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Title:
IN-LINE GUM THICKNESS MEASUREMENT
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2017/031154
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A system (10) for manufacturing a comestible is provided including a comestible source (20) and a pair of movable walls (40) downstream of the comestible source (20). The pair of movable walls (40) includes a first movable wall (45) and a second movable wall (50). A gap (55) between the first movable wall (45) and the second movable wall (50) is configured to receive a comestible mass (15) from said comestible source (20) and size the comestible mass (15) into a substantially continuous and flat comestible sheet (25). An in-line, non-contact thickness measuring device (100) is configured to measure a thickness (26) of the comestible sheet (25) directly downstream from the gap (55).

Inventors:
JANI, Bharat (100 Deforest Avenue, East Hanover, New Jersey, 07936, US)
MODAK, Bhairavi (100 Deforest Avenue, East Hanover, New Jersey, 07936, US)
MAGALETTA, Robert L. (100 Deforest Avenue, East Hanover, New Jersey, 07936, US)
PADMANABHAN, Mahesh (100 Deforest Avenue, East Hanover, New Jersey, 07936, US)
Application Number:
US2016/047260
Publication Date:
February 23, 2017
Filing Date:
August 17, 2016
Export Citation:
Click for automatic bibliography generation   Help
Assignee:
INTERCONTINENTAL GREAT BRANDS LLC (100 Deforest Avenue, East Hanover, New Jersey, 07936, US)
International Classes:
A23G3/06; A23G4/04; A23P30/00
Domestic Patent References:
WO2009143840A22009-12-03
WO1999015027A11999-04-01
Foreign References:
US5470599A1995-11-28
JPH0538260A1993-02-19
EP0457531A11991-11-21
US20140302196A12014-10-09
US20020178931A12002-12-05
GB2114418A1983-08-24
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
HAYTER, Alicia (Cantor Colburn LLP, 20 Church Street22nd Floo, Hartford Connecticut, 06103, US)
Download PDF:
Claims:
Claims:

WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:

1. A system for manufacturing a comestible, comprising:

a comestible source;

a pair of movable walls downstream of said comestible source and including a movable wall and a second movable wall;

a gap between said first movable wall and said second movable wall is configured to receive a comestible mass from said comestible source and size said comestible mass into a substantially continuous and flat comestible sheet; and

an in-line, non-contact thickness measuring device configured to measure a thickness of said comestible sheet directly downstream from said gap.

2. The system according to claim 1, wherein a hopper is disposed between said comestible source and said pair of movable walls, said hopper being configured to feed said comestible mass directly onto at least one of said first movable wall and second movable wall.

3. The system according to claim 1, wherein said thickness measuring device is configured to measure said thickness of said comestible sheet while said comestible sheet is arranged in overlapping contact with an exterior surface of said second movable wall.

4. The system according to claim 3, wherein said thickness measuring device includes: a first sensor configured to measure a distance to a first location on an exterior surface of said second movable wall; and

a second sensor configured to measure a distance to a second location on an adjacent surface of said comestible sheet, said thickness of said comestible sheet being the difference between said distance measured by said first sensor and said distance measured by said second sensor.

5. The system according to claim 4, wherein said first location and said second location are coincident.

6. The system according to claim 4, wherein said thickness measuring device is arranged generally perpendicular to said adjacent surface of said comestible sheet at said second location.

7. The system according to claim 4, wherein at least said exterior surface of said second movable wall is formed from an electrically conductive material, and said comestible sheet is formed from a non-electrically conductive material.

8. The system according to claim 7, wherein said first sensor is configured to induce at least one eddy current in said exterior surface of said second movable wall at said first location.

9. The system according to claim 8, wherein said second sensor is an optical sensor configured to detect a light reflected from said adjacent surface of said comestible sheet.

10. The system according to claim 1, wherein said comestible is a chewing gum.

11. The system according to claim 1, further comprising a controller arranged in communication with said thickness measurement device, said controller being configured to adjust at least one parameter of said pair of movable walls.

