Most kitchens include a space to store and organize seasonings such as spices, condiments, salts, and aromas. The space for storing seasonings will henceforth be referred to as the spice rack. As recipes require different combinations of seasonings, and consumers desire variety in their diet, the spice rack quickly fills up and loses any semblance of organization. The lack of organization in the spice rack leads to a lack of visibility. This lack of visibility makes it difficult to keep track of the inventory and increases the chance of purchasing duplicate products.
User error when measuring seasonings can result in over- or under-seasoning. Over-seasoning can lead to disposing of the meal rather than eating it, resulting in a waste of food and money. Under-seasoning can lead to adding more seasoning after preparation, resulting in another possibility of over-seasoning.
People with certain disabilities are prone to having difficulties selecting and measuring seasonings. Individuals with restricted mobility such as wheelchairs or crutches may have difficulties reaching spices in a cluttered spice rack. Individuals with neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s or ALS may have difficulties accurately measuring seasonings due to decreased motor skills.
Basic Design Requirements
In order to complete the task for which the product is designed it must, at minimum, satisfy the requirements of our Product Design Specification (PDS). Some of the main categories within the PDS include business, size, materials, interfaces, usability, and software.
SpiceMeUp intends to sell their automated seasoning dispenser as a luxury smart kitchen appliance, aiming to keep the final value under $100. The target market for this product are people who consistently home cook meals with a variety of seasonings within North America. The final design must be small enough to sit on a kitchen countertop or within a cabinet, while also maintaining the ability to be wall mounted. The internal seasoning containers must also be interchangeable and allow users to easily insert more seasonings when necessary. SpiceMeUp has also required that the machine be accessible for people with impaired movements or other disabilities which can make it difficult to properly measure seasonings while in the kitchen.
For measurement requirements, SpiceMeUp has decided to integrate a programmable microcontroller including a user interface. There will be a scale that can accurately measure the amount of dispensed spices, and be able to convert measurements in weight to volume, such as grams to tablespoons. The scale will also need to include a way for users to manually calibrate the scale for more accurate dispensing over longer periods of time.
SpiceMeUp has required that all materials that should come in contact with any of the seasonings be food-safe. The final product needs to weigh under 20 pounds and needs to be extremely resilient to wear and fatigue as the materials should be able to last through thousands of low stress cycles.
This product also plans to use software that makes the microcontroller compatible with smartphones. This compatibility will allow users to configure their device and dispense seasonings from their phone, as well as the ability to turn the machine on and off. The software will also hold a database that stores the densities of seasonings, allowing conversion of weight from the scale to a volume of measurement.
SpiceMeUp will enter a market for small kitchen appliances; inside of the small kitchen appliance market there is a subsection that pushes their products towards passionate culinarians. Stepping back to the overall small kitchen appliance market, the market is overflowing with potential competitors. Each competitor is fighting for a valuable resource, the consumer’s counter space. Despite a saturated market, it is possible to make an impact because the small kitchen appliance market is diced up into dozens of major subsections that continue to break down into smaller specific subsections as the consumer narrows down the need that the product needs to fulfill.
The team behind the SpiceMeUp product, Alpine Kitchen Automation Bits (AKA Bits), has done a full market analysis before fully committing to working on the SpiceMeUp product. Through the market analysis it was made apparent that even in a saturated market of products, companies are not afraid to expand on current product lines or develop new products to hold on their overall market share. AKA Bits decided in order to enter the market as a new competitor, it would be important to develop a product that satisfies a new need for the consumer. Currently, AKA Bits is developing a unique product which has no direct competition in the small kitchen appliance market by working on an automatic seasoning dispenser. However, AKA Bits is also taking into account indirect competition that includes seasoning storage and manual dispensers; these products are able to act as competition because these smaller products can fill a specific need, or example storage, at a cheaper price. AKA Bits understands the risk of the SpiceMeUp product falling into the luxury appliance market.
During the market research, it was important to identify major competitors in the market that hold an influential share of the market. Hamilton Beach was the first major competitor that has a heavy retail presence by releasing a large assortment of products that fall into the budget friendly range for consumers. KitchenAid is the second competitor in the market that is found on the other end of the spectrum. KitchenAid has built its brand on making high quality products and focusing their market line on only a few major products to keep up their overall quality. This gives AKA Bits an idea of the potential paths when growing as a company.
