Automation is the key to reducing cost in manufacturing, while accuracy, precision and process control are critical.
However, even fully automated production lines are not always perfect. So how can you ensure that any problems are quickly detected, identified and corrected before goods leave your plant?
Quite easily, says Mark Dingley, GM of operations at Matthews Australasia: with inspection technologies.
"Inspection technologies carry out QA and QC tasks that are practically impossible for people to do reliably and consistently," according to Dingley.
He says ultimately, detecting problems quickly then correcting them before goods leave the factory is all about protection.
"It's about protecting your brand, your reputation, your relationships with your trading partners, your profits, and, in say FMCG applications, protecting the consumer.
"Manufacturers must meet increasingly rigorous demands from consumers, retailers and industry. Many are doing this by investing in technologies that give this protection — advanced inspection systems that will check, detect and respond quickly to any problems."
So which inspection technologies are worth the investment? Indeed are any?
"Absolutely," Dingley says.
"The cost of even the most elaborate vision inspection system is negligible considering the savings they can deliver.
"There are many ways vision technology can be used. Just thinking about the recent headlines of 'recall this food' and 'recall that drink', I'll go through three — probably the three essential ones — that are proven to optimise quality, efficiency and profitability for FMCG manufacturers.
"It's not always easy for manufacturers to know what technology to buy, so let's look at it from what they need it to do."
1. A need to check packaging and labelling — vision inspection is the answer here
2. A need to reduce waste and overfill — this requires checkweigh
3. A need to reduce contamination and protect against recalls — this calls for metal detection and/or x-ray inspection
As industry standards for packaging and labelling become more stringent, the demand for vision inspection technology is increasing. Why? Because vision inspection helps ensure only quality products leave your plant.
Depending on the manufacturer's needs, a vision inspection system can deliver QA in several ways. As an example, Matthews' vision inspection systems have the capacity to:
- inspect the presence, position and formation of a code (date code, barcode, etc.)
- validate the presence and position of labels
- check closures of tamper seals, correct caps by colour, etc.
- detect fill levels in bottles or jars, and the packaging's content
- sort food and beverage products based on marking
- count products
"You can also tie a vision inspection system into your automated processes to reduce production-line errors that might end up ruining an entire batch of goods."
Mark Dingley says every company wants to reduce costs on the manufacturing line, and weighing precision can help here.
"In fact, the more accurate your weighing machine is, the more money you can save. Consider a packet of chips: saving a tiny amount of overfill in just one bag mightn't add up to much; but in a big batch, it can amount to big cost savings — and think about that over a year's worth of production."
Checkweigh technology sits at the end of the line; it can precision-weigh at high speeds to detect overweight and underweight products and remove them from the line.
By inspecting portion control of a packaged product, checkweighers ensure that every pack leaving the factory door is within the specified weight range.
"Because checkweighers eliminate unnecessary product waste, they ultimately reduce costs. Checkweigh can also help manufacturers detect issues with product overfill on the production line, so you can correct the problem quickly and save costs.
"In the past, checkweigh systems didn't have the accuracy with small consumer goods — such as nuts and confectionary — that they had with larger goods. However, the latest systems have more precise technology so you can weigh high-value, small-target-weight goods at high speeds. Just as an example, Matthews' range includes checkweigh systems especially designed for low-weight goods from just 10g up to 15kg."
Metal detection and x-ray inspection
Food and drink recalls are all too common in the headlines — even just in Australia — and contamination is frequently the cause.
"To that end, more and more FMCG manufacturers are using x-ray inspection and metal-detection systems to eliminate the threat of food contamination. As I said before, this essentially protects their brand from product recalls and withdrawals."
Dingley says among the biggest culprits for food contamination are metal and non-magnetic stainless steel.
"However, today's metal-detection technology is extremely effective: even products with high moisture content or packaged in metallised film can be checked with advanced metal-detection systems."
But metal isn't the only culprit: glass, stone, high-density plastics and rubber and other contaminants can also make their way into packaging. X-ray inspection equipment can detect foreign bodies by evaluating density throughout the product and packaging — including through thick foil pouches and cans. Advanced x-ray systems can inspect virtually any packaged product — even those with contaminants embedded right in the product.
Quick check guide: which inspection system?
Mark Dingley says when choosing the right inspection system, here are few key things to consider:
1. Efficiency: It's essential that the system can keep pace with ultra-fast production lines. You don't want to have to put in a new system just on speed — look for something that can allow more inspections at higher rates.
2. Integration: This is a must-have for manufacturers looking to increase efficiencies. For example, Matthews vision inspection systems can be integrated into coding and labelling systems to automate the entire packaging process – with everything managed by iDSnet, Matthews' packaging code management solution.
3. Flexibility: Choose a system that can be scaled to meet your needs today and in the future. For example, Bizerba checkweighers are easily adaptable and can be expanded as required.
4. Installation: Choose a supplier who will work with you to find the right product for your needs and ensure it is set up exactly how you want it.