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Title:
APPARATUS FOR MANUFACTURING POPCORN NOUGAT
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2016/107652
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
Apparatus for producing popcorn (52) comprising an intermittent conveyor (11) with mobile compartments (12) travelling through a loading station (19), a heating station (36), a compression station (46), an ejection station (14) and a packing station (67). It may also include a cooking station (68) and a refining station (69) serving the loading station (19). The manufacturing process comprises a series of steps including dispensing popcorn (52), heating it to a temperature below toasting temperature, compressing it, discharging the corn-pressed products and packing it.

Inventors:
ARCUSIN, Carlos (Av. Del Libertador 8560, 15th Floo, appartment "A" 1427 Buenos Aires, AR)
GARCIA, Gustavo Alfredo (Almirante Guerrico 1345, 1642 San Isidro, Buenos Aires, AR)
SCHENA, Claudio (Cabildo 480, 1617 General Pacheco, Buenos Aires, AR)
Application Number:
EP2014/079462
Publication Date:
July 07, 2016
Filing Date:
December 30, 2014
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
ARCUSIN, Carlos (Av. Del Libertador 8560, 15th Floo, appartment "A" 1427 Buenos Aires, AR)
GARCIA, Gustavo Alfredo (Almirante Guerrico 1345, 1642 San Isidro, Buenos Aires, AR)
SCHENA, Claudio (Cabildo 480, 1617 General Pacheco, Buenos Aires, AR)
International Classes:
A23L1/00; A23L1/18
Domestic Patent References:
WO2013076644A12013-05-30
Foreign References:
US4394395A1983-07-19
US3912433A1975-10-14
CA2164280A11996-06-06
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
FRANZOLIN, Luigi et al. (Studio Torta S.p.A, Via Viotti 9, Torino, I-10121, IT)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. Apparatus for manufacturing nougat from popcorn impregnated with a sweetener such as sugar or dextrose, said manufacturing apparatus comprising multiple stations along which multiple compartments travel associated to a conveyor unit, said stations including:

a loading station for loading said compartments with a preset amount of popcorn,

a heating station which rises the temperature of the impregnated popcorn to a certain level so as to soften it and increase its binding capacity,

a compression station for compressing the popcorn in the compartment to form a compact mass of a density increased by a preset order of magnitude, and

- a ejection station with means for expelling a nougat formed by said compact dense mass from the compartment;

characterised in that the compartments are partially formed by side walls in the conveyor unit, which moves along a stationary base formed by the bottom sections of the compartments, except for the ejection station, so that the compartments are moved on the stationary base which substantially closes them beneath between the loading station and the compression station.

2. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claim 1, characterised in that the compartments are associated to a linear conveyor unit.

3. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claim 1, characterised in that the compartments are associated to a rotatory conveyor unit.

4. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claim 3, characterised in that the conveyor unit comprises a horizontal rotating disk which is provided with multiple openings on a radius thereof, the form of the openings being the section of a nougat, and walls extending from the opening edges downwards to said stationary base, thus forming the side enclosures of the mobile compartments.

5. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claim 4, characterised in that the stationary base is a horizontal bottom disk with at least one opening in the ejection station that is aligned with the compartments.

6. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to any of the preceding claims, characterised in that the horizontal section of the compartments is of rectangular or square shape .

7. Apparatus for manufacturing nougat from popcorn impregnated with a sweetener such as sugar or dextrose, said manufacturing apparatus comprising multiple stations along which multiple compartments travel associated to a conveyor unit, said stations including:

a loading station for loading said compartments with a preset amount of popcorn,

a heating station which rises the temperature of the impregnated popcorn to a certain level so as to soften it and increase its binding capacity,

a compression station for compressing the popcorn in the compartment to form a compact mass of a density increased by a preset order of magnitude, and

a ejection station with means for expelling a nougat formed by said compact dense mass from the compartment;

characterised in that the compression station comprises at least one compressing piston perpendicularly movable towards the conveyor unit and into a compartment that is momentarily parked at the compression station, for compressing popcorn within the compartment, until its volume is reduced to between 15% and 30%, preferably to between 18% and 27% and, more preferably, to between 20% and 25% of its original volume.

8. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claim 7, characterised in that the compression station further includes a first releasing device for applying a fluid over the at least one compressing piston when it is located outside the compartments, such as in an upper static position .

9. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to any of the preceding claims, characterised by including, between the ejection station and the loading station, a second releasing device for applying a fluid inside the compartments after ejecting the nougat manufactured therein and before loading a new batch of popcorn.

10. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to any of the preceding claims, characterised in that the ejection station comprises at least one ejecting piston located vertically on the radius of the rotating disk corresponding to the compartments, said ejecting piston may be operated when the compartment stops at the ejection station in order to make it descend into the compartment and push the nougat formed therein through a discharge opening that is provided in the stationary base forming the bottom of the mobile compartments, and out of said compartment at the ejection station, then dumping it onto a collector.

11. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claim 10, characterised in that the pistons of the compression station and the ejection station are actuated jointly.

12. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claims 10 or

11, characterised in that the ejection station further includes a third releasing device for applying a fluid over the at least one ejecting piston when it is located outside the compartments, such as in an upper static position.

13. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claims 8, 9 or

12, characterised in that each releasing device comprises a nozzle for spraying a burst of fluid, such as corn oil.

14. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claims 8, 9, 12 or 13, characterised in that the releasing devices are installed on the stationary base of the manufacturing apparatus .

15. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to any of the preceding claims, characterised in that the heating station comprises a tunnel oven through which said compartments travel driven by the intermittent movement of the conveyor unit .

16. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claim 15, characterised in that the tunnel oven comprises stops at multiple, preferably at least three, compartments in each cycle .

17. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to any of the preceding claims, characterised in that the heating station comprises heating means provided with operating means prepared for an intermittent operation over periods of less than 10 seconds and having a power capable of generating temperatures below 150 °C in the adjacent parked compartments .

18. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to any of the preceding claims, characterised in that the loading station comprises a hopper with a dispenser for pouring a load into the compartments.

19. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claim 18, characterised in that the top loading hopper has a double jacket so as to form an air chamber which isolates the inner wall from the heat to which the outer wall is subjected by the hot air from the metal walls of the tunnel oven, so that the inner wall is kept at room temperature, thus avoiding adherence of cooked popcorn to the walls.

20. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claims 18 or 19, characterised in that the dispenser operating by load volume comprises a sieve, the discharge base of which is flush with the upper rim of the compartments.

21. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claim 20, characterised in that the dispenser operating by load volume comprises a receptacle which is articulated on its upper part and a base which is shaken by an inter-mittent actuator which contributes in spreading popcorn inside the compartments, displacing the receptacle base a preset amount of times at every stop of the conveyor unit.

22. Nougat manufacturing apparatus according to claim 21, characterised in that the actuator displaces the upper articulated receptacle by an odd number of impacts at every stop of the conveyor unit.

23. Apparatus for cooking and popping corn kernels to obtain popcorn, incorporating a sweetener such as sugar or dextrose impregnated inside the expanded kernel, said apparatus comprising:

at least one pan for containing corn kernels and sweetener at specific ratios,

a heating device for cooking the contents of the pan by heating to a preset temperature,

a homogenizing device for stirring the contents of the pan during cooking, and

- a tilting device to pour the contents of the pan onto a collector;

characterised in that the heating device is adjusted to heat the pan to a temperature of 180°C and to keep the pan at this temperature until more than 80%, preferably more than 90% and, more preferably more than 95% of the corn kernels have been expanded and burst.

24. Apparatus to obtain popcorn according to claim 23, characterised in that the heating device comprises an electrical resistance located within the walls of each pan. 25. Apparatus to obtain popcorn according to claims 23 or 24, characterised in that each pan comprises a container with a side wall and a bottom which pivots in a preset angle around a fixed axle of the apparatus in order to tilt the pan from its initial position during cooking to a post- cooking position in order to empty it by dumping its contents .

26. Apparatus to obtain popcorn according to claim 25, characterised in that the side wall of the pan de-iscribes a conical or cylindrical surface with an upper rim crossed along its diameter by a bridge having two main edges from which a pair of half-disks articulate, those half-disks normally covering the upper opening of the pan, said homogenizing device comprising an axle supported by a bearing of said bridge, stirring blades attached to the lower end of a shaft close to the bottom of the pan and coupling means around the upper end of the axle adapted for receiving a driving force capable of rotating the blades.

27. Apparatus to obtain popcorn according to claim 26, characterised in that the articulation between each half- disk and the corresponding main rim of the bridge comprises at least two downward bent hooks in one of the half-disks and two corresponding openings in the other for engaging the hooks, so that the half-lid remains linked to the bridge even when the pan is tilted and yet allow for readily disassembling them for cleaning purposes; to this purpose the bridge is preferably fixed to the upper rim of the pan by rapidly removable means, such as butterfly nuts.

28. Apparatus to obtain popcorn according to claims 26 or 27, characterised in that the driving force is trans-mitted to the homogenizing device by a drive shaft parallel to said fixed axle of the apparatus; and said coupling means comprises a pair of engaged conical gears, one of which is engaged to the drive shaft and the other is fixed to the upper end of the drive axle of the homogenizing device so that, when the pan pivots around the fixed axle at the end of a popcorn cooking cycle, the drive axle of the homogenizing device moves away from the drive shaft thereby disengaging said pair of gears.

29. Apparatus to obtain popcorn according to claim 28, characterised in that the rotation direction of the drive shaft is such that, in addition to transmitting rotation to the drive axle, it exerts a net attraction torque on the gears which tends to keep said pair of gears engaged.

30. Apparatus to obtain popcorn according to any of claims 23 to 29, characterised by comprising multiple individual pans for containing corn kernels and sweetener at preset ratios, each one provided with a heating device for cooking the contents of the pan by heating to a preset temperature, a homogenizing device for stirring the contents of the pan during cooking, and a tilting device, being said both axle supporting the bottoms of the pans and said drive axle or shaft transmitting rotation to the drive axles of the pans common to said multiple pans.

31. Apparatus to obtain popcorn according to any of claims 23 to 30, characterised in that said collector comprises a conveyor belt running in front of said at least one pan to receive the sweetened cooked popcorn dumped by the pan.

32. Manufacturing plant for making nougat from kernels of Everta corn and sweetener, characterised by comprising an apparatus to obtain popcorn according to claim 31, the collector of which is linked by a continuous line to the nougat or popcorn manufacturing apparatus according to claim 1.

33. Manufacturing plant according to claim 32, characterised by further comprising at least one sieve located in said continuous line by means of conveyor belts between the outlet of the apparatus for making popcorn and the nougat or popcorn manufacturing apparatus .

34. Manufacturing plant according to claim 33, characterised in that said at least one sieve includes a vibrating sieve.

35. Manufacturing plant according to claims 33 or 34, characterised in that said at least one sieve includes a rotatory sieve comprising a horizontal cylinder arranged with its axle slightly tilted towards its outlet end, the side wall of which comprises a backbone formed by four equally distanced strips, the ends of which are linked to rings made of the same metal and screens formed as cylinders, with their edges fixed to two successive strips and to the end rings, thus collectively forming the side screen wall provided with openings.

36. Manufacturing plant according to claim 35, characterised in that a preset amount of blades are attached to the inner walls of the cylinder and supported by each strip, their longitudinal positions being determined by an imaginary screw or an interrupted theoretical helix with a preset number of turns, which raise the popcorn so that it falls behind the blade which at that moment is located below, thus extending the residence time of kernels through the cylinder .

37. Manufacturing plant according to claim 36, characterised in that the cylinder is provided with a step at the outlet end to prevent the progression of the heaviest kernels and favouring the output of the most expanded and lightest popcorn kernels from the cylinder.

Description:
APPARATUS FOR MANUFACTURING POPCORN NOUGAT

Field of the Invention

The present invention is directed to the field of everyday- life needs and, specifically, to the field of food production. More particularly, it is directed to an apparatus for manufacturing popcorn nougat through a series of stations, where popcorn is processed to obtain a nutritious nougat-type food product comprising compressed popcorn units.

Background of the invention

Several devices and apparatus are currently known which can be used for producing food products manufactured from rice, corn or other grain kernels.

