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Inspecting sealed food pouches at speed

20 March 2023

Find out how thermal inspection has speeded up output on the production lines of one global food brand.

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At a time when costs are rising alarmingly, ever more food companies are starting to open up to the idea that automation can help minimise waste and reduce downtime.

Just one example that demonstrates how automation can offer huge benefits is the case of a multinational food corporation based in South-East Asia, which recently approached Bytronic Vision Intelligence to help it find a solution to reduce waste and knock-on production line costs caused by mandatory downtime as a result of contamination.

The factory packages food and hygiene products in sealed pouches and regularly ships out everything from liquid food and yoghurt to shampoo. Unfortunately, the organisation was battling a mounting waste problem caused by issues with ensuring that each pouch was correctly sealed.

If a pouch wasn’t correctly sealed, the product could leak out in transit and contaminate an entire delivery or, worse yet, rupture during production and cause the entire line to need to be shut down and decontaminated – and all exposed product would need to be disposed of. 

A big problem
This was a big problem – producing around three pouches every second across seven production lines, over 1.8 million pouches an hour or 12.7 million in a week, every second of downtime created costly run-offs and delays that negatively impacted both its deliverables and its reputation throughout the supply chain.

John Dunlop, chief technology officer and founder of Bytronic Vision Intelligence and lead integrator for this application, explains how Bytronic’s SealCheck thermal camera system was able to help the company halve wastage and reduced costs.

“The manufacturer found it was producing much more waste than it wanted – mainly because there are all kinds of variables in the packaging process. Using heated jaws, its machines plant a pouch to seal the sides and the backs of each product. But there are a lot of variables going on with this – temperature, the jaws themselves, the pressure applied, the speed, the position, the material that they are making, the pouches – the list goes on and on.”

A trial was set up using Bytronic’s portable trial kit which contained everything required for making accurate readings in one location. This solution was able to clearly show the distinction between the baseline temperature of the pouches and the temperature of the plastic after being sealed – which is 175°C. This allowed the identification and isolation of any pouches that were incorrectly sealed in as little as 50-100 milliseconds, enabling them to be removed from the line before they leaked or ruptured – thus preventing product loss and eliminating unnecessary downtime.

 “The critical thing to note is that we were using a non-contact inspection method that can see things that humans simply can’t. Operators cannot just look at a pouch and tell whether it is properly sealed. So, operators traditionally would simply run samples, typically picking up a pouch and squeezing it or putting it in a clamp to see if it’s properly sealed,” continued Dunlop. “That brings its inherent problems. If, for example, testing one in every 1000 packs, then it might be that you just happened to choose the one that was properly sealed and the remaining 999 of them were not properly sealed – it’s entirely possible.” 

With the Bytronic solution, this is no longer necessary. The thermal, non-contact method for inline inspection makes failures on the production line clearly visible. 

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