12. The system according to claim 11, wherein said at least one parameter includes a size of said gap.

13. The system according to claim 11, wherein said at least one parameter includes a speed of at least one of said first movable wall and second movable wall.

14. The system according to claim 1, wherein said comestible sheet has a substantially uniform thickness.

15. The system according to claim 1, wherein the thickness measuring device is configured to measure a thickness at various positioned across a width of the comestible sheet.

16. The system according to claim 1, further comprising an additional in-line, non-contact thickness measurement device positioned downstream from said thickness measurement device.

17. The system according to claim 1, wherein at least one of the pair of movable walls includes a roller.

18. The system according to claim 17, wherein the first movable wall is a first roller and the second movable wall is a second roller.

19. The system according to claim 1, wherein at least one of the pair of movable walls includes a planar surface.

20. A method of forming a comestible, comprising:

providing a pair of movable walls including a first movable wall and a second movable wall;

moving a comestible mass from a comestible source toward a gap between said pair of movable walls in a direction of flow;

sizing said comestible mass into a substantially continuous and flat comestible sheet ; and measuring a thickness of said comestible sheet directly downstream from said gap when said comestible sheet is arranged about an exterior surface of said second movable wall.

21. The method according to claim 20, further comprising feeding from a hopper the comestible mass directly onto at least one of the first movable wall and the second movable wall.

22. The method according to claim 20, wherein said comestible is a chewing gum.

23. The method according to claim 20, wherein measuring said thickness of said comestible sheet further comprises:

measuring a distance to a first location on said exterior surface of said second movable wall;

measuring a distance to a second location on an adjacent surface of said comestible sheet, said first location and said second location being coincident; and

subtracting said distance measured to said second location from said distance measured to said first location.

24. The method according to claim 23, wherein a first sensor is configured to measure said distance to said first location and a second sensor is configured to measure said distance to said second location.

25. The method according to claim 24, wherein a said first sensor is configured to measure said distance to said first location by inducing eddy currents in said exterior surface of said second movable wall.

26. The method according to claim 24, wherein a said first sensor is configured to measure said distance to said second location by detecting a light reflected from said adjacent surface of said comestible sheet.

27. The method according to claim 20, further comprising adjusting at least one parameter of said pair of movable walls in response to said measured thickness of said comestible sheet.

28. The method according to claim 27, wherein adjusting at least one parameter includes adjusting said gap between said pair of movable walls.

29. The method according to claim 27, wherein adjusting at least one parameter includes changing a rotational speed of at least one of said pair of movable walls.

30. A system for manufacturing a comestible, comprising:

a comestible source; a roller, said roller being configured to receive a comestible mass from said comestible source; and

an in-line, non-contact thickness measuring device configured to measure a thickness of said comestible mass in contact with said roller.

31. The system according to claim 30, wherein said thickness measuring device is configured to measure said thickness of said comestible mass while said comestible mass is arranged in overlapping contact with an exterior surface of said roller.

32. The system according to claim 30, wherein said thickness measuring device includes: a first sensor configured to measure a distance to a first location on an exterior surface of said roller; and

a second sensor configured to measure a distance to a second location on an adjacent surface of said comestible mass, said thickness of said comestible mass being the difference between said distance measured by said first sensor and said distance measured by said second sensor.

33. The system according to claim 32, wherein said first location and said second location are coincident.

34. A system for manufacturing a comestible, comprising:

a comestible source;

a generally planar metal surface configured to receive a comestible mass from said comestible source; and

an in-line, non-contact thickness measuring device configured to measure a thickness of said comestible mass arranged on said generally planar metal surface.

35. The system according to claim 34, wherein said generally planar metal surface is stationary.

36. The system according to claim 34, wherein said generally planar metal surface is movable.

37. The system according to claim 34, wherein said comestible mass is in direct contact with said generally planar metal surface.

