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Seeing synergy in combined solutions

03 July 2020

Suzanne Gill finds out more about a new combined checkweighing and metal detection solution, which has been developed with the needs of the food industry in mind. 

Discussing the launch of the company’s first combined checkweighing and metal detection solution, Phil Brown, managing director at Fortress Technology and Sparc Systems, said: “There is a great deal of synergy in terms of complementary technology between weighing and inspection. While they may be used for very different applications many of the functionalities are common to both.”

Combining the two technologies can therefore offer cost savings due to the better utilisation of common elements, such as the drives. It can also offer functionality improvements due to the fact that users will become more familiar with the system and there will be commonality of data capture. 

The new Raptor Combi – which is the result of a joint-venture with Sparc Systems – offers a good example. It is designed for use in high-care food applications so hygiene and cleanability features abound. It is able to inspect and check up to 150 packs per minute. It can handle pack sizes of up to 400mm and weights of up to 8kg, calculating Average Finished Weight Variance. 

Space on the food factory floor is always at a premium so minimising the overall footprint of the combined units was a key consideration during the design process of the new Raptor Combi. “Traditionally the two separate systems would take up a lot of valuable space on the production line,” explained Brown. “Combining the technologies and more effectively utilising the reject mechanisms, for example, has enabled us to offer valuable space savings. Every small space saving can help make the  overall production line length far more manageable.”

Answering calls
Brown believes that the new Raptor Combi answers calls from food factories for a more flexible, hygienic and user-friendly combination inspection solution. It features jigsaw style panels at the metal detector infeed and checkweigher outfeed, which give manufacturers the option to rotate the equipment around to suit a specific production layout, while maintaining the metal detection and checkweighing sequence.

Of course, when it comes to specifying both weighing and product inspection equipment one of the most important considerations will relate to the need for compliance because the food industry has a legal and moral requirement to produce products that are fit for to human consumption and which also meets weights and measures requirements.

This led Brown to highlight another useful feature of the Raptor Combi for the food industry. “Because we supply so many food manufacturers who supply supermarkets throughout the UK, we have built up an in-depth of knowledge about their different Codes of Practice (COP) requirements. We have been able to take pretty much every code of practice in existence within the food industry and integrate them into a  software solution which helps our customers adhere to the many COPs that they must comply with on a daily basis.  

Given that most food manufacturers supply multiple retailers, this feature offers an automated test routine solution that is failsafe, paperless, and auditable. Rather than relying on operatives to schedule, perform, document and submit inspection performance checks, the software in the Raptor Combi is able to pre-configure every test by retailer and product being inspected and can alert QA managers each time a test is overdue.
Performed at the start and end of each shift, and at regular intervals, a visual reminder is given five minutes before every test is due, with a beacon alerting production operatives to schedule the test. If not performed by the deadline, the machine halts and an alert is generated and sent direct to the factory’s QA or technical manager.
A simple process
The test process is clearly explained and is simple to undertake. Using the touchscreen, operatives select from a list of pre-programmed retailer COP parameters, and the product being inspected.  When a test pack passes through the Raptor Combi, a sensor confirms it has been seen, generating a dated due diligence report, signed by the operative on the screen. Notes can be added before submission. “Using automation to follow the test principles, makes it impossible to bypass a step in the test process, increasing the transparency and traceability of machine performance audits,” said Brown. “An in-built USB means that when new COPs are introduced, the upgrade process is simple.” 

The Covid-19 pandemic has required all businesses to focus on ensuring that safe working practices are in place across the board and that staff are able to work in a safe environment. I asked Brown whether he thinks this will have an effect on engineering projects and technology adoption. He answered cautiously, but positively. He is still seeing a lot of activity within the food and beverage manufacturing sector and is seeing engineering projects still moving forward. However, he believes that many projects are likely to be deferred by a few months as companies watch closely to see how Government advice changes to allow people to get back to work and to ensure that contractors are able to work safely within factories. “While the production floors of most food manufacturers are still in full swing, many of the support services – responsible to purchasing and project management are currently working remotely and this could hamper decision-making processes, but only in the short-term” he concluded.

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