The sales and size of the small kitchen appliance is growing every year. From the market research, it is estimated that the small kitchen appliance market will take up around 9.8% of the overall kitchen appliance market. Within that market, that 9.8% is estimated to reach approximately $23.5 billion dollars (USD) globally by the year 2023. These are the result of companies no longer having to rely on selling through a retailer and adapting e-commerce. AKA Bits will also focus on a direct to customer approach through their company website as their main distribution channel. AKA Bits is a Nevada based company and will focus on North America as their primary market.
Proof of Concept
Team 20’s proof of concept will validate their product’s main feature of dispensing a predetermined measurement of seasoning with the use of a microcontroller. SpiceMeUp will have 10 to 12 seasoning containers in the final product. This proof of concept demonstrates a single container with the same functions as the final assembly of multiple containers. Figure 1 shows a SolidWorks assembly drawing of the proof of concept.
Fig 1. SpiceMeUp proof of concept design assembly.
The proof of concept reduces SpiceMeUp to a single container, motor, and load cell. A load cell will sit underneath the seasoning container. The container is attached to a post that also houses a continuous rotation servo motor. The motor’s gear aligns with the gear on the middle disc of the dispensing mechanism. The lower container cap is the dispensing mechanism, it consist of three discs. The top disc acts as a filter to only allow seasonings to flow from the container to the aligned section of the metering disc. The middle disc is a metering device, where each cutout section has a predetermined volume of 5 mL, or one teaspoon. The bottom disc acts as a second filter to only allow seasoning to flow out of the metering disc through the aligned hole into the weight measurement cup. The entry and exit holes from the metering disc are offset by 120 degrees to prevent seasoning from flowing directly through the metering sections. The metering disc is fixed to the lower container cap with a sealed food-grade ball bearing. The rotation of the metering disc is controlled by the microcontroller. The weight measurement cup functions to check the volume of seasoning after dispensing. This secondary check is vital to determine if seasoning is over- or under-dispensed.
Alpine Kitchen Automation is developing a countertop automated seasoning dispenser, also known as SpiceMeUp. The aim of SpiceMeUp is to incorporate useful automation in the modern kitchen in order to reduce the under/over seasoning of foods, provide quick and accurate seasoning dispensing, and to help any movement impaired individuals. The product will be marketed towards the at home cooking enthusiast who is interested in quality of life improvements in their products and interested in advanced cooking which leads to imitation of a professional cooking space. By automating the measurement of seasoning, SpiceMeUp, will reduce the burden to the average kitchen user and facilitate accurately following recipes. The product will also aid users by keeping seasonings organized within the device and will save them money by not wasting seasonings through accurate dispensing.
An overview of the product design specifications include the intended uses, users, environments, and requirements for the product. SpiceMeUp’s intended use is to automatically dispense seasonings that will be accurately measured after user input. While this product is designed for individuals to use within their home kitchen’s, it can also be scaled to an industrial level for uses within professional kitchens or places such as movie theatres for popcorn seasoning dispensing. Looking at some of the specific product requirements, there are callouts for maximum product size, configurations, user interface, appearance, cost and safety. The maximum size of the product was determined to be a 12″ x 12″ x 12″ cube for a countertop model, with the final shape of the design able to change as long as it fits within the parameters. The product will be free standing, and will have threaded caps allowing users to easily swap and refill seasonings. For the user interface, users will be able to manually enter a specified volume (intervals of ¼ tsp.) for each of the 8 seasonings. The product will be manufactured mostly out of UHMW plastic, PET plastic, acrylic, and stainless steel with surface finishes less than or equal to 64 microinches. Looking at pricing, one complete unit will cost less than $50 including overhead and manufacturing costs, and will be sold between $60 and $80. Finally, safety specifications were implemented in order to keep users away from as much potential harm as possible, such as all moving parts being contained within a separate housing, removing sharp edges and burrs from the outside surface of the container, and making sure that all materials that come into contact with seasonings are food safe.
The characteristics that the SpiceMeUp product includes are 8 belt-driven metering disks contained within an octagon enclosure, ¼ tsp volume chutes in each metering disk, a simple user interface, and easily removable and customizable seasoning containers. SpiceMeUp includes 8 separate seasoning dispensing disks, called metering disks, that are belt-driven to achieve a quick and constant dispensing speed. Each metering disk contains 6, ¼ tsp. volume chutes that will provide users with guaranteed dispensing accuracy. The user interface consists of 8 buttons in a circular pattern on the top lid of the product along with a power switch. Each button will allow users to dispense ¼ tsp. of a corresponding seasoning with each press. Finally, SpiceMeUp will be compatible with most 2in diameter store-bought seasoning containers, allowing users to easily change and refill seasonings as needed.
