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Weighing up the productivity benefits

15 March 2021

Food Processing investigates how modern weighing and inspection technologies can have a direct and positive effect on productivity. 

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The confectionery industry undergoes constant change. Whether producing boiled or soft sweets, chocolate or gummy sweets  there is a need to create seasonal or special event products alongside the standard range. In addition, there are always new nutritional trends to consider and increasing consumer demands with regards to more environmentally-friendly packaging. This requires confectionery production plants to have a high level of flexibility, in addition to strict production control. At the same time, competitive pressure means all production steps need to be continuously optimised. 

The increasing use of automation and digitalisation opens up considerable potential for savings. This includes weighing and inspection solutions. “There are many areas where we think weighing and inspection solutions can have a direct positive impact on productivity for confectionery producers,” said Willy-Sebastian Metzger, director of Strategy, Business & Marketing at Minebea Intec. 

When chocolate, gummy sweets or candy is poured into moulds, there is considerable potential for savings by determining exact filling quantities. There is also potential for optimisation of filling equipment on the packaging line. If sweets are filled loosely into tubular bags, for example, over filling is often necessary to avoid under filling. However, Synus or Flexus checkweighers from Minebea Intec have a special option – Trend Control – which controls the upstream filling, portioning or cutting machine so that the defined target weight is achieved as accurately as possible and is kept constant. This helps prevent unnecessary over filling or under filling and permanently reduces rejects and therefore material waste. Franz-Josef Laumann, plant manager at Sulá GmbH in Germany was convinced: “Checkweighers from Minebea Intec have been a permanent fixture of our confectionery production for around 30 years. Their reliable technology and their simple operation have been true cornerstones of our system reliability”.

Silo solution
To determine the quantity of material used, precise measurement results are also required on silos for storage and process vessels. Digital and analogue load cells and weighing electronics can accurately determine filling levels. Weighing mixing systems, in particular, is a challenge due to the interfering lateral forces. Here, Minebea Intec’s Novego hygienic weighing modules are said to offer precision – even with lateral forces of up to 20% of the load. For the monitoring of all processes, statistical process control software provides an overview of all processes and thus offers possibilities for process control: SPC@Enterprise from Minebea Intec records data from static and dynamic scales, metal detectors and other systems. The data can be stored for documentation purposes for audits, and can also be prepared for process evaluation, laying the foundations for process optimisation. 

Metal detectors and X-ray inspection systems also have a role to play in process optimisation. Their ability to accurately detect foreign objects and reject contaminated packaging or raw materials keeps rejects to a minimum.  

Quality will be identified most clearly when it is missing – an incorrectly applied label, for example, will leave consumers with a feeling of poor product quality. “It’s even worse when foreign objects are present,” said Metzger. “They can come from various places on the production line, starting with screws and nuts loosened by vibration during the process. Foreign objects can also enter the production process via supplied raw materials. They can clog up nozzles, damage grinders and are not just a daily threat to the production process: if they get into the product unnoticed, they can endanger the health of consumers and brand reputation.” Metal detectors can detect metal parts made of iron, steel and stainless steel and also non-ferrous metals such as aluminium. From the size of the outlet opening to the product effect, a number of factors can influence the attainable detection result. “Expert advice is definitely helpful in this regard,” concluded Metzger. “An X-ray inspection system can identify a much larger number of physical foreign objects such as metals, glass, rubber, stones and even certain types of plastics. In recent years, X-ray inspection systems have become more powerful, reliable and user-friendly and some are able to not only detect foreign objects, but can also check weight, the number of product components, fill levels or the seal integrity of packaging, helping to further reduce production costs and maintain brand reputation.

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