38. The system according to claim 34, wherein said comestible mass is in indirect contact with said generally planar metal surface.

39. The system according to claim 34, wherein said thickness measuring device includes: a first sensor configured to measure a distance to a first location on said generally planar metal surface; and a second sensor configured to measure a distance to a second location on an adjacent surface of said comestible mass, said thickness of said comestible mass being the difference between said distance measured by said first sensor and said distance measured by said second sensor.

Description:
IN-LINE GUM THICKNESS MEASUREMENT

BACKGROUND

[0001] The present invention relates to comestible manufacturing systems and more particularly, to a method and system for measuring a thickness of a comestible as it is manufactured.

[0002] Typically, the process of making and packaging comestibles, such as a confection or chewing gum, is time-consuming and involves a significant amount of machinery. For example, the process of making and packing gum products can include mixing and producing a finished gum as a non-uniform output, extruding and forming the finished gum into loaves, conditioning the loaves of the finished gum, extruding the loaves into a continuous thin sheet of the finished gum, rolling the continuous sheet through a series of rollers to a uniform reduced thickness, scoring and dividing sheets into individual scored sheets, conditioning the individual sheets in a conditioning room, dividing sheets into gum pieces, and packaging the gum pieces. Such processes of making and packaging gum products are disclosed in U.S. Patent No. 6,254,373 assigned to the predecessor of interest of the present assignee, and U.S. Patent Application No. 15/352,110 assigned to the present assignee; the teachings and disclosures of which are hereby incorporated by reference in their entireties to the extent not inconsistent with the present disclosure.

[0003] To implement quality control during the manufacturing process, measurements of a formed comestible are periodically taken. Conventionally, thickness measurements are generated by interrupting the forming process to remove one or more samples of formed comestible therefrom. This frequent interruption results in additional waste. The thickness of a formed comestible may be measured at various positions over the length and width of each sample using a table micrometer. When measuring using a micrometer, the position of a probe is adjusted to contact the surface of the comestible. However, due to the soft nature of the comestible resulting from its warm temperature during manufacture, the weight of the probe partially compresses the comestible, thereby reducing the accuracy and precision of the measurements.

[0004] Accordingly, there is a need for an in-line measurement device that accurately measures the thickness of a comestible immediately after the comestible is formed, without contacting the comestible. Further the in-line measurement system should be configured to provide immediate feedback to the manufacturing system not only to maintain a parameter critical to quality, but also to reduce the amount of waste comestible produced. BRIEF SUMMARY

[0005] Disclosed is a system for manufacturing comestible is provided including a comestible source and a pair of movable walls downstream of the comestible source. The pair of movable walls includes a first movable wall and a second movable wall. A gap between the first movable wall and the second movable wall is configured to receive a comestible mass from said comestible source and size the comestible mass into a

substantially continuous and flat comestible sheet. An in-line, non-contact thickness measuring device is configured to measure a thickness of the comestible sheet directly downstream from the gap.

[0006] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments wherein a hopper is disposed between said comestible source and said pair of movable wall s, said hopper being configured to feed said comestible mass directly onto at least one of said first movable wall and second movable wall.

[0007] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said thickness measuring device is configured to measure said thickness of a said comestible sheet while said comestible sheet is arranged in overlapping contact with an exterior surface of said second movable wall.

[0008] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said thickness measuring device includes a first sensor configured to measure a distance to a first location on an exterior surface of said second movable wall and a second sensor configured to measure a distance to a second location on an adjacent surface of said comestible sheet. The thickness of said comestible sheet is the difference between said distance measured by said first sensor and said distance measured by said second sensor.

[0009] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said first location and said second location are coincident.

[0010] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said thickness measuring device is arranged generally perpendicular to said adjacent surface of said comestible sheet at said second location.

[0011] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments at least said exterior surface of said second movable wall is formed from an electrically conductive material, and said comestible sheet is formed from a nonelectric ally conductive material. [0012] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said first sensor is configured to induce at least one eddy current in said exterior surface of said second movable wall at said first location.

