New assembly process for cheesecakes designed for Wegmans

Local company improves automation with the help of RIT engineering students

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Michelle Cometa

Rodrigo Velarde talked to guests at the Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival about the work he and his team did with local supermarket giant Wegmans.

It takes an engineer to make a better cheesecake. Beyond the ingredients, consistent assembly of those ingredients, uniform baking temperatures and even timing are essential when making the rich dessert.

Senior engineering students at RIT worked with Wegmans, the regional supermarket chain, to improve its cheesecake assembly and baking process and were challenged with eliminating ergonomic problems while maintaining product quality.

They mixed engineering design principles, much like the bakers mix the cheesecakes. Except where bakers use eggs, flour and spices, the students brought electrical, mechanical and industrial engineering processes to the mix.

The six-member student team focused on the part of the system where water is dispensed into sheet pans holding the cakes prior to baking. Using the water is necessary to the process to ensure that cheesecakes remain moist and cook evenly. Prior to this, the introduction of water into sheet pans was done manually. Wegmans requested solutions to eliminate the repetitive lifting motion by employees while retaining the essential step in the overall baking process.

A dispenser system was established with several inter-related sensors to detect when pans are in the queue, to send signals that the measured water distribution should begin, and to finally signal that the pans are ready to be sent to the oven, says Rodrigo Velarde, a fifth-year industrial and systems engineering student and project manager.

“The main objective of our project is to provide Wegmans’ cheesecake baking process with an automated solution for the required water dosage,” Velarde says.

The team began working with representatives from Wegmans manufacturing engineering in the winter quarter to develop customer requirements and design plans. They began building the new system in spring quarter and are in the process of final tests.

“Assuming the testing is successful, full implementation into the production process could happen very shortly after that. The desire for automation is based on the need for a process that is better ergonomically. Currently, pouring water is a strain for the folks doing the work in some ways,” says John Kaemmerlen, lecturer in the industrial and systems engineering department and faculty advisor for the team.

This project is part of a working relationship with Wegmans that has been ongoing for the last several years, Kaemmerlen explains. Each summer, representatives from the Kate Gleason College of Engineering meet with associates from Wegmans to discuss possible design projects that can be done the following academic year.

Velarde adds: “The team also met with the employees who were integral to the production process. We wanted to make sure that our proposal would be accepted by everybody involved on the cheesecake production line. Overall we obtained positive feedback and great suggestions.”

NOTE: The Cheesecake Water Dosing Automation Project was featured at the Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival on May 7. The project team of Velarde, Noah Mauer, electrical engineering; Tuo Shen, electrical engineering; Geoffrey Cresswell, mechanical engineering; Joel Sack, mechanical engineering; and John Janiszewski, mechanical engineering, answered questions about the design at its booth located on the fourth floor of James E. Gleason Hall in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering.