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Latest vision technology proves 'vital for traceability'

23 July, 2013

The latest vision technology helps cut manufacturing costs by providing 'an extra set of eyes' to prevent traceability mistakes.

No matter what sector you operate in, today's manufacturing market is highly competitive. More than ever before, effective supply-chain management is a key factor for business growth – and in some cases, survival.

There are a number of problems that can be caused by untraceable product due to faulty coding, including potentially-disastrous product recalls and loss of crucial income.

According to Matthews Australasia general manager – operations, Mark Dingley, prevention is the best solution, with new vision technology systems able to stop uncoded or mis-labelled products going out the factory door in the first place.

"Coding serves two purposes: it identifies goods, and it is vital for traceability in the supply chain – be that primary coding, carton, secondary coding or SSCC pallet labelling, or all of them," Dingley told IndustrySearch.

"There are a variety of issues or problems that production lines can experience around date coding, batch coding, bar coding and labelling, including: coding and labelling errors that lead to re-work and wastage; managing multi-coder production lines; managing coders on several production lines; and complying with legal and retailer requirements.

"Date or use-by coding, for instance, is a legal requirement on some goods; so is labelling any potential allergens. Of the 663 recalls that Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) co-ordinated from 1 January 2002 until 31 December 2011, some 229, or 35 per cent, were due to microbial contamination; while 218, or 33 per cent – one third – were due to labelling issues; this includes undeclared allergens.

"Now imagine that those products which needed to be recalled were also missing, or had incomplete batch codes or other codes via which they could be traced through the supply chain. They would basically be untraceable."

All sectors can benefit from the addition of vision systems, Dingley says, with new systems suitable for: product content verification; empty container inspection; counting bottles (or other containers) in cartons; line monitoring; and robotic pick and place processes.

"Mis-coding doesn't just happen to small or 'unlucky' companies: it can happen to any manufacturing business that doesn't have the right processes in place to ensure the correct code goes on the correct product in the correct place. Last year, a production error saw Woolworths Ltd Snickers-flavoured cookies being labelled as 'Mars flavoured'. Woolworths had to recall all the cookies that were sold over a week because of the now-undeclared allergens – peanuts – in what was actually another product," Dingley warned.

Matthews offers a range of vision systems in partnership with affiliate company iQVision, including straight vision systems, combined motion and vision systems, smart sensors, optical devices, LED illuminators, and inspection devices.

Australian manufacturer Chris' Dips – which produces a range of home-style dips and yoghurts for supermarkets Australia wide – now relies on an iQVision-Matthews automated vision system to verify that the right product is in the right tub, and that the barcode is correct and scannable. The set-up has reaped many benefits for the dips manufacturer, including automating what was previously a laborious manual task, and objectifying quality control – thus removing the potential for error.

"Before installing vision technology, workers on each line had to manually and visually check that the right product was in the right tub — including that the barcode was correct. That was incredibly manually intensive," Dingley said.

"Working with Matthews Australasia, iQVision recommended a solution using Datalogic cameras and Matthews' iDSnet packaging automation software, tailoring the system to Chris' Dips' processing lines so cameras inspect single tubs on several lines and multiple tubs on another line.

"The iQVision-Matthews system has saved a substantial amount in manual labour and vastly improved accuracy for Chris' Dips."

Driving down costs

insignia national sales manager, automated labelling and coding systems, Michael Shaw, believes that reducing manufacturing costs is one of the main reasons companies adopt new product traceability solutions.

"The kind of capabilities customers are after include: maximum uptime from equipment; new technologies that drastically reduce consumable cost; and preventative maintenance rather than breakdown repair," Shaw told IndustrySearch.

"We are also seeing a rise in the number of companies adopting new ways to identify products – instead of traditional methods such as lasers burning data on to products rather than being inkjet coded – and new barcode types like the growth of the 2D barcode."

While the pharmaceutical sector leads the way in technology adoption, all areas of manufacturing can benefit from the technology, Shaw said.

"There are a lot of Aussie manufacturers out there fighting the good fight to survive, who have parked investment in new equipment. It is this part of the market that can really take advantage of new technology to drive cost down and improve their production outputs," he said.

"We have data from studies from our vendors that demonstrate operational savings to customers in the range of 20-50 per cent [after adopting new labelling systems]. We also have cases where insignia has used ingenuity to drive down costs, such as redesigning labels to be more cost effective."

Insignia supplies a number of labelling systems designed to reduce running costs, such as the Domino A420 self-serve continuous inkjet coder, and the Datamax–O'Neil portable warehouse labelling printer.

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