For example, several apparatus are known for producing so- called puffed rice which is used, in a further section of the same apparatus or in a different one, to obtain a compressed food product known as puffed rice cakes. This kind of apparatus comprises means for moistening rice, controlling the water provided for this purpose and then dispensing said moistened rice into moulds heated to a certain temperature. Inside the moulds, the rice is simultaneously subjected to a certain temperature and hydraulic pressure for a variable period of time depending on the type and/or size of the cake. The apparatus performing this process operate such that the moulds are adjusted for releasing the pressure and open quickly and suddenly. Under these conditions, the rice draws air in, expands and occupies the entire mould cavity. Therefore, these apparatuses operate by expansion moulding of a cereal which is simultaneously subjected to pressure and temperature .

However, this process is not applicable to corn of the Everta variety, which will burst as a result of the kernel expansion caused by the heating of its own encapsulated moisture, which amounts to about 14% of the kernel. When the Everta corn grain bursts, it is converted into the appealing popcorn, so well- accepted worldwide. This is a unique and characteristic quality of this corn variety.

More particularly, there are several methods for bursting and expanding popcorn and thus obtaining the intended popcorn product. These methods are closely related to the type of device employed and their field of application, namely:

1) Artisanal or home manufacturing methods:

a) Using microwave appliances: this method is widely used and employs microwave ovens for heating the moisture encapsulated in the kernel, so that it will burst and expand. Generally, sugar is added after obtaining the popcorn, which is carbonized in the microwave oven due to the high temperature at which kernel expansion occurs.

b) Using containers such as pots or the like containing oil and caramel: this is the oldest method and in some countries it is referred to as fried corn. It consists in heating oil and adding Everta corn and sugar, stirring it constantly to prevent burning, until it starts to burst into popcorn. This effect is always produced by the expansion of the moisture contained in the corn kernel. It is also common that a percentage of about 5% of grains will not burst, because they lack the required internal moisture.

c) Using devices for expansion by means of hot air: this method was developed in recent years and is based on a small household appliance which forces an air stream through an electrical resistance by means of an air turbine, thereby heating the corn kernel to a temperature which causes it to burst and, through expansion, to pop out from the heater. This method is very interesting; however the product obtained by air expansion is rather tasteless and not very appealing, which is why several types of additives are added, such as sauces, sweeteners or flavours.

2) "In situ" production techniques:

They are used at amusement parks, sport stadiums, entertainment centres, public walks, cinemas, theatres, etc. For this type of manufacture, the most commonly used method is heat expansion of the Everta strain in oil and sugar. Most frequently, one part of oil and three parts of the Everta strain are used, with the addition of sugar or salt, depending on whether it is sweet or savoury. This process is somewhat similar to the household process using pots but employs industrial or restaurant devices and machinery instead.

With the above types of devices a product is obtained by combining fats and sugars with corn, which is preferred for virtually immediate consumption. However, the product obtained is highly caloric and will undergo a change of its organoleptic characteristics over time, after manufacturing the product, due to interactions of the oil with the other components .

3) Industrial production methods:

Industrial manufacturers mainly employ devices which first cook popcorn with hot air and then coat it with flavoured coating mixtures which provide flavour. Coating is carried out to provide popcorn with an appropriate external appearance, but this product usually is rather tasteless and besides its structure is not very crispy. This method is used by major manufacturers worldwide to produce popcorn for mass consumption. However, there are no known machines or devices for producing popcorn with the only addition of a sweetener and then obtaining a compressed food product therefrom.

US patent 4,652,456 discloses a commercially available apparatus for making popcorn balls from hardened caramel- coated popcorn. The apparatus comprises a rotary conveyor on which multiple closed compartments and means for varying compartment size and for opening them are mounted. Rotation of the conveyor cause the compartments to move from a pop-corn loading input towards a nougat output, stopping at stations comprising, firstly, a hopper with a dispenser for loading preset volumes of popcorn into temporarily opened compartments, followed by a combination of a blower and an electrical resistance which force one or more intermittent short bursts of hot air of 0,1 sec into the compartments to heat and soften the coating; then a compression station; where the compartments are subjected to compression in order to compress the popcorn to slightly less than one-half its original volume to form spherical compressed units and, finally, a station ejecting the popcorn balls from the compartments .

US patent 5,215,770 discloses an additive formulation for popcorn including polydextrose, as a sugar substitute, at a ratio of not less than 30%, preferably of 40%-70%, and sweeteners. Cooking temperatures are in the order of 150°C. US patent 6,200,611 discloses a popcorn nougat bar and teaches a process for forming a coated popcorn food product wherein firstly popcorn is made to burst and then is mixed with a precooked binding molass (sugar) so as to provide an even coating. The popcorn reaches a temperature of about 127°C (within a range of 121° to 132°) so that it will not become too hard and brittle for the process of cutting it into bars. This temperature is then lowered to 99°C when entering the compression station and then to 82°C (within a range of 77° to 88°) when it is discharged from the compression station. The coated popcorn is then formed into sheets by means of belt conveyors. The popcorn enters the compression station at 110°C and leaves it at 82°C.

Summary of the invention

The present invention substantially consists in an apparatus for manufacturing popcorn nougat comprising an intermittent conveyor with mobile compartments successively travelling through a loading station, a heating station, a compression station, a ejection station and a packing station. A cooking station and a refining station may also be added to the loading station. The manufacturing process comprises a series of steps comprising dispensing popcorn, heating it at a temperature below toasting temperature, compressing it, ejecting the compressed products and packing them. The present invention is mainly directed to a nougat manufacturing apparatus using popcorn impregnated with a sweetener, such as sugar or dextrose, inside the expanded kernel. It further includes an apparatus for cooking and popping corn kernels to obtain impregnated popcorn to be fed into the nougat manufacturing apparatus. In its broadest embodiment, the invention includes an industrial plant with the cooking apparatus physically arranged at the start of a production line that extends into the manufacturing apparatus, optionally including a refining apparatus.

