Hamburger is a convenient product consumed all over the world and many fast food restaurants offer this popular preparation as a standard item in their menu. The product is so simple that it can be made in a few minutes for serving fresh to the consumer. Hamburger, supposed to have originated in Hamburg in Germany around 1890, became famous being accepted universally all over the world by 1940. Patties from ground meat sandwiched between two rolls of bread is the basic product which can also be prepared using supplementary ingredients like onion, lettuce, tomato etc. World over it is estimated that more than 100 billion Hamburger sandwiches are sold and according to one estimate, if they are arranged in a line side by side, it can cover the earth's circumference 32 times! Americans alone consume about 25 billion burgers annually. Design and fabrication of a mechanized automated burger making machine with a capacity to churn out 400 pieces an hour, announced recently, is going to be a boon to many restaurants when it is available commercially. A classical example of a market driven development heading for unqualified success. The Tortilla plant developed in Brazil is another similar example of market driven endeavor.
One is reminded of attempts in India to mechanize preparation of many ethnic foods without much success. The Tirupati Temple( TTD) laddus which were being made earlier completely by hand received attention of CFTRI as early as 1980s but even to day design of a continuous machine similar to the hamburger machine reported has not yet emerged. Imagine the usefulness of such an automated plant for making laddus which are in great demand, the temple management not being able to increase production through manual practice. Still credit goes to TTD for introducing several mechanized gadgets for syrup making, mixing and some other operations which made it possible to make products which are much safer with minimum human intervention. Another case is that of Sabarimala Neyyappam which even to day is made manually though the current production is not able to meet even a small part of the demand from pilgrims visiting this shrine.
The point is not that nothing is being done by food technologists and engineers in the country for mechanization of preparation processes of many popular foods of Indian origin. CFTRI has done yeoman service in designing a few such machines for the food service industry though only a limited number of plants are in working mode. The machines that make Roti, Idli, Dosa etc are technically sound but the transformation of these designs into viable and rugged production models did not materialize in most cases for which both the user industry and CFTRI must be equally blamed. The dedicated Food Engineering Center at Mysore, floated by the Ministry of Food Processing Industry (MFPI) of Government of India during mid 1990s never took off due to many reasons least of which was the leadership turmoil that affected the functioning of the institution, suffering direction and long term vision.
Probably a time has come now for taking a deeper look at the engineering needs of India's small and micro scale enterprises who are engaged in making about 5000 and odd different types of ethnic products made and consumed in various parts of the country. The MFPI which a few of its own food technology centers, CSIR with many multi disciplinary technological and engineering institutions under its aegis and Universities having food technology programs must join hands in taking up a time bound development program in traditional food manufacturing area on a mission mode to transform the primitive industry into a high tech one. The time frame must be not more than 5-6 years with close monthly monitoring and mid course adjustment to accomplish the objective. The country must keep in mind that it is only the small scale sector of Indian food industry which is starved of technology and engineering back up while all the big fish that control the market have access to global technologies and local resources to develop what they want in double quick time.
Mechanization is an integral part of food industry in many developed countries where manual labor is becoming increasingly in short supply and preparation of Hamburgers involve workers with different handling functions to turn out large numbers in short time. Besides intervention by humans invariably poses risk of contamination including infection with pathogenic microbes. But Indian situation is different as food industry is being looked upon as an extension of the agricultural sector with large expectation for generating value addition and contribute better to the economy of the country. Therefore success or failure of the processing sector will have an adverse impact on the millions of farmers in the country. Failure is not an option for the present day India and efforts are to be redoubled to make the small scale and micro enterprises sector a dynamic and vibrant one.
Full automation is not what is being sought for but a hybrid versions of plants with most of the unit operations mechanized. Employment generation is still a national objective and therefore full automation may reduce the employment content significantly which is not desirable at least for the present. Indian scientists, technologists, engineers with expertise in food processing are second to none in terms of their ingenuity, creativity and innovation potential. All that is needed is to repose confidence in them, fire their imagination, provide motivating type of leaders with good track records and policy and financial support to bring the best out of them. There is till some hope that India can yet become the food basket to the entire world!