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Title:
DEVICE, SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR DISPENSING A FROZEN CONFECTION
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2017/118528
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
Disclosed is a device for dispensing a frozen confection (6) from a container (1 ). The container (1 ) comprises a product compartment (4) containing the frozen confection and having a product outlet (2) and a moveable wall (5) through which a dispensing force can be transmitted to urge the frozen confection through the product outlet. The device comprises a sensor (3) comprising a radiation detector (3b), wherein the sensor is arranged to exhibit at least one parameter dependent on the position of the moveable wall; and a control system (10). The control system is configured to compare the parameter exhibited by the sensor with a set reference; and modulate dispensing of the frozen confection in response to the result of the comparison of the parameter with the set reference.

Inventors:
LUMB, Matthew, Charles, Bradley (The Technology Partnership plc Melbourn Science Park, Melbourn Hertfordshire SG8 6EE, SG8 6EE, GB)
Application Number:
EP2016/080430
Publication Date:
July 13, 2017
Filing Date:
December 09, 2016
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
UNILEVER PLC (Unilever House, 100 Victoria Embankment, London Greater London EC4Y 0DY, EC4Y 0DY, GB)
UNILEVER N.V. (Weena 455, 3013 AL Rotterdam, 3013 AL, NL)
CONOPCO, INC., D/B/A UNILEVER (800 Sylvan Avenue AG West, S. WingEnglewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 07632, US)
International Classes:
A23G9/08; A23G9/22; A23G9/28
Domestic Patent References:
WO2004067386A22004-08-12
WO2013124193A12013-08-29
Foreign References:
US20010038019A12001-11-08
US6068160A2000-05-30
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
KEENAN, Robert, Daniel (Unilever Patent Group Colworth House, Sharnbrook, Bedford Bedfordshire MK44 1LQ, MK44 1LQ, GB)
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Claims:
Claims

A device for dispensing a frozen confection from a container wherein:

the container comprises a product compartment containing the frozen confection and having a product outlet and a moveable wall through which a dispensing force can be transmitted to urge the frozen confection through the product outlet; and

the device comprises:

(i) a sensor comprising a radiation detector, wherein the sensor is arranged to exhibit at least one parameter dependent on the position of the moveable wall ; and

(ii) a control system configured to:

o compare the parameter exhibited by the sensor with a set reference; and o modulate dispensing of the frozen confection in response to the result of the comparison of the parameter with the set reference.

2. The device as claimed in claim 1 wherein the sensor is separate from the container.

The device as claimed in claim 1 or claim 2 wherein the container comprises a further compartment separated from the product compartment by the moveable wall and the device comprises a compressed gas source arranged to introduce compressed gas into the further compartment via a compressed gas outlet and thereby apply the dispensing force to the moveable wall. 4. The device as claimed in claim 3 wherein the sensor is attached to the gas outlet.

5. The device as claimed in any one of the preceding claims wherein the sensor comprises a source of the radiation. 6. The device as claimed in claim 5 wherein the radiation source is arranged to direct radiation onto a surface of the moveable wall and the parameter is derived from one or both of:

the intensity of radiation reflected from the wall to the detector; and/or the time taken for reflected radiation to reach the detector.

7. The device as claimed in any one of the preceding claims wherein the radiation is light, preferably infrared light. 8. The device as claimed in any one of the preceding claims wherein the device comprises a timer and the control system is configured to prevent dispensing of the frozen confection after expiry of a set time period dependent on the result of the comparison of the parameter with the set reference. 9. The device as claimed in claim 8 wherein the device does not comprise a cooling unit.

10. The device as claimed in claim 8 or 9 wherein the set time period is between 0.5 and 20 minutes, preferably between 1 and 10 minutes.

1 1 . A system comprising the device of any one of the preceding claims and one or more of the containers.

