In the July issue of the “Hot Topics in Tech” newsletter series, we give you a birds-eye view of the patent landscape on the confectionery industry and its recent use of health substitutes. This issue also provides a quick foray into the technology of digital twins and its applications.
Confectioneries: Evolving Innovation Around Healthy Alternatives
From children to adults, who doesn’t love a treat? Traditional confections can be traced all the way back to ancient times. In the middle ages, confections were considered a luxury product affordable by only the affluent. The confectionery industry opened up to the wider market the 19th century due to advances in sugar processing and mass production of goods. Early confectioners relied on empirical knowledge and manual labor which is a far cry from modern manufacturing processes underpinned by automation and precision engineering.
Confectionery products can be broadly categorized into sugar confections and bakers’ confections based on the end products. Baker’s confections include cakes, pastries, baked goods, etc. Sugar confectionery can include a wide range of products such as candy, toffee, lollies, chocolate and chewing gum, among others. The candies in sugar confectionery can further be classified based on crunchiness and texture into soft candies, jelly candies, hard candies, granulated sugar coated candies, crunch candies, chewable candies, and multilayered candies. Some of the important properties associated with sugar confectionery include water activity, colligative properties, solubility, and the need to use a mixture of sugars. Confectioners modulate various physiochemical properties of the composition to provide uniqueness to their sugar confectionery, e.g. jellies, gum, licorice, toffees, coatings and aerated products.
Excessive consumption of candy has been linked to several negative health issues. Currently there is consumer demand for functional products focusing on healthy, natural and speciality ingredients which offer indulgence and responsibility while snacking. Major confectionery brands are now experimenting with sugar substitutes, functionality substitutes, nutritional and healthy ingredients, vitamin-fortified candies, vegan products, cannabis for ultra-indulgent treats, natural alternatives, oral hygiene products, and nutraceutical gums in their products. For instance, the naturally-sourced stevia is seen as a substitute for aspartame and other high-intensity sweeteners. The dietary fiber inulin and its derivatives is seen as a substitute for both bulking and sweetness in various applications. Similarly, xylitol extracted from woody plant material in hard candies is claimed to have less laxative effective than sorbitol. Recently, Nestle introduced a new dark chocolate bar made entirely from cocoa without added sugar in an attempt to stay ahead of changing consumer tastes and trends. The product uses pulp from around the cacao bean for its high fructose content instead of adding refined sugar.
Patent filings in the last 10 years show a steep rise in use of healthy substitutes and functional ingredients within the confectionery industry (Fig. 1). As shown in Fig. 2, the top patent filers include Mars Inc, Nestle S.A., Mondelez International Inc, Unilever, Cargill Inc, Fuji Oil, Roquette Group, Lotte Co, Sudzucker AG, Meiji Holdings Co, DowDupont, General Mills Inc, and Hershey Co. China has the most number of patent filings within this technology, followed by the US and Europe (Fig. 3).
Fig.1: Patent filing trend within confectionery sector
Fig 2: Top Players with highest count of patent families (above) and the major technology areas within the space.
Fig 3: Map showing the country of origin of the patent and count of patent families.
There are several interesting patent applications filed in the last 10 years. For instance, US20190053512A1 discusses the preparation of chewing candy with allulose and soluble dietary fibers. Several other patent filings mention use of allulose as a sugar substitute. US20120095088A1 discloses a process of mixing medicinal cannabis into ingredients of candies.
FDA oversight and customer demand provides additional motivation for the confectionary industry to have clean labels. In April 2019, the FDA declared the low-calorie sweetener allulose to be excluded from total and added sugars counts on nutrition facts labels, as it is not metabolized by the human body in the same way as table sugar. This decision may allow key players to consider adding allulose to chocolates to get around the high sugar conundrum. A recently issued guideline to prevent misleading labels for syrups, honey and other products requires the percent Daily Value (DV) for added sugars on their labels.
The candy market, as part of the confectionery industry, was valued at USD 79.35 billion in 2018. The steady growth in patent filings, increasing regulatory oversight and customer demand will drive future innovation in candies around functional products, such as those focusing on healthy substitutes.
Digital Twin Technology: Endless Possibilities
Digital Twin refers to a digital replica of a product, process or system that virtually represents its life-cycle and decision making capability. Additionally, it allows analysis of data and monitoring of systems to detect problems before they occur, preventing downtime, and opening up new opportunities, including planning for the future.
One of the major applications of the technology is in simulating physical assets before product launch. It takes years for an engineer or scientist to turn an idea into a working prototype. Besides the time involved, there are other problems to avoid such as the real-time faults, errors, the need for reworking and fixing, re-engineering, redesigning, troubleshooting and testing. Predictive analysis and risk assessment allow us to ensure that the likelihood of these occurring is mitigated.
With digital twin, all the above said difficulties and tasks and the expenses involved can be brought down. A computer-aided model replicating a physical substance interacts with the physical substance using data collected from sensors attached to it. The sensor data is fed to the digital model to imitate the real-time functions. This data helps in identifying problems, optimizing performance, maintaining the regime and correcting future risks.
Fig 4: Digital twin process flow chart
What differentiates digital twin from augmented or virtual reality and from other simulation techniques, is that while AR/ VR are unreal representations without any integrating real-time information into the system, in digital twin real-time data and parameters are fed to the system to imitate the performance.
Digital twin can, however, be used alongside AR/VR. VR allows its users to immerse themselves in the environment of the digital twin. On the other hand, the digital twin of a machine can be overlaid on top of it using AR, allowing users to visualize the machine’s inner workings and understand its data flows enabling faster and more effective decision-making.
Digital twin may be merged with technologies like Internet of Things (IoT) to enhance preventive maintenance and analytics/AI (artificial intelligence)-based optimization of the physical system and operational processes. Smart buildings are an excellent example of applications that stand to benefit from machine learning capabilities in the digital twin.
Fig 6: Digital Twin shown alongside virtual reality
Other industries influenced by digital twin include the manufacturing industry, wherein the technology allows optimized and more efficient emulations with reduced throughput times. Sports sectors such as Formula 1 cars, wind turbines in locomotives, jet engines are also manufacturing technologies where digital twin finds its application. Space technology is the pioneering industry that devised this technology, and it continues to find varied applications here. The retail industry opens opportunities by digitizing customer experience by making mirror twins for customers and modeling fashions for them on it. City planning ventures such as policy making, grievances, economic development, administration and quality of life are sectors hoping to be improved with emulation models provided by digital twin.
In healthcare, personalized patient monitoring, preventative cure, health predictions and analysis can be effectively managed with zero-risk using digital twin. Surgical procedures and the effects of certain drugs may also be tested and monitored digitally before they’re implemented onto patients.
Digital twin technology is starting to emerge as a key area of focus for technology giants looking to capitalize on the broad area of applications. It has a long way to go before it becomes integrated with other emerging technologies such as IOT, Block chain and AI.