Multiple stations are arranged along the nougat manufacturing line with multiple compartments driven by a substantially horizontal conveyor. The stations of the manufacturing apparatus include, in the machine direction of the compartments filled with popcorn:

a loading station for loading the compartments with a preset amount of popcorn dispensed by an apparatus cooking Everta corn

a heating station, preferably a tunnel-type oven, which raises the temperature of the impregnated popcorn to a certain level so as to soften it and increase its binding capacity, a compression station for compressing the popcorn in the compartment to provide a compact dense mass and

a ejection station for ejecting a nougat formed by the compact dense mass from the compartment;

According to one aspect of the nougat manufacturing apparatus, the conveyor unit comprises a turntable or a linear conveyor and the compartments are partially formed by openings in the mobile table. A fixed horizontal base, on which the table travels, closes the bottoms of the compartments while they travel over the stationary base from the loading until the compression stations, that is except at the ejection station where the ejecting means of the compressed units are located. According to another aspect of the nougat manufacturing apparatus, the compression station comprises at least one compressing piston perpendicularly movable relative to the conveyor unit inside a compartment that is momentarily held at the compression station for compressing popcorn, until its volume is reduced from 15% to 30%, preferably from 18% to 27% and, more preferably, from 20% to 25% of its original volume. The ejection station also comprises a piston which may be actuated synchronously with the compressing piston at each stop of the conveyor unit.

According to another aspect of the nougat manufacturing apparatus, spraying devices are arranged for applying bursts of an anti-stickiness fluid, such as corn oil, over the piston bases and inside the compartments which have just been discharged every time the conveyor unit stops.

According to yet another phase of the invention, the apparatus for cooking and popping corn kernels to obtain impregnated popcorn comprises:

one or more pans for containing corn kernels and sweet-iener at specific ratios,

a heater device in each pan, such as an electrical resistance housed within the wall of each pan, adjusted to heat the pan to a temperature higher than 180 °C, preferably 200±10°C, and to keep the pan at this temperature until more than 80%, preferably more than 90% and most preferably more than 95% of the corn kernels have been cooked, expanded and burst,

- a homogenizing device in each pan for slowly stirring its contents during cooking and

a tilting device so as to pour the contents of the pan onto a collector, preferably a conveyor belt.

According to another aspect of the apparatus for impregnating popcorn, each pan comprises a container having a side wall and a bottom wall which pivots at a preset angle around a fixed axle of the apparatus in order to tilt the pan from its initial position during cooking to a final post-cooking position in order to empty it by dumping its contents. The pan is covered by two half-lids which are hinged on a bridge spanning across the pan opening along its diameter, the bridge being movably mounted on the upper rim of the pan, thereby facilitating its removal for cleaning and maintenance. The homogenizing device comprises one or more stirring blades which are attached to the lower end of a shaft, the shaft being supported by the bridge by means of a bearing and driven by a shaft which is common to all pans and runs parallel to the fixed tilting axle of the apparatus by means of meshed conical gears. When the pan pivots about the fixed axle at the end of a popcorn cooking cycle, the axle of the mixing device moves away from the driving shaft thereby disengaging the gears. The rotation direction of the driving shaft is selected so as to exert a net torque which tends to keep the gears meshed .

According to another aspect of the invention, the industrial manufacturing plant includes a series of sieves located between the collecting belt of the cooking apparatus and another conveyor belt feeding the loading station of the nougat manufacturing apparatus, including a rotatory sieve consisting in a horizontal cylinder arranged with its axle slightly inclined towards its outlet end, the side wall of which comprises a screen which provides an output for kernels of unwanted dimensions while keeping the popped popcorn inside the cylinder. Short blades are attached to the inner walls of the cylinder following the trace of an imaginary screw or a theoretical helix, for alternately lifting and dropping the popcorn, thus increasing the dwelling time of kernels within the cylinder. Further, the outlet from the cylinder may be fitted with a step, in order to stop the progression of the heaviest kernels and favour the output of more expanded and lighter popcorn kernels.

Numerous advantages and objectives may be achieved with the apparatuses described above.

One advantage is that the different stations of the apparatus are arranged in sequence and prepared for a continuous process, without interruptions or lenghly down-time periods, which results in a high production capacity of the apparatus. Another advantage of the present apparatus is its ability to operate under controlled temperatures.

Another advantage of the present apparatus is its adaptability to several industrial plants and building requirements, since it may operate either as an intermittent circular conveyor or as an intermittent linear conveyor. In either case, stations are arranged in the most convenient way and yield like production rates.

Another advantage is that different means may be assembled to allow for the feed of corn kernels or popcorn through the inlet and obtaining compressed food of high nutritional quality and excellent organoleptic properties at the outlet. Another advantage is that it affords a new type of food based on compressed popcorn, which does not require additives or binders .

Another advantage is that, by avoiding the use of fats, the apparatus only operates with two suitably balanced natural components: the Everta strain and a sweetener.

An additional advantage is that it leads to a product that is very stable over time, devoid of fat and free from the degrading effect of oil or other fat matter.

Another advantage of the present apparatus is that it lacks frying means and, nevertheless, the food thus produced has similar properties regarding crispiness and flavour to that obtained from expanding corn kernels in caramelized sugar.

Brief Description of the Figures

For further clarity and understanding of the object of the invention, it is illustrated by several figures in which it is represented in one of its preferred embodiments by way of a non-limiting example:

Figure 1 is a perspective view of the present apparatus for manufacturing nougat from popcorn, showing its general constitution and the location of its main parts for an embodiment in which the conveyor is a rotary-type conveyor.

The insert shows magnified details of compacting and ejecting means, represented in the upper position, as opposed to the main drawing.

Figure 2 is a top view schematic representation of the industrial plant for manufacturing popcorn nougat from Everta corn, which includes the apparatus of figure 1, the cooking apparatus, the mobile dumping receptacle and the granulometric screening device. The insert shows a detail in cross-section corresponding to the compression and ejection stations.

Figure 3 is a top view schematic representation of the present apparatus in another embodiment in which the conveyor is a linear-type conveyor. The insert shows a detail in cross- section corresponding to the compression and ejection stations .

Figure 4 is a longitudinal section view of a vibrating device arranged at the loading inlet of the loading station, interposed between the feeding receptacle and the mobile compartment of the intermittent conveyor.

Figure 5 is a schematic representation of the heating means in the machine of fig. 1 and the control system thereof.