[0013] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said second sensor is an optical sensor configured to detect a light reflected from said adjacent surface of said comestible sheet.

[0014] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said comestible is a chewing gum.

[0015] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments a controller is arranged in communication with said thickness measurement device. The controller is configured to adjust at least one parameter of said pair of movable walls.

[0016] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said at least one parameter includes a size of said gap.

[0017] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said at least one parameter includes a speed of at least one of said first roller and second roller.

[0018] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said comestible sheet has a substantially uniform thickness.

[0019] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments the thickness measuring device is configured to measure a thickness at various positioned across a width of the comestible sheet.

[0020] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments further comprising an additional in-line, non-contact thickness measurement device positioned downstream from said thickness measurement device.

[0021] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments at least one of the pair of movable walls includes a roller.

[0022] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments the first movable wall is a first roller and the second movable wall is a second roller.

[0023] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments at least one of the pair of movable walls includes a planar surface.

[0024] According to another embodiment, a method of forming a comestible is includes providing a pair of movable walls having a first movable wall and a second movable wall. A comestible mass is moved from a comestible source toward a gap between the pair of movable walls in a direction of flow. The comestible mass is sized into a substantially continuous and flat comestible sheet and a thickness of the comestible sheet is measured directly downstream from the gap when the comestible sheet is arranged about an exterior surface of the second movable wall.

[0025] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments the comestible mass is fed from a hopper directly onto at least one of the first movable wall and the second movable wall.

[0026] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said comestible is a chewing gum.

[0027] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments measuring said thickness of said comestible sheet further comprises measuring a distance to a first location on said exterior surface of said second movable wall. A distance to a second location on an adjacent surface of the comestible sheet is measured. The first location and said second location are coincident. The distance measured to the second location is subtracted from the distance measured to the first location.

[0028] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments a first sensor is configured to measure said distance to said first location and a second sensor is configured to measure said distance to said second location.

[0029] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said first sensor is configured to measure said distance to said first location by inducing eddy currents in said exterior surface of said second movable wall.

[0030] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said first sensor is configured to measure said distance to said second location by detecting a light reflected from said adjacent surface of said comestible sheet.

[0031] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments adjusting at least one parameter of said pair of movable walls in response to said measured thickness of said comestible sheet.

[0032] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments adjusting at least one parameter includes adjusting said gap between said pair of movable walls.

[0033] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments adjusting at least one parameter includes changing a rotational speed of at least one of said pair of movable walls. [0034] According to another embodiment, a system for manufacturing a comestible is provided including a comestible source and a roller. The roller is configured to receive a comestible mass from the comestible source. An in-line, non-contact thickness measuring device is configured to measure a thickness of the comestible mass in contact with the roller.

[0035] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments the thickness measuring device is configured to measure said thickness of said comestible mass while said comestible mass is arranged in overlapping contact with an exterior surface of said roller.

[0036] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said thickness measuring device includes a first sensor configured to measure a distance to a first location on an exterior surface of said roller and a second sensor configured to measure a distance to a second location on an adjacent surface of said comestible mass. The thickness of said comestible mass is the difference between said distance measured by said first sensor and said distance measured by said second sensor.

[0037] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said first location and said second location are coincident.

[0038] According to another embodiment, a system for manufacturing a comestible is provided including a comestible source and a generally planar metal surface configured to receive a comestible mass from the comestible source. An in-line, non-contact thickness measuring device is configured to measure a thickness of the comestible mass in contact with the generally planar metal surface.

[0039] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said generally planar metal surface is stationary.

[0040] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said generally planar metal surface is movable.

[0041] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said comestible mass is in direct contact with said generally planar metal surface.

[0042] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said comestible mass is in indirect contact with said generally planar metal surface.