12. A method for dispensing a frozen confection from a container wherein:

- the container comprises a product compartment containing the frozen confection and having a product outlet and a moveable wall through which a dispensing force can be transmitted to urge the frozen confection through the product outlet; and

the method comprises the steps of:

o detecting the position of the moveable wall;

o preventing dispensing of the frozen confection after expiry of a set time period dependent on the position of the moveable wall.

13. The method as claimed in claim 12 wherein the container is not subjected to cooling during the set time period.

14. The method as claimed in claim 12 or claim 13 wherein the set time period is between 0.5 and 20 minutes, preferably between 1 and 10 minutes.

15. The method as claimed in any one of claims 12 to 14 wherein the position of the moveable wall is detected by a sensor comprising a radiation detector.

Description:
DEVICE, SYSTEM AND METHOD FOR DISPENSING A FROZEN CONFECTION Field of the invention

The present invention relates to devices, systems and methods for dispensing frozen confections. In particular, the invention relates to such methods, systems and devices that dispense frozen confections from containers comprising a product compartment containing the frozen confection and having an outlet and a moveable wall through which a dispensing force can be transmitted to urge the frozen confection through the outlet. Background of the invention

In recent years, systems for dispensing frozen confections such as soft ice cream have been developed in which pre-packaged ice cream is delivered from a container by a dispensing device. In one form of such systems, a plunger is employed to push the prepackaged ice cream from a container. For example WO 2004/067386 discloses a food or beverage delivery system comprising at least one disposable or recyclable package containing viscous food therein; a dispensing apparatus having a holder for holding the food package and a pressure-displacement device that forces the food out of the package; and a valve; wherein the food package comprises an outlet portion which is part of the package, and wherein the valve is adapted to act in closure on the outlet portion to cut off portions of food coming out of the package without the food contacting the apparatus. In one embodiment the system comprises a displacement sensor which sends signals to a controller for controlling the displacement of a plunger according to the exact predetermined distance. The sensor is typically an encoder which counts the rotations of a gear of the electrical motor drive of the plunger. The controller and displacement sensor are preferably used to deliver controlled portions of ice cream.

A drawback of the sensors such as encoders is that they rely on a gear motor as part of a system for applying the dispensing force.

Other systems use gas pressure to apply a dispensing force. For example, WO 2013/124193 A discloses a method for dispensing a frozen confection comprising: providing a refrigerated, insulated chamber, which houses at least one container, containing a frozen confection at a temperature of -12 °C or below; wherein the at least one container has an outlet which is closed by a self-closing valve; wherein the container comprises a flexible bag containing the frozen confection located inside a bottle; pressurising gas in the region inside the bottle and outside the flexible bag thereby applying pressure to the frozen confection so that the valve opens and the frozen confection is forced out of the container through the outlet; releasing the pressure so that the valve closes.

Sensor systems for detecting the position of a piston in systems for dispensing food products with pressurized gas have been described. For example US 6, 068, 160 discloses an apparatus and method to force a frozen food product out of a receptacle by moving a piston back and forth within the receptacle. Pressurized air is used to move the piston toward the frozen product, thereby forcing the frozen product out of the receptacle. To move the piston away from the frozen product, the pressurized air is sent through a venturi that also connects to the receptacle. The flow of pressurized air through the venturi creates a vacuum in the receptacle. The vacuum pulls the piston away from the frozen product. In one embodiment the apparatus comprises a sensor attached to the receptacle to determine the approximate position of the piston as the piston moves inside the receptacle. Specific examples of sensor are described as capacitative, inductive, Hall, and Reed type sensors.

A drawback with capacitative, inductive, Hall, and Reed type sensors is that a metallic or magnetic material needs to be attached to the piston in order to detect its position. Moreover by having the sensor as part of the receptacle, the system becomes prohibitively expensive where disposable packages or packages containing a few portions of frozen confection are employed.

The present inventors have now recognized that there is a need for improvements in systems for dispensing food compositions like soft ice using containers having a moveable wall and which include a sensor. In particular the inventors have recognized a need to provide systems providing one or more of the following advantages: Compatible with a range of containers regardless whether, for example, they employ pistons or bags as a moveable wall.

