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A control system for olive oil production

A new sensor measures oil content in olive paste, allowing real-time factory automation. This development means more complete oil extraction, greater yields and improved profitability for oil producers.
A control system for olive oil production
Extracting olive oil can be a highly variable and sub-optimal process because of the many climatic and biological factors affecting oil production. Conventional techniques may leave substantial amounts of unextracted oil because mill masters generally make decisions first and receive feedback much later.

What is needed is a control system that analyses the extraction in real time. To achieve this, the EU funded the 'Development of a novel, cost effective technique to optimise olive oil production' (OLICEMATIC) project. This consortium brought together eight European research organisations and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). It aimed to produce a control system that automatically controls critical parameters for the optimisation of olive oil production.

In doing so, the project addressed two gaps in the current market. These were the need for a control system and component sensors that measure the oil/water content in olive oil and all related by-products.

The OLICEMATIC sensor depends on near-infrared (NIR) technology to continually detect the oil/water content in olive paste. The control system runs the sensor input through predictive software models and optimisation algorithms in order to drive automated machinery.

During its tenure, the project developed and tested all needed system components. The NIR sensor was shown to work effectively, and three custom models were integrated into different points of an oil production plant. Furthermore, a network of other physical sensors was installed in the plant, yielding baseline data about processing temperatures and flow rates.

All resulting data were incorporated into a plant system model, which made processing decisions and controlled plant machinery. The complete system was validated on an industrial-scale 4 000 kg/hour facility. The prototype system is considered to need refinement to improve its functionality and to reduce its installation costs.

The prototype showed a yield improvement of around 1 % and facilitated improved quality. The system also eliminates the need for external chemical analyses. Furthermore, by optimising the oil extraction process, the resulting wastewater is easier and less hazardous to recycle. All these factors combine to translate into improved profitability for European SMEs.

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