[0043] In addition to one or more of the features described above, or as an alternative, in further embodiments said thickness measuring device includes a first sensor configured to measure a distance to a first location on said generally planar metal surface and a second sensor configured to measure a distance to a second location on an adjacent surface of said comestible mass. The thickness of said comestible mass is the difference between said distance measured by said first sensor and said distance measured by said second sensor.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

[0044] The accompanying drawings incorporated in and forming a part of the

specification embody several aspects of the present disclosure and, together with the description, serve to explain the principles of the present disclosure. In the drawings:

[0045] FIG. 1 is a schematic diagram of an example of a comestible manufacturing system;

[0046] FIG. 2 is schematic diagram of a forming station including an "in-line" non- contact thickness measurement device according to an embodiment; and

[0047] FIGS. 3a and 3b are schematic diagrams of an example of an "in-line" non-contact thickness measurement device according to an embodiment.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION

[0048] The following will detail particular embodiments according to the present disclosure, which provide for accurate measurement of a comestible material during the manufacturing thereof. In one embodiment, a system includes a set or pair of rollers for forming a comestible structure/mass into a continuous web or sheet having a desired thickness and a width, while imparting temperature control to the comestible at the same time. Rollers such as but not limited those described in United States Patent Application No. 13/522,767 , which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety, are contemplated herein. Moving walls such as the moving walls described in United States Patent Application No. 14/233796, which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety, are also

contemplated.

[0049] The comestible included in the comestible mass and sheet discussed herein include any type of edible product, such as but not limited to chewing gum (at any stage including elastomer, partially finished base, finished chewing gum base, and finished chewing gum), confection (which may be synonymous with chewing gum and candy), chocolate, sweet and savory biscuits, cheese, crackers, cakes, nuts, and grains. For ease of description, the comestible will be referred to as chewing gum for the remainder of the description. Certain compositions of chewing gum may have a non-uniform texture and/or a multi-layered composition. [0050] Referring now to FIG. 1, an example of a system for forming a comestible, such as a chewing gum for example, is illustrated. The comestible manufacturing system 10 generally includes a comestible mixing station 20 and a comestible forming or sizing station 30 that includes at least one pair of rollers 40. The system 10 may additionally include a further smoothing roller 80 located downstream from the comestible sizing station 30. The manufacturing systems 10 may also include a scoring roller 85 and cutting roller 90, as illustrated in FIG. 1.

[0051] In the manufacturing system 10 illustrated in FIG. 1, the comestible forming station 30 includes a hopper 35 arranged at an upstream or entry point thereof. The forming station 30 includes a set of moving walls 40 for forming a gum structure or mass into a continuous web having a desired thickness and width. It should be noted that the term "walls" may be defined as any surface moveable within the system. In the illustrated, non- limiting embodiment, the pair of moving walls 40 includes a pair of rollers, specifically an upper roller 45 and a lower roller 50. In other embodiments, one or more of the moving walls 40 may include a planar surface, such as the surface of a conveyor belt. The rollers 45, 50 are externally driven, for example by an operably coupled motor (not shown). In an exemplary embodiment, each of the rollers 45, 50 is provided with a motor, such that the rotational speed of each of the rollers 45, 50 can be controlled independently.

[0052] The rollers 40 of the comestible forming station 30 may be configured to have a smooth surface finish. In addition, the rollers 40 may also be configured with any desirable actuation device Al, A2, such as but not limited to a servomechanism that controls a position of the rollers 45, 50 within each roller pair 40 relative to each other and thereby adjusts the gap 55 there between.

[0053] The hopper 35 is disposed proximate the rollers 40, and may be used for upstream surge control, capacity and feed control. The hopper 35 constrains, accumulates, and feeds the comestible mass 15 supplied from the mixing station 20, into an inlet or gap region 55 generally between the pair of rollers 40.