The main components of SpiceMeUp were fabricated at the University of Nevada, Reno manufacturing lab and the Delamare library. The dispensing mechanism housing and metering disk are fabricated using a CNC lathe and mill, while some of the less complex parts, such as the metering disk alignment shaft and bottom plate, are fabricated using the manual machines. To simplify features of the metering disk that could not be machined, Team 20 placed those features on a simple ring that could be 3D printed and bonded to the metering disks later. Small components of the design such as the roller switch housing and motor mount bracket were fabricated on a Prusa Mark 2 3D printer owned by one of the team members. Finally, acrylic panels were cut on the laser cutter at the Delamare library to make up the enclosure of SpiceMeUp.
Testing and Results
Team 20 repeated the testing structure created in the proof of concept to initially test the dispensing mechanism of the prototype. Ten tests were conducted to test the accuracy and dispensing time of the prototype, which showed significant improvements over the PoC, as shown in the tables below.
While testing the entire system, the team encountered issues with the motors demanding too much power from the Arduino, causing it to shut down. Team 20 solved this by wiring the dispensing mechanisms through relays, which supplied power to the motors only when needed. Additionally, the code waits until a limit switch is triggered, then ends the loops and stops the motor. After making these changes, the prototype was able to quickly and accurately dispense seasonings to the user, as the design intended. An image of the prototype SpiceMeUp design can be seen below
Through prototype testing and fabrication, Team 20 has created an automated seasoning dispenser that is scalable to many industries, including the home kitchen and movie theater popcorn seasoning stations. In the home setting, it solves the problem of over/under seasoning food during cooking operation, while minimizing clutter in spice cabinets. The product can also be used as a replacement to movie theater popcorn seasoning stations as it provides a cleaner station, and more seamless operation that minimizes waste. After showing off the product to the public at UNR’s innovation day on May 4, 2018, it is clear that is heavy interest among consumers due to the sleekness of the design, scalability, and quality of life improvements that it can offer.
Meet the Team
Ragnvald Nicolas Bernt, who goes by Nico, was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area in California and is currently finishing his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering with a Minor in Electrical Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR). He plans to work in Reno for his current employer, Trainli, for a year after graduation before seeking his Master of Engineering (M.E.) in Mechatronics on the East Coast of U.S. or in Europe. After graduating with a M.E., Nico plans to work in a small to medium company where he is passionate about his goals and uses his skills as an engineer and in international communication.
Nico’s interest in engineering comes from spending time with his father, himself a mechanical and electrical engineer. Nico worked more closely with his father as he grew older by applying his own skills to the problems. An example of this is designing a brushless DC motor enclosure optimized for use in a farm environment on a Computer Aided Design program and preparing the drawings for production. He pursued a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona for one year, then returned to California and attended courses at Marin Community College and Santa Rosa Junior College for one year. Nico transferred to UNR in the Fall of 2014 and was initiated into Theta Tau Professional Engineering Fraternity at the end of his first semester at UNR. As a member of the professional fraternity, Nico developed his professional skills and was elected projects committee chair. Nico elected to change his status to early alumnus in September 2017 after returning from a semester abroad in Ingolstadt, Germany.
During his semester abroad, he took graduate level courses in engineering and worked to develop algorithms for autonomous vehicles as a lab assistant. In Reno, Nico works part time as an undergraduate teaching assistant for the Introduction to Engineering Design course at UNR, as a junior engineering consultant at Trainli, and designs scale model scenery components for an individual with a large scale model train system.
Jason Christensen was born and raised in Reno, Nevada and is currently working on his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. Jason’s passion for engineering began while attending high school, the Academy of Arts, Careers and Technology, high school. Here, Jason was introduced to the principles of mechanical design and fabrication, and was also granted the opportunity to travel to NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama to compete in the Human Exploration Rover Challenge for 3 years. Through these opportunities, the passion only grew and ignited his dream of becoming an engineer in the Aerospace industry. In college, Jason’s proudest and most difficult achievement is figuring out how to balance all his academic requirements and extra-curricular activities, while maintaining his internship in the fast-paced aerospace and defense industry, while maintaining a high level of success in every aspect. Jason is honored to be a member of Theta Tau Professional Engineering Fraternity at UNR, which has helped him develop into a better professional and earned him countless connections. At work, Jason is required to perform all aspects of engineering each day, as he is given complex engineering problems and is expected to solve them with minimal oversight, other than mandatory design reviews. Jason’s greatest engineering accomplishment came at work during the summer of 2016, where he was asked to develop a new way to measure thrust, to help the company acquire data to backup engineering calculations, to ultimately increase the effectiveness and efficiency of future designs. Jason was responsible for developing a project schedule, creating design concepts, performing trades, performing engineering analysis, communicating with vendors on cost and time estimates to generate a bill of materials, inspection and assembling the received components, and performing testing to characterize the thrust measurements.