Figure 6A is a cross-section view of the compression and ejection stations of the insert in figure 1, showing the arms thereof in their inactive position. The sketch shows that the stationary base in the compression station comprises the bottom wall of the mobile receptacle, whereas in the ejection station, the discharge opening replaces the bottom wall of the mobile receptacle. Figure 6B is another cross-section view of the compression and ejection stations, the mobile compartment in the compression station being full of popcorn. Figure 6C is another cross-section view of the compression and ejection stations, in which the compression for obtaining the compressed unit is observed. Figure 6D is another cross- section view of the compression and ejection stations, showing the compression and ejection actions.

Figures 7A and 7B are perspective magnified views of the machine of figure 1 looking towards the compression and compartment stations, respectively, showing the respective arrangements of sprayers devices.

Figures 8A and 8B are respectively front elevation and top plan views in schematic representation, of a cooking station with three pans corresponding to one embodiment of the present invention. By way of exemplary details, each drawing represents, on the left: a closed pan in operation, in the middle: another pan tilted for dumping its contents after cooking and, on the right: a third pane depicted without its bridge and half-lids to illustrate the stirring blades.

Figure 9A is a magnified perspective view showing the assembly of the bridge and the half-lids on a pan of figures 8A-8B. Figures 9B and 9C are, respectively, a schematic inside section and a cross-section of the bottom of a pan of figures 8A-8B showing the arrangement of electrical heating resistance wiring therein and temperature feedback control means.

Figures 10A, 10B, and IOC are schematic views illustrating the expansion process and the addition of a sweetener into a corn kernel at the cooking station of figures 8A and 8B.

Figures 11A, 11B, and 11C are perspective views of, respectively, a refining rotating cylinder, a vibrator sieve and a retro-wave-driven sieve forming the granulometric screening devices of figure 2.

In the different figures, like reference numerals designate the same or corresponding parts.

Detailed Description of Embodiments

Popcorn nougat manufacturing apparatus

The apparatus represented in figure 1 manufactures nougat from popcorn using a series of sequentially arranged means and stations for a continuous production, in which portions of popcorn 52 are compressed until a food product of compressed units 53 of said popcorn 52 is obtained. Intermittent conveyor unit with mobile compartments The apparatus comprises an intermittent conveyor 11 moving in a set direction through a series of stations. In one embodiment represented in figures 1 and 2, the intermittent conveyor 11 operates rotatably either because it has a circular or annular form, or because it is deformable and it may adapt itself to a rotatory operating configuration.

In other embodiments as the one represented in figure 3, the intermittent conveyor 11 may be linear, rectilinear, mixed linear —with linear sections of different angular orientations— or it may be deformable to adopt polygonal tracks of any shape, enabling the conveyor to go through preset stations. The intermittent conveyor 11 comprises multiple mobile compartments 12. Such mobile compartments 12 are receptacles in which popcorn 52 is transported, heated and compressed along stations. The upper portions of the mobile compartments 12 are open, while their side walls are closed and their bottom portions are closed by the stationary base 13 on which said intermittent conveyor 11 travels.

In all embodiments, it is envisioned that one or more mobile compartments 12 may stop simultaneously at each station. In the represented embodiment, the conveyor unit 11 includes eight pairs of compartments 12.

In the intermittent embodiment illustrated in figure 1, the conveyor unit comprises a horizontal rotating table 11; the compartments 12 are partially formed in the rotating table 11 in combination with a stationary horizontal base 13 providing the bottom portion for the compartments 12, with the exception of the ejection station 14, in which there is a discharge opening 16 provided in the stationary base 13 instead of a bottom, where ejecting means 17 of the compressed units are located. In the preferred embodiment, the rotating table 11 comprises a stainless steel sheet with square openings 12 of 6 cm x 6 cm. Lateral walls 18 of the compartments 12 extend from the rotating table 11, which are made of the same steel sheet as the table 11 and welded at the borders of the opening 12. The height of the plate of the rotating table 11 above the stationary base 13 which provides the bottom portion of compartments 12 is 18cm. Alternatively, the rotating table 11 may consist of a synthetic material moulded with a thickness equal to the height of compartment 12 formed therein by means of square through openings; the rotating table 11 slides on the stationary base 13 which provides the bottom portion of compartments 12.

Loading station

The loading station 19 includes a loading inlet 29 which is fed from the feeding receptacle - which in this embodiment is a top-loading hopper 21 - and loads popcorn 52 in the required amount for filling the mobile compartment 12 which has stopped at said loading station 19. The top-loading hopper 21 has a double jacket so as to form an air chamber 22 which isolates the internal wall 23 from the heat to which the external wall 24 is subjected by the hot air from the metal walls of the tunnel oven 26 (described below), so that the internal wall 23 is kept at room temperature thus preventing cooked popcorn from sticking to the hopper walls. Ambient humidity is controlled to about 40%.

The top-loading hopper 21 discharges into mobile compartments 12 arrested at loading station 19 using means such as dispensers for charge control or vibrators 27 i.a., which assist gravitational discharge, as shown in figure 4. The dispenser 27 operates based on load volume and comprises a lower hopper 28 in the base of which there is a fixed discharge opening 29 flush with the horizontal plane defined by the upper surface 31 of the rotating table 13, thereby closing the discharge opening when the filled compartments 12 leave the loading station 19.

In order to ensure that the compartments 12 will leave the loading station 19 filled to their top capacity, the lower hopper or receptacle 28 is elastically articulated on its upper part by means of supports 32 with springs 33 so that it is intermittently shaken near its base a preset amount of times at every stop of the conveyor unit by a vibrating actuator 34. In the present embodiment an odd number of jerks (3½ cycles in 2 seconds) are applied by means of a pneumatic piston 34, so that the lower hopper 28 changes sides in each loading cycle. Thus, the lower hopper 28 spreads the popcorn inside the compartments 12 for a more even distribution. The vibrating device 34 also prevents agglomeration of the load in the lower hopper due to stickiness of the caramelized popcorn. Heating station for heating to below toasting point

Following the unidirectional operational path, after the loading station 19 there is a heating station 36. The present embodiment comprises a tunnel oven 37 through which mobile compartments 12 with their contents of caramelized popcorn travel through three of the eight stations of the conveyor 11. Heating is effected by blowing warm air heated by means of four electrical resistances inside the duct 38 connecting the tunnel oven with a blower 39. In the exemplary embodiment, there is a resistance in the upward vertical section 38V of duct 38 and three additional resistances 41 distributed throughout horizontal section 38H, where each resistance comprises windings of electrical wire calculated to provide 2 kW, so that the forced air reaches a temperature Th=90°C at the entrance of tunnel oven 37. The air temperature may be controlled by a thermostat (not shown) which turns off one of the resistances in case the temperature exceeds the preset value T h by ΔΤ . An air filter (no shown) is provided at the entrance of blower 39 to prevent contamination by ambient dust .

