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Would You Like Fries With Your Technology?

Would You Like Fries With Your Technology?

A technology developed at the University of Dayton has been shown to cut a fast food restaurant’s shortening consumption by as much as 84 percent. The Surecheck™ technology, licensed to Energy Storage Technologies, Inc. (EST), was originally developed to monitor engine oil in fighter aircraft, but it has more quickly found a demand at the fast food industry’s fry stations.

Fry Wars

Critical to fast food restaurant success is French fry quality and consistency. Ray Kroc, founder of McDonald’s, recalled in his 1977 autobiography that he realized early on that he was in the French fry business and not the hamburger business. He was content to have his competitors believe the latter though. Fries are so key to fast food success that #2 Burger King invested $100 million or more developing better tasting French fries in an attempt to unseat #1 McDonald’s.

Motivated by health concerns, fast food restaurants have widely replaced animal fat shortening with vegetable shortening in their fryers. But vegetable shortening is more easily degraded by the high temperatures of a deep fryer and leaves a much nastier aftertaste once the shortening goes bad.

Bob Kauffman, UDRI researcher and the principal inventor of the technology, actually got the idea for the fryer application after eating French fries that left a bad taste in his mouth. “I figured the technology we developed for the jet engine oils would also work for cooking oils, since they both operate at 350°F and are exposed to air. It’s oxidation from overuse that gives the fries that bad aftertaste.”

Saving on Shortening

To be on the safe side, many restaurants change the vegetable shortening much more frequently than is really necessary. This widespread premature disposal of cooking oil is bad for the environment and bad for profits. Individual restaurants can spend over $10,000 per year on shortening. Even more is spent on disposal and drain cleaning. Surecheck™ makes arbitrary scheduling of shortening change-out a thing of the past. With a simple hand-held device, the fry cook can know within a few seconds if the shortening is good or bad. The Surecheck™ has proved to be an indispensable tool for ensuring that bad shortening is never used while preventing good oil from being prematurely dumped.

SECT Takes Off

The Surecheck™ technology, formally called the Single Electrode Conductivity Test (SECT), was originally invented to monitor the condition of jet engine oil. It has also been licensed for transportation and heavy equipment applications. Ironically, the technology is only now being considered for licensing by a company that will put it on a fighter jet engine, the Air Force’s new F-35 (formerly the Joint Strike Fighter). SECT proved to be a low cost, reliable means of monitoring oil in an actual jet engine test, and it has become the technology of choice for the F-35.

The University of Dayton, meanwhile, is looking for new applications of this and other University inventions. Oil monitoring is part of a larger cost savings strategy within the transportation industry that is called “Condition-Based Maintenance” (CBM). Much like changing shortening only when its useful life has been depleted, CBM calls for changing oil and replacing parts only when their useful life has been depleted. The University has identified CBM as a major growth area for its technologies and is vigorously pursuing the development of new sensors that will monitor the condition of lubricants, coolants, fuels and hardware.

For more information on University of Dayton technologies available for licensing, please contact the Office for Technology Partnerships at (937) 229-3515.

June 2002


News and Communication

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