Do not require specialist materials to be used in the container to be compatible with the sensor.

- Are convenient and economical for use with containers having one or only a few portions of confection.

Address issues encountered where the container is not cooled by the dispensing system. Summary of the invention

In a first aspect, the present invention is directed to a device for dispensing a frozen confection from a container wherein:

- the container comprises a product compartment containing the frozen confection and having a product outlet and a moveable wall through which a dispensing force can be transmitted to urge the frozen confection through the product outlet; and

- the device comprises:

(i) a sensor comprising a radiation detector, wherein the sensor is arranged to exhibit at least one parameter dependent on the position of the moveable wall ; and

(ii) a control system configured to:

- compare the parameter exhibited by the sensor with a set reference; and

- modulate dispensing of the frozen confection in response to the result of the comparison of the parameter with the set reference.

Using radiation as the means by which the position of the moveable wall is sensed removes any special requirement for the moveable wall to be made of specialist material such as metallic or magnetic material. Furthermore, the sensor need not be part of the container. Preferably, the sensor is separate from the container.

The moveable wall is such that a dispensing force can be transmitted through the wall to the frozen confection. Examples of containers comprising a moveable wall include bag- in-bottles (where the bag acts as the moveable wall) and cartridges containing pistons (where the piston acts as the moveable wall) although other configurations are possible including, for example, containers with an end wall that is deformable to become the moveable wall (as described, for example in US 5,893,485). Examples of bag-in-bottle type containers are described in WO 2007/039158 A and examples of piston-in-cartridge type containers are described in EP 1 449 441 A both of which documents are hereby incorporated by reference in their entirety. Most preferred are piston-in-cartridge type containers.

A further advantage of the device of the first aspect is that by separating the sensing of the moveable wall from the mechanism generating the dispensing force (e.g. as required in an encoder system) a variety of means can be employed to apply the dispensing force. In a preferred embodiment gas pressure is used. Therefore it is preferred that the container comprises a further compartment separated from the product compartment by the moveable wall and the device comprises a compressed gas source arranged to introduce compressed gas into the further compartment via a compressed gas outlet and thereby apply the dispensing force to the moveable wall. Preferably the sensor is attached to the gas outlet. Additionally or alternatively the sensor detects radiation travelling from the moveable wall through the further compartment. An advantage of arranging the detector such that it detects radiation travelling from the moveable wall through the further compartment, is that as the further compartment comprises gas there is less chance of scattering of the radiation by frozen confection which could lead to an unreliable signal.

The sensorfor use in the present invention can be passive (i.e., rely on radiation naturally emitted by the wall). Preferably, however, in order to give a more consistent signal and minimise the effect of container-to-container variation, the sensor comprises a source of the radiation. More preferably the radiation source is arranged to direct radiation onto a surface of the moveable wall (preferably a surface of the wall opposite the surface of the wall in contact with the frozen confection) and the parameter is derived from one or both of:

the intensity of radiation reflected from the wall to the detector; and/or the time taken for reflected radiation to reach the detector. Preferably the radiation is light, more preferably infrared light.

Preferably the parameter exhibited by the sensor is voltage or current. The set reference is preferably one or more values of voltage of current. Preferably the device comprises an electronic data storage element on which the set reference is stored. The electronic data storage element may, for example, form part of an electronic controller such as a programmable logic controller (PLC), microcontroller or the like.

The modulation of dispensing of the frozen confection could, for example, comprise one or more of starting, stopping, preventing and delaying the dispensing. Preferably the control system modulates the dispensing force in order to modulate dispensing of the frozen confection.

In a preferred embodiment the device comprises a timer and the control system is configured to prevent dispensing of the frozen confection after expiry of a set time period dependent on the result of the comparison of the parameter with the set reference. This allows, for example, for preventing dispensing from a container which has been in the device for too long and is especially advantageous in devices which do not comprise a cooling unit as then the frozen confection will melt or even be subject to microbiological spoilage if not removed promptly. Therefore it is preferred that the device does not comprise a cooling unit. Additionally or alternatively it is preferred that the set time period is between 0.5 and 20 minutes, more preferably between 1 and 10 minutes, and most preferably between 2 and 7 minutes. The present invention is applicable to a range of frozen confections. Frozen confection means a confection made by freezing a mix (preferably a pasteurized mix) of ingredients such as water, fat, sweetener, protein (normally milk proteins), and optionally other ingredients such as emulsifiers, stabilisers, colours and flavours. Frozen confection materials may be aerated. Frozen confection materials include ice cream, gelato, frozen yoghurt, sorbets, granitas, shaved ices and the like. Preferably the frozen confection is ice cream. The frozen confection may be aerated. The term "aerated" means that gas has been intentionally incorporated into the product, such as by mechanical means. The gas can be any food-grade gas such as air, nitrogen or carbon dioxide. The extent of aeration is typically defined in terms of "overrun" (OR). In the context of the present invention, %overrun is defined in volume terms (measured at atmospheric pressure) as: volume of frozen aerated product - volume of premix at ambient te mp

UK = x 100

volume of premix at ambient temp

The amount of overrun present in the aerated frozen confection will vary depending on the desired product characteristics. In the context of the present invention the level of overrun is typically from 0 to 150%, more preferably from 60 to 150%, most preferably from 60 to 100%.

Preferably the container is for a single-serving of frozen confection. More preferably the container comprises no more than 200 g of frozen confection, more preferably from 25 to 100 g of frozen confection.

In a second aspect, the present invention provides a system comprising the device of any embodiment of the first aspect and one or more of the containers.

In a further aspect the present invention provides a method for dispensing a frozen confection from a container wherein:

- the container comprises a product compartment containing the frozen confection and having a product outlet and a moveable wall through which a dispensing force can be transmitted to urge the frozen confection through the product outlet; and

- the method comprises the steps of:

. detecting the position of the moveable wall;

preventing dispensing of the frozen confection after expiry of a set time period dependent on the position of the moveable wall.

Preferably the container is not subjected to cooling during the set time period. Additionally or alternatively it is preferred that the set time period is between 0.5 and 20 minutes, preferably between 1 and 10 minutes, more preferably between 1 and 10 minutes, and most preferably between 2 and 7 minutes. Preferably the position of the moveable wall is detected by a sensor comprising a radiation detector, most preferably the method employs the device of any embodiment of the first aspect.

Detailed description of preferred embodiments

The present invention will now be described, by way of example only, with reference to the drawing, wherein Figure 1 shows a schematic view of parts of a device and the container of an embodiment of the invention.

The embodiment of the device shown in Figure 1 dispenses frozen confection (6) such as ice cream from a single use container (1 ).

The container (1 ) is a piston cartridge as has been previously used to dispense ice cream using mechanical force applied by a plunger. The container comprises a hollow cylindrical body in which a piston (5) is slidably located. The piston (5) defines one end of a product compartment (4) containing the ice cream (6). The other end of the product compartment (4) is defined by the bottom of the cylindrical body and comprises a dispensing orifice (2) as the product outlet.

In the illustrated embodiment, gas pressure is used to apply the dispensing force. Thus the device comprises an air pump (7) as a compressed gas source and which is connected through a conduit (8) to a compressed gas outlet (14). The gas outlet (14) is generally disk-shaped and has a circular recess on its bottom surface in which is held a deformable gasket (6). The top rim of the body of the cartridge (1 ) is receivable in the recess holding the gasket (6) to form a gas-tight seal therewith. The gas outlet (14) and the piston (5) then delimit either end of a propellant compartment within the cartridge (1 ).

