Automated Equipment to unveil new productIf you’ve ever ordered a blended ice cream treat from a fast food restaurant, you’ve probably watched as the employee uses a spoon to scoop bits of crushed Oreo, M&M pieces or Snickers morsels from a plastic tub and onto your waiting soft serve.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
If you’ve ever ordered a blended ice cream treat from a fast food restaurant, you’ve probably watched as the employee uses a spoon to scoop bits of crushed Oreo, M&M pieces or Snickers morsels from a plastic tub and onto your waiting soft serve.
But that process can lead to inconsistencies in the amount of candy topping each customer gets, says Dave Muelken, general manager and partner of Automated Equipment. And, Muelken added, consistency is something fast food restaurants strive for.
“Right now, they don’t have portion control,” Muelken said.
That’s one of the reasons behind Automated Equipment’s new product, the Ram 240-T Topping Dispenser. Another important part: the dispenser keeps the chocolate candy pieces cool to prevent clumping and sticking.
The idea for the product was brought to the Red Wing-based company about a year ago by the manufacturer of those candy toppings — known as particulates in the food industry.
“They have a product that needs to be cold,” Muelken said.
As many as half a dozen engineers worked for about six months on the dispenser’s design. While the company has applied for as many as 10 new patents for the machine, Muelken said the dispenser is “not completely different” from the company’s core product, a french fry dispenser.
Automated Equipment invented that product in 2003, and there are currently as many as 30,000 of the machines in use around the world today, Muelken said.
“There are some technologies in the fry dispenser that we will utilize,” he said.
Both products have a chilled top compartment that stores the food until it’s dispensed. Scales measure the exact amount and, with the push of a button, the food drops into either a waiting deep frying basket (in the case of the fry dispenser) or a small cup (in the case of the topping dispenser).
For the topping dispenser, restaurant employees will push a button to indicate whether they want enough topping for a mini, small, medium or large ice cream treat.
“It’s more efficient, more accurate,” Muelken said.
Those four sizes will be pre-programmed into the machines before they leave the production line. That way, restaurant chains can be sure their products are consistent from restaurant to restaurant, Muelken said.
The machine houses five different plastic hoppers, which means up to five different toppings can be dispensed.
Automated Equipment does have its eye on the global market for the topping dispenser and has met health and safety standards for both domestic and international markets. Still, Muelken said, staff will start selling directly to domestic restaurants first.
The product is set to roll out in the spring of 2012, with test runs in restaurants beginning after the first of the year, Muelken said.