As schematically illustrated in fig. 5, the four electrical heating 2-kW resistances 41 are powered from a three-phase 3x380VAC power mains via individual solid-state relays 42 controlled from a PLC - programmable logic controller (not shown) . Three such resistances 41' are connected between one separate phase-line R, S, T and neutral N; the fourth resistance 41" is connected in parallel to one of the other resistances 41' and may be disconnected or reconnected for controlling working temperature. To this end, the PLC monitors conditions such as temperature inside the tunnel oven 37 in a conventional manner and opens the relay 42" corresponding to the fourth resistance 41" if a manual set-point Th=130°C is exceeded .

A single-phase shunt 43 powers the motors of different conveyor belts and a second single-phase shunt 44 supplies electric power for the PLC, the blower 39 and other attendant electrical means.

Compression station

After the heating station 36, there is a compression station 46 wherein one or more compacting means 47 actuate. In the present embodiment, these compacting means 47 comprise a mobile arm 48 ending in a piston-like operational end 49, which in this case is intended for compression. In such compressing operational end 49, at least surface 51 which contacts popcorn 52 may include a non-stick material which facilitates its operation. At this station, popcorn 52 is pressed until compressed units of food 53 are obtained, as shown in sequence in figures 6B and 6C.

The degree of compression is critical for the invention. Compression must be sufficient for the self-agglomeration of popcorn exiting tunnel oven 37, thereby forming the final nougat product 53, although it should not be too high so as to avoid the destruction of nougat structure. The product is moulded to a size of 6cm x 6cm as determined by the dimensions of the mobile compartment 12 and with an initial thickness of 75mm at the heating station 36, as determined by the amount of popcorn falling through the hopper 28 of loading station 19 in each batch. Each compression block 47 presses the mass of popcorn 52 in a mobile compartment 12 until a height of 18mm is reached, thus reducing product volume 53 to about 25% of its initial volume 52 and increasing four times its density. Experimental assays show that volume reductions in the range of 20 to 25% are advisable. The pressure exerted by compression block 47 is of about 20kg. Pressures lower that the recommended value will result in nougat not forming as such, but a crumbly nougat will be obtained instead, which is edible as a conventional popcorn product however without the particular taste of the product obtained using the apparatus of the present invention. On the other hand, higher pressures, for example of 400kg, which compress the product in the mobile compartment to a thickness of only 10mm, would transform the product into a hard disintegrated powder, uneatable in practice .

Ejection station

The compression station 46 is followed by an ejection station 14, where compartments containing compressed popcorn arrive after three stops inside the tunnel oven; at the ejection station 14 one or more ejection means comprising ejectors 56 operate. In the present embodiment, said ejectors 56 comprise a mobile arm 48 ending in an ejecting piston-like operational end 49.

Below the intermittent conveyor 11, the stationary base 13 comprises one or more ejection openings 16 which leave the mobile compartments 12 passing through that position without a bottom. In this way, progression of ejectors 56 ejects the compressed units 53 out of the intermittent conveyor 11, for example, into an ejection duct 57 and a first output conveyor 58.

Different options regarding the operational relation-ship between compactors 47 and ejectors 56 are envisioned: they may operate either independently or jointly. In the latter case, there may be a common operation means 59. In the case of an independent operation, they may be synchronized using any suitable means.

After ejecting the nougats 53, the ejectors return to their upper position (figure 6A) while the mobile compartments 12 are returned to the loading station 19, where they are sprayed with a short burst of a release agent, conveniently corn oil, which is essential to prevent sugar from sticking. For such purpose, a spraying device 61 is used, located between the ejection station 14 and the loading station 19. Figure 1 includes a partially cut-out view of the actuator 59 showing the sprayer 61 with its nozzle 62 aimed downwards to passing compartments 12. An additional spraying device 63 for a similar purpose is provided at compression station 46 which nozzle 64 is arranged so as to provide short bursts of corn oil spray upwards against the bases 51 of the pair of compacting means 47.

Figures 7A and 7B are perspective magnified views of the compression station 46 and the ejection station 14 of figure 1, showing the arrangement of sprayers 61 and 63 of the compacting means 47 and compartments 12, respectively.

A second output conveyor 66 carries the compressed food units 53 from the outlet conveyor 58 to the packing station 67, where food units 53 are packed and then arrive to the product dispatch station.

Popcorn manufacturing apparatus

Although the present apparatus is capable of receiving popcorn 52 manufactured previously at any other location, it is preferred that the cooking station 68 is comprised in or is a part as the first station of the apparatus of the present invention, so that the sugar-cooked popcorn would not undergo a significant cooling which might cause the expanded kernels to shrink, thus affecting the quality of the final product. Therefore, an embodiment is envisioned in which this apparatus includes other stations 68; 69 to produce popcorn 52 for supplying the feeding receptacle or hopper 21. Stations 68, 69 act as an auxiliary apparatus for producing fat-free popcorn (40) to feed the feeding receptacle or hopper 21. In such CcL S Θ cL Cooking station is included in the first place, comprising a cooking apparatus 68 described below, followed by a disaggregation apparatus 69 as de-scribed below. Cooking station

The cooking apparatus 68 is provided with a number of mobile receptacles (herein, three of them are illustrated) consisting of tiltable pans 71 with thermally conductive cooking walls 72 actuating on the corn and fluidizing one or more sweeteners and/or flavouring additives.

