While baking in the kitchen, one might not think twice when extra flour or powder falls onto the floor, but for a company like General Mills, a few ounces here and there add up.
In fact, the baking industry giant estimates it loses 360,000 pounds of dry mix powder annually during its bagging process. A team of BYU Capstone students have designed a device that could save up to 75 percent of that loss for General Mills.
The engineering students created a plate system that catches most of the loose dry-powder that is currently being lost when it is poured from augers to the 25- and 50-pound bulk bags.
"The problem isn't just that they're losing a lot of powder, it's that they're losing a lot of money," said team member Travis Anderson, a mechanical engineering major. "Currently, it's costing General Mills about 45 cents per pound of lost powder. Our product could save them a lot of money every year."
Finding a solution was not as simple as sweeping scraps off the floor. After many months of hard work and meticulous designing, the team modified the company's "bag-spreader plate"-an aluminum device that is 7 1/2 by 6 inches. The plate opens the bag while an auger pumps it full of dry-powder mix and closes the bag when it is full. The students' major improvement is a funnel-shaped plate that keeps the powder moving off the plate into the bag, instead of flying onto the ground as it has in the past. The funnel design also helps catch the extra dry powder that shoots from the momentum of the auger above between each bag filling and could significantly reduce General Mills' powder loss, perhaps to only 20,000 pounds a year.
"We estimate General Mills will make back their investment within 14-16 weeks," said team member Gordon Reese.
General Mills is already testing the new plate designs in their packaging process.
The General Mills group is one of 27 teams in this year's BYU Capstone program, a two-semester educational program that enables cross-functional student teams to work on real, industry-sponsored projects. Students come from mechanical engineering, manufacturing engineering technology, electrical engineering and industrial design. Each team is assigned a faculty coach and works closely with a liaison engineer from the sponsoring company.
Writer: Rebecca McOmber