[0054] The comestible mass 15 provided from the comestible source or mixing station 20 moves through the hopper 35, such as via gravity or with the assistance of guide rollers (not shown) disposed within the hopper 35. In the illustrated, non-limiting embodiment of Figure 1, as the comestible mass 15 exits the hopper output, it is guided by the lower roller 50 toward the upper roller 45 and the gap 55 between the upper and lower rollers 45, 50. The counter rotating upper roller 45 and lower roller 50 pull the comestible mass 15 through the gap 55 between the pair of rollers 40 (also referred to as "forming rollers" or "sizing rollers" herein) to form and size the comestible mass 15 into the comestible sheet 25.

[0055] Upon exiting the gap 55 of the pair of rollers 40, the conveyor 75 moves the comestible sheet 25 having a final or substantially final thickness (of between about 0.3 mm to 10 mm for some sheet or slab forming systems) towards the smoothing roller 80, which is used to remove surface imperfections, kinks, and may further reduce the thickness of the comestible sheet 25.

[0056] In the exemplary embodiment of FIG. 1, the system 10 further includes a scoring roller 85 and a lateral dividing or cutting roller 90 downstream of the comestible forming station 30. The scoring roller 85 and the lateral dividing roller 90 score and divide the comestible sheet 25 into individual scored sheets. The scored sheets may then be conveyed to a cooling tunnel (not shown) for further conditioning. Thereafter, the comestible may be transported to further processing and packaging equipment for producing packaged comestible products, perhaps in a single line with the system 10.

[0057] The smoothing roller 80, scoring roller 85, and dividing roller 90, as well as their equivalents, are considered to be forming or manufacturing instruments within the comestible manufacturing system 10. In some embodiments, in addition to or in place of the scoring roller 85 and the dividing roller 90, the system 10 may include other comestible shaping solutions, such as a drop-roller, a die cutter, pelletizer or other similar comestible shaping equipment (provided the sheet is cooled to a sufficient extent). As such, the comestible manufacturing system 10 can produce a comestible having various final shapes which can subsequently be packaged, or pellets that are subsequently coated.

[0058] With reference now to FIG. 2, the thickness of the sized comestible slab or sheet 25 output from the forming station 30 is critical to the comestible manufacturing process 10. More specifically, variation in the thickness of the comestible sheet 25 may directly impact the efficiency of a downstream wrapping or packaging process. Accordingly, it is desirable to selectively or continuously measure the thickness of the comestible sheet 25 as it is being formed in the forming station 30, at a position generally upstream from a packaging station. Further, it is desirable to provide feedback to the forming station 30 to adjust the position of the one or more rollers thereof to achieve a gap, and therefore a comestible sheet 25, having a desired thickness. As illustrated in the FIG., a non-contact thickness measurement device 100 is mounted adjacent a portion of the forming station 30, such as near one or both of the rollers 45, 50. The thickness measurement device 100 is configured to measure a thickness of the comestible sheet 25 directly downstream from and adjacent the gap 55. [0059] Due to the non- static nature of a forming roller, such as forming roller 50 for example, an accurate measurement of the thickness of the comestible sheet 25 at a specific location relative to the rotation of the forming roller 50 is configured to account for thermal expansion and contraction of one of the forming rollers 50, such as due to a change in temperature for example. In one embodiment, such variation in the thickness of the comestible sheet 25 is addressed by measuring not only a distance to the exterior surface 51 of the forming roller 50 at a first location, but also a distance to the exterior surface 26 of the comestible sheet 25 at the same first location. The thickness of the comestible sheet 25 at that first location is determined as the difference between the two measurements.

[0060] Although the thickness measurement device 100 is illustrated and described herein with reference to a forming station 30 having a pair of forming rollers 50, it should also be understood that the thickness measurement device 100 may be applied to other types of forming stations 30, such as a forming station 30 having only a single roller, or alternatively, a series of sizing rollers configured to incrementally reduce a thickness of a comestible sheet 25. Further, other embodiments where the thickness measurement device 100 is configured to measure a thickness of a comestible sheet 25 on a stationary or movable planar metal surface, such as a table or circular conveyor for example, are also within the scope of the disclosure. In such embodiments, an air gap or other material may be positioned between the comestible and the metal surface such that the comestible may not be in direct contact with the metal surface.

