The Digitization of Cooking



Smart, connected, programmable cooking appliances are coming to market that deliver consumer value in the form of convenience, quality, and consistency by making use of digital content about the food the appliances cook. Solid state RF energy is emerging as a leading form of programmable energy to enable these benefits.

Home Cooking Appliance Market
The cooking appliance market is a large (>270M units/yr.) and relatively slow growing (3-4% CAGR) segment of the home appliance market. For the purposes of this article, cooking appliances are aggregated into three broad categories:

  1. Ovens (such as ranges and built ins), with an annual global shipment rate of 57M units[1]
  2. Microwave Ovens, with an annual global shipment rate of 74M units[2]
  3. Small Cooking Appliances, with an approximate annual global shipment rate of 138M units[3]

Figure 1:  Among the newer, non-traditional appliances coming online is the Miele Dialog oven, which employs RF energy and interfaces to a proprietary application via WiFi (Courtesy Miele).

Appliance analysts generally cite increasing disposable income and the steady rise in the standard of living globally as primary factors contributing to cooking appliance market growth. These have greatest impact in economically developing regions such as BRIC countries. However, there are other factors shaping cooking appliance features and capabilities, which are beginning to influence a change in the type of appliance consumers purchase to serve their lifestyle interests. Broad environmental factors include connectivity and cloud services, which make access to information and valuable services possible from OEM’s and third parties. Individual interests in improving health and wellbeing drive up-front food sourcing decisions and can also impact the selection and use of certain cooking appliances based on their ability to deliver healthy cooking results.

Food as Digital Content?
Yes, food is being ‘digitized’ in the form of online recipes, nutrition information, sources of origin, and freshness. Recipes as digital content have been available online almost since the widespread use of the internet as consumers and foodies flocked to readily available information on the web for everything from the latest nouveau cuisine to the everyday dinner. Over the past several years, new companies and services have been emerging to bring even more digital food content to the consumer and are now working to make this same information available directly to the cooking appliances themselves. Such companies break down the composition of foods and recipes into their discrete elements and offer information on calories, fat content, the amount of sodium, etc. as well as about the food being used in a recipe, the recipe itself, and the instructions to the cook—or to the appliance—on how best to cook the food.

In many ways, this is analogous to the transition of TV content moving from analog to digital broadcast, and TVs’ transition from tubes (analog) to solid state (LCD, OLED, etc.) formats. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine how this will enable a number of potential new uses and services including, but not limited to, guided recipe prep and execution, personalization of recipes, inventory management and food waste reduction, and appliances with automated functionality to fully execute recipes.

It’s Getting Hot in Here
A common thread among all cooking appliances is that they provide at least one source of heat (energy) in order to perform their basic task. In almost every cooking appliance, that source of heat is a resistive element of some form.

Resistive elements can be very fast to rise to temperature, but must raise the ambient temperature over time to the target temperature used in a recipe. Once the ambient temperature is raised the food must undergo a transfer of energy from the ambient environment, to raise its temperature. The time needed to heat a cavity volume to the recipe starting temperature contributes to the overall cooking timeline and is generally a waste of energy. Just as the resistive element takes time to increase the ambient temperature, it also takes a long time to reduce the ambient temperature, and furthermore, relies on a person monitoring the cooking process to do so. This renders the final cooking result as a very subjective outcome. Resistive elements also degrade with time, causing them to become more inefficient and lower overall temperature output. The increased cooking time for a given recipe and the amount of attention required to assure a reasonable outcome burden the user.

Solid state RF cooking solutions on the other hand are noted for their ability to instantly begin to heat food as a result of the ability of RF energy to penetrate materials and to propagate heat through the dipole effect[4]. Thus, no waiting for the ambient cavity to warm to a suitable temperature is needed before cooking commences, which can appreciably reduce cooking time. When implemented in a closed loop, digitally controlled circuit, RF energy can be precisely increased and decreased with immediate effect on the food, thus resulting in the ability to precisely control the final cooking outcome.

Figure 2:  Maximum available power for heating effectiveness and speed along with high RF gain and efficiency are among the features of RF components serving the needs of cooking appliances.

In addition, solid state devices are inherently reliable, as there are no moving parts or components that tend to degrade in performance over time. Solid state RF power transistors such as those from NXP Semiconductor are built in silicon laterally diffused metal oxide semiconductor (LDMOS) and may demonstrate 20-year lifetime durability without reduction in performance or functionality (Figure 2). RF components can be designed specifically for the consumer and commercial cooking appliance market in order to deliver the optimum performance and functionality specific to the cooking appliance application. This includes maximum available power for heating effectiveness and speed, high RF gain and efficiency for high-efficiency systems, and RF ICs for compact and cost-effective PCB design.

The Digital Cooking Appliance
At the appliance level, a significant trend underway is the transition away from the conventional appliance that supports analog cooking methods—defined as using a set temperature, set time, and continuously checking the progress. These traditional appliances have remained largely unchanged in terms of their performance or functionality for decades, and OEMs producing these appliances suffer from continuous margin pressure owing in large part to their relative commodity nature. However, newer innovative appliances coming to market are utilizing digital cooking methods which make use of sensors to provide measurement and feedback, and programmable cooking recipes which are able to access deep pools of information such as recipes, prep methods, and food composition information, online and off, to drive intelligent algorithms that enable automation and differentiated cooking results. Miele recently announced its breakthrough Dialog Oven featuring the use of RF energy in addition to convection and radiant heat, and a WiFi connection for interfacing to Miele’s proprietary application (Figure 1).

Solid state RF cooking sub-system reference designs and architectures such as NXP’s MHT31250C provide the programmable, real time, closed loop control of the energy (heat) created and distributed in the cooking appliance. Solid state RF cooking sub-systems such as this must provide necessary functionality from the signal generator, RF amplifier, RF measurement, and digital control, as well as a means to interface or communicate with the sub-system through an application programming interface (API) for instance. Emerging standards to facilitate the broad adoption of solid state RF cooking solutions into appliances are being addressed through technical associations such as the RF Energy Alliance (rfenergy.org), which is working on a cross-industry basis to develop proposed standard architectures to support solid state RF cooking solutions.

With fully programmable control over power, frequency, and other operational parameters, a solid state RF cooking sub-system can operate across as many as four modules. It can deliver a total of 1000W of heating power, making it possible to differentiate levels of cooking precision as well as use multiple energy feeds to distribute the energy for more even cooking temperatures.

Solid state RF cooking sub-systems provide RF power measurement continuously during the cooking process which enables the appliance to adapt to the actual cooking process and progress underway in real time. Having additional sensor or measurement inputs can also help improve the appliances recipe execution. It is the real-time control plus real time measurement capability which enables adaptive functionality in the appliance. This is important for accommodating changes in food composition, as well as enabling revisions, replacement, and additions to recipes delivered remotely from a cloud based service provider or the OEM. With access to a growing pool of digital details about the food to be cooked, the appliance can determine the best range of parameters to execute for achieving the desired cooking outcome.


Dan Viza is the Director of Global Product Management for RF Heating Products at NXP Semiconductor (www.nxp.com). A veteran of the electronics and semiconductor industry with more than 20 years of experience leading strategy, development, and commercialization of new technologies in fields of robotics, molecular biology, sensors, automotive radar, and RF cooking, Viza holds four U.S. patents. He graduated with highest honors from Rochester Institute of Technology and holds an MBA from the University of Edinburgh in the UK.

 

 

[1] “Major Home Appliance Market Report 2017”

[2]  “Small Home Personal Care Appliance Report 2014”

[3]  Wikipedia.org

[4] Wikipedia.org

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