Each pan 71 has a mixer comprising a vertical axle 73 of pan 71 to the lower end of which a horizontal stainless steel rod 74 is attached, raising a few millimeters above the bottom 76. Above each pan rotates a drive shaft 77 which is connected to the axle 73 of pan 71 through a pair of conical gears 78 at a 1:1 ratio, so as to transform the horizontal rotation into a vertical rotation and thus actuate the mixer 74 inside the pan 71. The rotation speed of the axle is 50 rpm.

Each pan consists in a flat container 71 with circular bottom 76 and tapered wall 72 made of cast steel, above which a bridge 81 is fastened by means of two nuts 79, so that the driving axle 73 of mixer 74 of pan 71 passes through a bearing located in the bridge central point. The lid of the pan is formed by two halves 82 of a disk made of stainless steel with a pair of openings 83, to which two L-shaped hooks 84 are connected, linked to the bridge 81 from which they project. This, as well as the bridge 81 and both lid halves 82, facilitate the disassembling the pan 71 for readily washing it with a hot water bath. This is important for cleaning the corn powder which may remain stuck to the pan 71 as no oil-type release agent is used, because of the negative impact it causes on the finished product. This is because the kernel becomes tasteless due to assimilation of the oil (a similar effect to that observed with French fries which lose crispiness over time) . The floor or bottom 76 of the pan is supported by a rotation axle 86 around which it pivots for tilting pan and dumping the cooked popcorn onto a conveyor belt 87. The tilting of pan 71 takes place at the end of each cooking cycle by manually lowering a lever 88 which is firmly fixed to a side of pan 71, from which it extends forward, co-planarly to the pan 71 (that is, horizontally while the pan is in its normal cooking position) .

Alternatively, mechanical means may be implemented for tilting the pan 71, with one or more pistons located behind the pan to hit it and thus help in discharging the popped popcorn 52.

The bridge 81 is parallel to the driving axle 77; the rotation directions of axle 77 and pan 73 are such that a net attraction torque is created between the gears 78, which keeps them stably engaged so that some force must be exerted to disengage the gears 78 when lowering the lever for tilting pan 71. This is achieved by rotating the driving shaft 77 downward and forward, so that the axle 73 of the pan rotates backwards on the engaging side, thus tilting the pan 71 forwardly.

Each pan 71 is capable of cooking 2 kg of product, which comprises 1.6 kg of unpopped Everta corn and 400 g of refined sugar. Cooking power is electrical, by means of resistances 89 extending into the double bottom 76 of the pan, which dissipate 6 kW per pan 71 to heat the wall 72 of the pan to T e =180°C (this is an empiric value calculated from the process described and my publication WO 2014/53,561) . Figures 9B and 9C schematically show a preferred heating arrangement comprising three concentrically-arranged heating wires 89, each dimensioned as a 2-kW electrical resistance, embedded in the bottom wall 76 of each pan 71. The wires 89 are connected (in an electrically-balanced manner not shown) to the three- phase 3x380VAC power mains, each wire 89 between a different pair of phase-lines R, S, T. Figure 9C further schematically shows a sensor 90 centrally located on the underside of each pan 71 and connected to a pyrometer reader P which, in turn, controls contactor means C for keeping the pan temperature at around 210°C.

The rotation axle 86 is hollow, so as to house the electrical wiring conducting power to the resistances 89. Cooking time is of generally several minutes, depending on actual temperature inside the pan 71 and volume of the contents, after which the pan 71 is tilted to dump its contents onto a conveyor belt 87. That is, the cooking station 68 operates batch-wise so that the number of pans 71 operating at this station depends on the production capacity of the main section of the nougat manufacturing machine.

Figure 10A shows the typical internal structure of an Everta corn kernel 91, with a hard hull 92 mostly containing starch 93, an important moisture content 94 which is specific for this type of corn and which makes it suitable for producing popcorn 52, and an embryo 96. According to the process described in my previous publication WO 2014/53,561, refined sugar 97 is added which is then melted together with the hull 92 by the cooking heat, thereby integrating both of them. At the same time, the moisture inside the kernel 91 is vapourized thereby expanding it (as shown in figure 10B) and, subsequently, a burst will form the popcorn 52 (as shown in figure IOC) . The resulting popcorn (as it is designated) acquires crispiness during cooking due to the incorporation of dextrose 97 inside the kernel 91 by impregnating it, besides it has no added fats and has a sweet and pleasant flavour.

Industrial plant for processing corn to make nougat popcorn

Refining station serving the loading station

The material entering this station includes some kernels of intermediate size, which have not finished popping, either because of insufficient internal moisture or for other reasons. The purpose of refining is to perform a rigorous selection, by size and density, separating dust, unpopped kernels and small kernels. These components are potentially capable of turning the final product crumbly. The above-described cooking apparatus 68 discharges its contents into a refining station 69 comprising three serially arranged apparatuses 98; 99 and 101, each having different characteristics for discharging cooking waste and further, for supplying a feeding receptacle 21. The cooking pans 68 pour cooked and expanded popcorn onto a conveyor belt 87 which, in the first place, exits into a cylindrical mobile cooling container 98 with open gridded walls 102 and paddles 103, subsequently followed by two sieve-shakers 99 and 101. Mesh opening sizes range from 8 mm to 10 mm or 8 mm x 10 mm, which is sufficient for dropping unpopped corn kernels while retaining the expanded kernels 52. This is followed by a conveyor belt 104 connecting the refining station 69 with the loading station 19 which is also used for performing a visual inspection and manually remove un-suitable, unpopped or partially expanded kernels, which may have passed through the sieves .

The first refining unit comprises a horizontal cylinder 98 of 0=l½m x 2m in length, slightly tilted with its outlet portion 106 pointing downwards. The side wall 102 comprises a backbone formed by four stainless steel strips 107, the ends of which are welded to rings 108 made of the same metal. Four sieve screens 109, each of them formed into a quarter of a cylinder, have their corresponding edges fixed to two successive strips 107 and to end rings, thus collectively forming the side screen wall of the refining cylinder 98 with a mesh opening size of 10 mm x 10 mm.

Within the cylinder there are two or three paddles 103 supported by corresponding strips 107; the longitudinal positions of the paddles 103 being determined by a theoretical triple helix or an interrupted imaginary screw which is indicated with a dashed line in the figure. The cylinder 98 rotates at a speed of 20 rpm, thus stirring the popcorn such that the unpopped kernels drop through the screen 109 of side wall 102, and out of the cylinder 98 onto a waste tray 111. The paddles 103, of a size of 40 cm x 15 cm, raise part of the product to a certain height so that it falls behind the paddle

103, which at that moment is located below, thus extending the residence of kernels through cylinder 98, and consequently improving the re-ifining (and cooling) effects or, in other words, it allows for employing a shorter cylinder 98 than would be necessary to achieve the same refining (and cooling) effect if paddles 103 were not used.

The cylindrical unit 98 is provided with a 25 cm-high step 112 at the outlet to prevent the progression of the heaviest kernels such as those that did not pop at the cooking station 68 or which popped deficiently, which therefore tend to remain at the bottom, thus favouring the progression to the next sieve 99 of the most expanded popcorn kernels 52, which are the most suitable for nougat manufacturing because they are lighter or less dense.

A circular vibratory sieve 99 follows, within which the preceding cylinder 98 directly pours its contents, followed by a linear vibrating sieve 101 which linearly continues on the mentioned conveyor belt 104. The circular sieve 99 vibrates by effect of an excentrically loaded motor 113 and has a sieve-like bottom 114 which splits the kernel stream between a waste output 116 and an output 117 containing mostly useful kernels which are poured onto the linear vibrating sieve 101 continuing linearly into the above-mentioned conveyor belt 104. The linear sieve 101 has a motor-driven mechanism 118 which causes it to perform a circular movement represented by the arrow 119 and thus pushing the good kernels 52 towards the conveyor belt 104 in transit towards the hopper 21. Operation

When the intermittent conveyor 11 stops at the loading station 19, popcorn 52 passes through the loading inlet 21, where means such as vibrating means, weight dispensing means, etc may be arranged for controlling or facilitating the popcorn stream motion. Once the mobile compartments 12 are loaded, they are moved by the intermittent conveyor 11 to the heating station 36 where, under the combined action of heating means 41 and the forced air device 39, a succession of short and intense heating cycles are applied. This type of heating allows for heating popcorn 52 below its toasting point, which otherwise would be undesirable .

Under the above conditions, the mobile compartments 12 move to the compression station 46 where compacting means 47 operate by compressing the popcorn 52 inside the mobile compartment 12, which acts as a compression receptacle.

At the ejection station 14, the ejection opening 16 allows for ejecting the compressed units 53 by means of the ejectors 56; afterwards the compressed units 53 pass through the output conveyors 58; 66, to the packing station 67 for further dispatch .

Procedure

The procedure which is applicable with the present apparatus comprises a series of stages through which popcorn 52 is transformed into compressed units 53 of a food product.

At the loading station 19, portions of popcorn 52 are dispensed and introduced into mobile compartments 12 which are parked at said station.

At the heating station 36, popcorn 52 is then subjected to short and intense heating cycles, so that popcorn will not reach its toasting temperature. Subsequently, at the compression station 46, portions of heated popcorn 52 are compressed, until its volume is substantially reduced and compressed units 53 of a food product are obtained.

Next, at the ejection station 14, the compressed units 53 are ejected out of the mobile compartments 12. They are then transported to a packing station 67 where compressed units 53 are packed and finally exit to dispatch.

In case the apparatus includes a cooking station 68, first the corn kernels are subjected to cooking by contact-heating until popcorn 52 is obtained, which is carried out without using fats and with the addition of additives such as sweeteners. Then, popcorn 52 passes to the disaggregation device 72, where kernels are substantially separated from each other, and also subjected to slight cooling to avoid a substantial reduction of kernel size.

Then, they pass to the screening device 99 of the refining station 69 where cooking waste is dumped off and, further, the feeding receptacle 21 or hopper of the loading station 19 are supplied with popcorn.

When this invention is put into practice, many changes may undoubtedly be introduced as regards structure and shape, without departing from the essential principles clearly stated in the following claims:

List of main references

11 Intermittent conveyor

12 Mobile compartments

13 stationary base

14 ejection station

16 Ejection opening

17 Ejecting means

18 Side enclosures of the compartments

19 Loading station

21 Top loading hopper

22 Air chamber

23 Inner wall

24 Outer wall

26 Tunnel oven

27 Dispenser

28 Vibrating receptacle

29 Opening of fixed discharge / loading inlet

31 Upper surface of the rotating table

32 Vibrator supports

33 Springs

34 Vibrating actuator / pneumatic piston

36 Heating station Tunnel oven

Duct

H Horizontal section

V Upward vertical section

Blower

Resistances

Relays

Conveyor-belt power line

Power line for electronics and electrical accessories Compression station

Compression means

Mobile arm

Operation ends [of compacting means 47 and ejectors 56] Non-stick surface

Popcorn

Compressed units of nougat food /final product

Ejectors [ejection means]

Ejection duct

First outlet conveyor

Common actuation means

Spraying device between ejection and loading stations Nozzle

Spraying device at compression station

Nozzle

Second outlet conveyor

Packing station

Cooking station

refining station

Tiltable pans

Thermally conductive cooking walls

Vertical axle of the pan

Stainless steel horizontal rod / mixer

Bottom

Drive shaft

Conical gears at a 1:1 ratio

Nuts 81 Bridge traversed by its midpoint by axle 73 of the pan

82 Half-disks of stainless steel sheet

83 Openings in which two L-shaped hooks 84 are engaged

84 L-shaped hooks

86 Fixed axle around which it pivots for tilting the pan

87 Conveyor belt

88 Lever firmly fixed to a side of the pan

89 Cooking resistances inside pan bottom

90 Cooking temperature sensor under pan bottom

C Electrical switch for cooking resistances 89

P Cooking temperature pyrometer

91 Kernel of Everta corn

92 Hard hull

93 Starch

94 Moisture

96 Embryo

97 Refined sugar

98 Cylindrical mobile cooling container

99 Circular sieve

101 Linear sieve

102 Gridded open walls

103 Paddles

104 Feed supply

106 Outlet

107 Four stainless steel strips

108 Rings

109 Screens

111 Waste tray

112 Step

113 Motor

114 Sieve-like bottom

116 Waste dumping

117 Outlet pouring good kernels into sieve 101

118 Motor-driven mechanism

119 Vibrator rotation direction