[0061] An example of an "in-line" thickness measurement device 100 capable of accurately measuring a thickness of a comestible sheet 25 positioned on a rotating roller 50 is illustrated in more detail in FIGS. 3a and 3b. The thickness measurement device 100 includes a first sensor 102 and a second sensor 104. The first sensor 102 is configured to measure a distance to a first target surface, such as the exterior surface 51 of the forming drum 50. In one embodiment, the first sensor 102 is an eddy current sensor including a magnetic coil 106 which may be selectively or continuously energized by application of a current thereto. The magnetic coil 106 is spaced away from the adjacent surface 26 of the comestible sheet 25 such that an axis X of the magnetic coil 106 is substantially

perpendicular to the surface 26 of the comestible sheet 25 and the rotational axis of the roller 50. Application of a current to the coil 106 generates a magnetic field, which in turn, induces eddy currents at the surface 51 of the roller 50 due to the electrically conductive material of the roller 50 (see FIG. 2). These eddy currents affect the impedance of the coil. Because the comestible sheet 25 is formed from a non-electrically conductive material, the presence of the comestible sheet 25 adjacent the surface 51 of the roller 50 has no effect on the eddy currents induced therein. The impedance of the coil 106 is configured to change with the proximity of the roller 50 to the coil 106 as the roller rotates about an axis. The first sensor 102 senses these changes in the impedance of the coil 106 and provides an output signal indicative of a distance between the coil 106 and the adjacent, exterior surface 51 of the roller 50.

[0062] The second sensor 104 is configured to determine the distance of the thickness measurement device 100 from another target surface, such as the surface 26 of the comestible sheet 25 closest to the thickness measurement device 100. The second sensor 104 of the thickness measurement device 100 may be an optical sensor, such as a laser for example. When configured as a laser, the second sensor 104 projects a laser beam toward the exposed surface 26 of the comestible sheet 25. In such embodiments, the second sensor 104 may include a photosensitive detector 108 configured to detect reflections of the laser beam from surface 26. The photosensitive detector 108 may be configured to detect the distance to the surface 26 based on the elapsed time between sending a beam and receiving a reflected beam, or alternatively, by using triangulation based on the position of the reflected beam on the photosensitive detector 108.

[0063] As shown in the cross-sectional view of the device 100 in FIG. 3b, the magnetic coil 106 of the first sensor 102 may include a hollow core 110 and the second sensor 104 may be positioned along the axis X of the coil 106 such that the beam generated by the second sensor 104 is parallel to and extends through the hollow core 110 of the coil 106. In one embodiment, the second sensor 104 is positioned within the hollow core 110 of the coil 106. As a result, the portion of each of surfaces 51 and 26 used to record measurements by the first sensor 102 and second sensor 104, respectively, are coincident. Therefore, the difference between the distance measured by the first sensor 102 to surface 51 and the distance measured by the second sensor 104 to surface 26, provides an accurate measurement of the thickness of the comestible sheet 25 at a specific position relative to the roller 50. The thickness measurement device 100 described herein is intended as an example only, and other measurement devices capable of accurately measuring a thickness of a comestible sheet 25 positioned on a moving component having a variable surface are within the scope of the disclosure.

[0064] Referring again to FIG. 2, the thickness measurement device 100 may be configured to translate along an axis, for example parallel to the axis of rotation of the rollers 45, 50, such that a plurality of thickness measurements may be taken across the width of the comestible sheet 25. In one embodiment, the thickness measurement device 100 may be configured to take a measurement adjacent near the two edges and at a center of the comestible sheet 25. Alternatively, the system 30 may include a plurality of substantially identical thickness measurement devices 100 spaced at intervals across a width of the rollers 45, 50. In such embodiments, the plurality of devices 100 are stationary and each device 100 is configured to monitor a thickness of the comestible sheet 25 at a known position about the roller axis.

[0065] The forming station 30 may additionally be provided with a feedback loop such that one or more parameters of the forming station 30 may be adjusted in response to the thickness measurements recorded by the one or more thickness measurement devices 100. For example, a thickness measurement device 100 may be operably coupled to a controller, illustrated schematically at C (FIG. 2), arranged in communication with a motor or actuation device Al, A2 of the pair of rollers 40. Accordingly, when the measured thickness is outside of an allowable range, examples of parameters that may be adjusted include, but are not limited to a vertical distance between the rollers 45, 50, a horizontal distance between the rollers 45, 50, and a rotational speed of one or both of the rollers 45, 50. In addition, the parameters may be adjusted based on trends of the recorded thickness data, for example, if the thickness is steadily increasing towards an upper limit of the allowable range.

[0066] The in-line, non-contact measurement device 100 is used to control the thickness of a comestible immediately downstream of a forming station 30 at a location where only one surface of the comestible is exposed and the other surface of the comestible is in direct contact with a different material. The distance measured to the exposed surface of the comestible and the distance measure to the contact surface at the same location are provided to a controller configured to calculate the thickness of the controller and compares the measured thickness to a desired thickness. If necessary, the controller sends a signal to the forming station 30 to adjust the thickness to the desired thickness. Accordingly, inclusion of an in-line, non-contact, thickness measurement device 100 in a comestible manufacturing system 10 provides the benefit of continually adjusting operation of the forming station 30. As a result, a comestible sheet 25 having a desired thickness is reliably produced.

[0067] It should be appreciated that although the system 10 is shown as a continuous line in FIG. 1, in other embodiments, one or more of these components of the comestible manufacturing system 10 may be located in different parts of a manufacturing plant or even in a different manufacturing plant. For example, in one embodiment, the comestible mixing system 20 is located in one plant, and the comestible forming system 30 and other subsequent components, such as the scoring and dividing rollers and packaging components, are located in a different plant, wherein the mixed comestible mass 15 is transferred from one plant to the other for subsequent processes.

[0068] All references, including publications, patent applications, and patents cited herein are hereby incorporated by reference to the same extent as if each reference were individually and specifically indicated to be incorporated by reference and were set forth in its entirety herein.

[0069] The use of the terms "a" and "an" and "the" and similar referents in the context of describing the invention (especially in the context of the following claims) is to be construed to cover both the singular and the plural, unless otherwise indicated herein or clearly contradicted by context. The terms "comprising," "having," "including," and "containing" are to be construed as open-ended terms (i.e., meaning "including, but not limited to,") unless otherwise noted. Recitation of ranges of values herein are merely intended to serve as a shorthand method of referring individually to each separate value falling within the range, unless otherwise indicated herein, and each separate value is incorporated into the

specification as if it were individually recited herein. All methods described herein can be performed in any suitable order unless otherwise indicated herein or otherwise clearly contradicted by context. The use of any and all examples, or exemplary language (e.g., "such as") provided herein, is intended merely to better illuminate the invention and does not pose a limitation on the scope of the invention unless otherwise claimed. No language in the specification should be construed as indicating any non-claimed element as essential to the practice of the invention.

[0070] Preferred embodiments of this invention are described herein, including the best mode known to the inventors for carrying out the invention. Variations of those preferred embodiments may become apparent to those of ordinary skill in the art upon reading the foregoing description. The inventors expect skilled artisans to employ such variations as appropriate, and the inventors intend for the invention to be practiced otherwise than as specifically described herein. Accordingly, this invention includes all modifications and equivalents of the subject matter recited in the claims appended hereto as permitted by applicable law. Moreover, any combination of the above-described elements in all possible variations thereof is encompassed by the invention unless otherwise indicated herein or otherwise clearly contradicted by context.