PastaSense is a prime example in that respect.
FE: Running grab samples to the lab is far from real-time information. What is “real time” with PastaSense? Can the software spot the difference between recipes?
Loschi: Indeed, it does. The system is very accurate and can differentiate recipes. In fact, color reading was live at the product launch at [the] Ipack Ima trade show for process technology and packaging in Milan; therefore, we had Teflon and bronze durum wheat spaghetti, as well as red lentils in the mock-up dryer.
FE: Are you typically retrofitting existing lines? Does Bühler supply a complete pasta line with these sensors and controls built in?
Loschi: The system can be purchased with new Bühler lines, but of course, we can also install it in existing lines.
FE: For existing lines, what amount of time is needed to implement the PastaSense solution? Do the lines need to be shut down during the installation?
Loschi: Lines need to be shut down over a period of [a] maximum two working days. The downtime is minimized on a case-by-case basis, allowing, for example, the possibility to produce in the night shift.
FE: In an older facility, where wiring (conduit) may not be available to connect the sensors, can they be used in a wireless network, or would the performance of a wireless network be too slow to support the data speeds?
Loschi: The sensors have their own cabling, which is included in the installation. This specific product does not foresee a wireless functionality at the moment.
FE: For existing lines, does Bühler do the work itself, or does it have system integrators who can handle the work?
Loschi: Bühler would install PastaSense and train the processor to use our solution to its full advantage right from the start.
FE: What kind of ROI might a large pasta maker expect? Is the system available (US, Europe, world) now?
Loschi: We believe the ROI is found in refocusing quality control from repetitive tasks to more productive ones. Personnel from quality and technical departments can reduce repetitive routine operations like manual sampling and product analysis. Instead, it can compare different production lines and time periods for benchmarking and performance optimizations. Furthermore, quality reports are produced easily from the collected data, thereby further increasing productivity.
In addition to these benefits, the system is paid back by saving about 80 hours of production from being reworked.
It also brings intangible benefits, such as increased traceability and brand protection.
For more information, visit https://digital.buhlergroup.com/pastasense/