Mounted on the gas outlet (14) is an infrared sensor (3) such as a Sharp GP2Y0A41 SK0F sensor. The sensor (3) comprises an infrared emitting diode (3a) as a radiation source and an infrared detector (3b). The sensor (3) is mounted on the gas outlet (14) such that both the source (3a) and detector are directed towards the top face of the piston (5) and that IR radiation (9) emitted by the source (3a) and reflected from the piston (5) can be sensed by the detector (3b). The sensor (3) produces an output voltage dependent on the distance that the piston (5) is away from the sensor (3). The output voltage of the sensor (3) varies with distance according to a known curve.

A PLC (10) is connected to both the sensor (3) and the air pump (7). Programmed into the memory of the PLC (10) is the value of the sensor (3) output voltage corresponding to the position of the piston (5) when the cartridge (1 ) is full (i.e. with the piston (5) close to the gas outlet (14)). Also programmed into the memory of the PLC (10) is the value of the sensor (3) output voltage corresponding to the position of the piston (5) when the cartridge (1 ) is empty (i.e. with the piston (5) close to the product outlet (2)).

In use, the gas outlet (14) is first connected to a cartridge (1 ) and a user presses a button or manipulates another actuator (not shown) which sends a signal to the PLC (10) to begin dispensing. Before activating the air pump (7), the PLC (10) checks the value of the output voltage of the sensor (3).

If the output voltage is less than the value corresponding to a full cartridge but greater than that corresponding to an empty cartridge, the PLC (10) does not activate the air pump (7). Instead the PLC (10) returns an error signal to a display panel (not shown) to indicate to the user that the cartridge has been used before and should be replaced with a full cartridge.

If the output voltage is equal to or less than the value corresponding to an empty cartridge, the PLC (10) does not activate the air pump (7). Instead the PLC (10) returns an error signal to the display panel to indicate to the user that the cartridge is empty and should be removed.

If the output voltage is equal to or greater than the value corresponding to a full cartridge, the PLC (10) activates the air pump (7). The pump (7) then feeds compressed air into the propellant compartment of the cartridge (1 ) above the piston (5) to provide a pressure of about 2 bar therein. The pressure acts on the piston (5) causing it to move downwards and force the ice cream (6) out of the product outlet (2). When the value of the outlet voltage from the sensor (3) falls to the value corresponding to an empty cartridge, the PLC (10) deactivates the air pump and vents any residual pressure in the device by opening a pressure-release valve (not shown). A signal is then sent by the PLC (10) to the display panel to indicate that it is safe to remove the cartridge.

In the event that the user releases the actuator before the sensor (3) output voltage has fallen to the value corresponding to that of an empty cartridge, a timer in the PLC (10) is activated. Simultaneously the PLC (10) deactivates the pump (7) and vents any residual pressure in the device. If the actuator is manipulated again by the user before the timer in the PLC (10) reaches 3 minutes, then the PLC (10) reactivates the air pump (7) and dispenses the rest of the contents of the cartridge (1 ). If however, the timer of the PLC (10) reaches 3 minutes then the PLC (10) will not activate the air pump (7) in response to any manipulation of the actuator and instead returns an error signal to the display panel to indicate to the user that the cartridge should be replaced with a full cartridge

All numbers in this description indicating amounts of material, time periods, length scales, conditions of reaction, physical properties of materials and/or use may optionally be understood as modified by the word "about".

It should be noted that in specifying any range of values, any particular upper value can be associated with any particular lower value.

For the avoidance of doubt, the word "comprising" is intended to mean "including" but not necessarily "consisting of" or "composed of". In other words, the listed steps or options need not be exhaustive. The disclosure of the invention as found herein is to be considered to cover all embodiments as found in the claims as being multiply dependent upon each other irrespective of the fact that claims may be found without multiple dependency or redundancy. Where a feature is disclosed with respect to a particular aspect of the invention (for example a method of the invention), such disclosure is also to be considered to apply to any other aspect of the invention (for example a device of the invention) mutatis mutandis.