With this internship, coupled with his college education, Jason has dramatically improved his knowledge of the mechanical design process, as well as his skills in public speaking, SolidWorks design, professionalism, time management, drawing creation, geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, and ability to comprehend engineering principles as they relate to “real-world” applications. After graduation, Jason hopes to become a design engineer at a firm in the aerospace industry (i.e. Lockheed, Raytheon, etc.), with the end goal of working in deep space systems, while obtaining Master’s degree in aerospace engineering.
Aaron Hance is a 21-year-old from Sunnyvale, California, where he graduated from Archbishop Mitty High School. In 2014, Aaron moved to Nevada where he has been studying to receive his bachelor of science in mechanical engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. Over the course of his college career, Aaron has been involved in many engineering challenges, such as creating a hovercraft, constructing a balsa wood bridge, and becoming a member of the professional co-ed engineering fraternity on campus, Theta Tau. Since the beginning of Aaron’s college career, he has developed and improved upon many useful skills such as: team communication, public speaking, professionalism, time management, SolidWorks, Multisim, MATLAB, and Laser and 3D printing.
Outside of academia, Aaron has had job at Hamilton Company for over a year, where he works as an engineering intern. Through this job he has been able to see what types of problems engineers work on in the real world, and has gotten hands on experience with fixing and redesigning tooling for his workplace. Aaron’s greatest and most challenging engineering project has to be creating a new design for syringe plungers at his job. For this project, Aaron had to record diameters of over 20 different plungers, four different types of tips for each plunger, and then develop an insert that could accurately hold all types of plungers and tips within two different types of arbor presses. This project was a great accomplishment for Aaron because he was able to use a lot of what he had learned in classes leading up to this to successfully design the tooling, which is still used at the company today. Outside of school and work, Aaron enjoys fixing and completing basic maintenance on cars. He has been able to change timing belts, radiators, oil, fuel pumps/tanks, brake pads and calipers, spark plugs, and many more. Through this hands-on experience combined with skills he has developed from school he was able to disassemble his driver-side door and replace the broken latching mechanism through a design he created himself, which has been in use now for over a year without any issues. After graduation, Aaron hopes to get into an automotive or aerospace field, where he can work on things that really interest him.
Jonathan Narvaez is from Las Vegas, Nevada where in high school studied automotive technology. His interest in technology has led to studying Mechanical Engineering and minoring in Business Administration at the University of Nevada, Reno. Jonathan has worked for a stainless-steel manufacturing company during his time as an undergraduate. At this position Jonathan was able to improve upon his knowledge of the manufacturing process. This has helped Jonathan learn the procedure of designing products for production through programs like SolidWorks and AutoCAD. Jonathan hopes to use his skills with computer aided design programs to find a career in manufacturing and industrial design. During his free time Jonathan creates three dimensional models in SolidWorks to produce 3-D prints and photo-realistic renders. Jonathan also aspires to open his own engineering consulting firm in the future.
Kevin Nunez is currently a senior in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Nevada, Reno. Kevin was born in Reno, but was not in Nevada for very long because his family relocated to Washington for a few years. Kevin completed his high school education back in Reno, and because of his involvement in robotics throughout middle and high school, Kevin found a passion for engineering, deciding to pursue a mechanical engineering degree. Kevin has come to heavily value the friendships that he found through his time in the Engineering program, and highly their respects their opinions, knowledge, and assistance over the last four years. Kevin will be looking to graduate by the end of 2018 as a Mechanical Engineer, and pursuing a Master’s Business Administration. Kevin is currently an active member of the Professional Co-Ed Engineering Fraternity, Theta Tau, and a proud member of the University of Nevada’s Dota 2 eSports team. Kevin will be looking to pursue a career in the robotics field after graduating. Kevin’s goal has always been to find a way to help people in need, and that has lead him down the field of improving robotic prosthetics.
A special thanks to our mentors Sierra Gonzales and Kallie Winners for all the helpful advice, the entire machine shop staff, and all others involved in the success of this project.