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Making the invisible visible!

13 June 2024

Find out more about the role that hyperspectral technology has to play in ensuring flawless seal seam inspection of coloured packaging.

Fast-changing consumer demands requires food producers to constantly innovate when it comes to marketing activities to ensure a product continues to appeal to its target audience. One example of this is the increased use of coloured lidding films on packaging to enhance the appeal and brand identity of a product. 

However, these aesthetic improvements also bring challenges, particularly in the area of quality control. Conventional camera technologies reach their limits when it comes to checking the integrity of seal seam joints under coloured lidding films. Despite the challenges this inspection task is necessary to guarantee the calculated best-before date of and to ensure food quality on the supermarket shelf. 

This is where the hyperspectral image processing is able to offer a solution, according to Minebea-Intec. 

Traditionally, transparent films have been used in food packaging to pro-vide a clear view of the seal seam. With the transition to coloured lidding films, monitoring the seal seam becomes more difficult. Conventional camera systems use visible light to capture images, but this light can be absorbed or reflected by the colours of the cover films, resulting in blurred or even invisible images of the seal seam. 

A clear view 
Hyperspectral image processing utilises an innovative solution to this problem. It utilises a broadband halogen light that radiates in a spectrum of wavelengths that go far beyond visible light. This extended wavelength range makes it possible to collect information about the material properties of the objects being analysed, including those that are invisible to the human eye.

In hyperspectral image processing, the object is illuminated with broadband halogen light. The surface of the object interacts in a specific way with the different wavelengths of light. An important element in this process is the spectral camera, which analyses the reflected and absorbed light. This camera is able to capture in-formation in hundreds or even thousands of closely consecutive spectral bands. With the VisioPointer, Minebea Intec is now able to offer a visual inspection solution that utilises this technology.

The use of hyperspectral imaging in the food industry can offer a number of advantages. These are said to include:

Detection of contamination: Even the smallest contaminations or irregularities below the coloured seal seam, which would not be visible to the naked eye, can be detected by analysing the spectral data.

Material recognition: Hyperspectral image processing enables different materials and substances to be distinguished based on their characteristic spectral signatures. This is particularly useful for identifying foreign bodies or unwanted substances.

Quality control: The technology enables efficient and reliable quality control of packaging and products, which ultimately increases customer satisfaction and trust in the brand.

Reduction of rejects: Precise detection of defects or contamination can minimise rejects and waste, resulting in cost savings.

Wide range of possible applications: In addition to the seal seam check, visual inspection also enables classic optical inspection processes such as the correct positioning of a label, reading and evaluation (OCR/V) of the date, for example, as well as the legibility of a barcode or QR code. It can also be used to detect foreign objects.

Inspection criteria
The VisioPointer offers a wide range of inspection criteria of a single device, supported by three cameras as standard, several types of lighting and optional side and satellite cameras for multi-sided analysis. Added to this is the range of customisation options for integration into packaging lines. Classic optical inspection processes – such as checking the correct placement of a label, reading and evaluating (OCR/V) the date, for example, and the legibility of a barcode or QR code – can also be integrated into the optical inspection and expanded to include additional criteria such as colour, shape or placement of the packaging contents. 

The systems are supplied with infeed and outfeed conveyors, appropriate housing for optimum lighting conditions and a terminal for teaching in the products and monitoring the inspection. An automatic rejector for faulty pro-ducts is also available. ERP connectivity and cloud-enabled production analysis provide a multi-layered overview of production performance as well as comprehensive analysis and logging options for the data generated.

Hyperspectral imaging undoubtedly has the potential to take quality assurance and contamination detection in the food industry to a new level. By making invisible information visible, it helps to ensure the safety, freshness and quality of products. At the same time, it makes it possible to meet the ever-increasing aesthetic demands placed on packaging and helps food manufacturers to look to the future with efficiency and a spirit of innovation.

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