Teamwork makes for tasty results

Several design teams, working across the United States, have joined forces to develop a revolutionary fast food machine. Tom Shelley reports

Several design teams, working across the United States, have joined forces to develop a revolutionary fast food machine. Tom Shelley reports

A new type of instant ice cream-making and vending machine, now being deployed in the United States, is the result of collaboration between groups of designers all working together from widely dispersed locations.
According to Jim Baxter, vice president of engineering for Massachusetts-based MooBella, the idea is to produce 96 varieties of ice cream on demand.
“We can take advantage of an ambient temperature supply chain. Presently, ice cream sold to customers is six to eight months old, and has to be subjected to –20ºC storage and transportation,” he says.
Vice president of business development, Bob Brooks, states that the basic principle is to put the air into the liquid and freeze it very fast. That means, in effect, spraying it on to a freezing plate and scraping it off. This required highly innovative design, generating 14 new US patents.
Baxter takes up the story again, describing chocolate as one of the hardest fluids to deal with. Challenges also had to be overcome relating to differential thermal expansion of components and choice of plastics. Brooks agrees. “Polycarbonate was not good for this and there were lots of design modifications.”
Baxter describes the design challenge involved: “We needed to generate innovative, complex and creative solutions as quickly as possible. The design process succeeded, in spite of the fact that the company had to outsource all the design work.”
Moreover, it involved the efforts of more than 200 outsourced suppliers.

“We designed the systems to be modular several years ago. There are 11 modules, designed and redesigned by a whole number of groups. The base refrigerator was designed in Philadelphia and the refrigeration unit in Ohio. Most of the design work was undertaken using SolidWorks, and designs were exchanged using eDrawings to allow full collaboration with contract engineers and with marketing.”
There was major use of rapid prototyping, revision control and a minimising of meetings. And while SolidWorks was not a stipulated standard, all the suppliers were required to use it.
The end result was a very sophisticated machine – and excellent product. When Eureka went on a sampling ‘mission’ in the US recently, in the presence of one of the prototypes, it produced excellent ice cream on a 45 second dispense cycle, with no recovery time between servings. The 96 variants are made up from 12 flavours, four mix-ins (chocolate chips, nuts, candy covered chocolate or none) and ‘Premium’ (creamy) or ‘Light’ (less fat) qualities. The machine requires one hour of cleaning in each 24-hour period. The machines can be wheeled about, and stand 76.5 ins (1.94m) high, 42 ins (1.07m) wide and 33 ins (0.84m) deep.
“We hope to bring ice cream to new places it has not been before,” says Brooks.
Baxter, for his part, points out that with built-in Internet and wireless capability in operation he can sit at his desk and look at any machine in the field, and see what has been sold there and if there are any problems.
“Give me a helicopter and a generator, and I can set up a unit anywhere in the world,” he concludes.

Pointers

* Project was very complicated and the design was undertaken by a number of different groups of designers in different parts of the US

* Collaboration was managed through the exchange of eDrawings

* The end result was a completely successful and innovative product, way ahead of any of its competitors

Author
Tom Shelley

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