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Advances in combined solutions

26 April 2021

Challenged by ever-evolving regulatory and safety demands, and with space at a premium in processing and production plants, Frank Borrmann explains how checkweighing and contaminant detection technologies are now also being integrated with vision inspection technology. 

There is a lot for food manufacturers to consider these days. Increasingly there is a need to be able to demonstrate traceability at both product and batch levels. This is especially important in ‘sensitive’ products, such as baby food, where the consumer is incredibly vulnerable. In these cases products are starting to be individually serialized, helping to add another layer of food safety and consumer protection such as instant traceability, product recalls and real-time authentication. 

Across the food manufacturing sector, increasingly strict regulations are placing greater emphasis on vision inspection technology as a means to enhance product quality and safety, as well as carrying out the data collection that creates the foundation for traceability.

The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted the increasing importance of vision inspection on the production line. For example, manual spot check sampling has been complicated by the need for social distancing meaning that fewer people can perform inspection duties within a defined space. Yet the task still needs to carried out, especially as retailers are never shy of claiming financial compensation when products on their shelves are found to have faulty barcoding. Automated vision inspection solutions require no social distancing and are also able to check every single product.

Food manufacturers grappling with these issues know that there are multiple product inspection technologies – metal detection, x-ray, checkweighing, vision and track and trace – available that can help them respond to evolving market requirements: the problem has been physically fitting all of this equipment into already cramped production and packaging facilities.

Combining solutions
Traditionally, two separate product inspection technologies have been combined as standard – for example, a checkweigher with a metal detector or with an x-ray system within a single frame. However, technology advances have now made it possible to integrate three product inspection technologies in a one off-the-shelf system, or as a customised solution, saving more factory floor space. 

Using the checkweigher as the core technology, Mettler Toledo offers a system is combined with either metal detection or x-ray inspection and now also incorporates vision inspection. A further combination solution is also available in the marketplace; a checkweigher paired with track and trace technology. In addition, a wide range of custom developments – including multi-lane, multi-technology systems as well as building a range of accessories, such as printers – can be built into the solution.

The benefits of any integrated or combination solutions are magnified further with a triple combination product inspection system: a huge amount of technology is packed into a small footprint, and they only need to deal with a single supplier to cover multiple needs. 

Control at the CCP
One question often asked when integrated product inspection solutions are discussed is what happens if one part of the system goes wrong – does this not drag the entire product inspection system offline? The short answer is no! All Critical Control Points (CCPs) remain alive, so that the combination system continues to reject contaminated or non-conforming products. All Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs) on any part of the combination system are integrated and communicate with each other. If one HMI fails, another will take over and ensure that the CCP continues to function. This failsafe design ensures that no contaminated product can reach the supermarket shelf. 

The three-in-one solution can also be combined with data management software thereby storing the product inspection images externally. This has additional benefits such as traceability, quick data retrieval and proving due diligence.

Combination product inspection systems are designed to meet a growing need in the marketplace. Food manufacturers are challenged with ever more stringent demands, and consumer safety and regulatory compliance are among their highest priorities. Technology is undoubtedly the answer, but space constraints are an issue for most food manufacturers. Integrated product inspection systems can provide an answer to these problems. 

Manufacturers can monitor product, packaging and label quality, and therefore address the many consumer safety, compliance and traceability challenges they face, from a single, compact device. 

Frank Borrmann is market manager at Mettler-Toledo Garvens.

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