Inspection gadgets: a Q&A with experts in detection systems
X-ray and metal detection play an important role in food safety and checkweighers are key to package weight consistency. In this article, leading suppliers share their expertise and talk about what’s new in detection systems.
Finding a foreign object in dairy foods is every plant manager’s nightmare. Detecting these objects quickly and efficiently is key. That’s where X-ray and metal detection systems come into play. Checkweighers guard against short counts in packages or underweight volumes. Dairy Foods invited leading suppliers of detection systems to talk about what’s new. Here’s what they had to say.
Dairy Foods: What new technology or features have you incorporated into your equipment recently?
Janet Chandler: Our checkweighers and X-Ray machines have been engineered with special emphasis on easy cleaning and tool-free change for belts and conveyor bodies which require routine cleaning. Units are very space saving. Our weigh cell has a protection class IP69K enclosure.
Christopher Young: Dual-energy X-ray [is] for enhanced soft contaminants (other than metal) detection capability. Also, new checkweigher models [have] improved accuracy and features that compensate automatically for typical product presentation and spacing issues.
Christy Miller: We launched an X-ray system designed specifically for the inspection of packaged products in harsh washdown environments. Interlocked hinged louvers, which can easily be lifted to allow access to the conveyor, eliminate the need for dismantling traditional heavy louvers to clean inside the X-ray system.
Ray Spurgeon: We have released our next generation system that now includes a tool-less belt removal for cleaning. Other notable improvements include a more compact design (only 60-inches long). This allows the system to be installed in space-restricted areas. Additionally, we now utilize a non-Windows software platform to improve reliability and eliminate soft crashes inherent with Windows.
Steve Gidman: Our metal detectors offer significantly higher performance in sensitivity and data collection today than even two years ago. Our newer models incorporate ethernet, USB and wireless connectivity for easy data collection and adhere to HACCP compliance.
Todd Grube: For metal detection, we have introduced the world’s first and only multi-spectrum metal detector, the CEIA THS MS21. This is very different technology from multi-frequency metal detectors, because they still only use one frequency at a time. By simultaneously and continuously utilizing a spectrum of multiple frequencies, the CEIA MS21 cancels out product effect but maintains the highest levels of sensitivity to all types of metal contaminants, both magnetic and non-magnetic (such as stainless steel) to prevent product waste and unnecessary line shutdowns.
Laura Studwell: The IQ3+ now has the capability to learn products in three different ways to ensure the best contaminant detection with highly reactive products, such as cheese. Also, Loma now offers hole detection through X-ray inspection, which can measure the number and size of holes without cutting the cheese wheel.
John Uber: Mettler Toledo has introduced a new checkweigher construction that is better able to withstand the aggressive washdowns seen in dairy environments; improved protection of motor, bearing, scale and controls to meet IP69K standards throughout the system, plus more easily cleanable all-welded frames.
Bob Ries:Our X-ray machines offered two new capabilities this year. The first is a standard feature in our Xpert performance system that allows the customer to estimate weight using the X-ray density image. This can be used to detect underfilled packages. The second is a special touchless model of our EZx entry level system that permits passing an open or unwrapped product through an X-ray system so that lead or no-lead curtains do not touch it.
Ray Kondracki: The I-Series is IP-67 compliant for high-pressure and- temperature washdown environments. Other features include tubular legs which minimize dust accumulation, an open frame structure that enhances ease of cleaning and a robust load cell that can withstand up to a 200-kilogram load.
Dairy Foods: Are processors making the most of all of the features and functions of your equipment? What functions are they under-utilizing?
Spurgeon:One feature that is under-utilized is our E-Z Link XR on-line technical support via the internet. This requires our customers to have internet drops but is like having a service technician with you 24/7.
Gidman: Features of our metal detectors that processors should be regularly utilizing are testing procedures and record keeping. It is important to not overlook the advantage of installing metal detectors at specific check points along the manufacturing process and not just at the end of the production line.
Grube: Our X-ray inspection systems are useful for more than just detection of foreign objects. You can use Ishida’s X-ray to detect damaged or missing product, flaws in packaging or incorrect product weights.
Studwell: Perhaps the most under-utilized tool is the data capture system. It is a robust reporting tool that allows for custom tracking and reporting queries. Most processors are happy to let the inspection systems do their work.
Uber: Users tend to under-utilize the communication capabilities of our checkweighers (using PackML via Ethernet IP). This capability simplifies line integration and makes information about machine states the same for all equipment types. Similarly, users under-utilize our systems’ line integration tools, such as remote start and stop, and the ability to ramp performance up or down to match the customer’s line production speed.
Chandler: Our customers want to be able to extract information in real time that will help to enhance their production floor process. With our equipment they are able to record, optimize and monitor the production data. This gives the highest flexibility for managing their process.
Ries: Examples of functions more customers should consider are reject/verify and bin-full sensors to assure contaminated products are rejected and full bins are emptied when required. Features like the Thermo Fisher AuditCheck should be used more widely to automatically monitor a metal detector — relying less on manual audits by operators.
Dairy Foods: Complying with the Food Safety Modernization Act is on the minds of all food processors. What questions do dairy processors ask you about how they can improve their food safety practices?
Miller: Dairy processors often ask “what is the range of contaminants that X-ray systems are able to detect?” X-ray technology offers the ability to accurately detect a wider range of contaminants than traditional product inspection methods, including ferrous and non-ferrous metal, glass, stone and bone.
Young: Foil tops are an issue for metal detection. [We receive] inquiries involving the benefits of X-ray inspection and its ability to ignore foil induction seals, etc.
Gidman:Typically their questions are about our software capabilities. Our automated data collection technology was created to help keep our customers ahead of food safety initiatives as they arise. Some of the testing requirements are getting very complicated and having developed technology and features that assist in testing, we can help ensure proper functionality and avoid mistakes while reducing costs, all without the user requiring an engineering degree.
Dairy Foods: What changes in the dairy industry have affected your business in the last year or two?
Studwell: The main change that has affected our business is the move toward a single source of inspection that can detect metal contaminants, weigh product and show product integrity. The existing challenge is to reduce false positives, which can cause dairy processors significant amounts of lost money and production time.
Kondracki:The desire for more sanitary solutions and concern for food safety has resulted in updates to our equipment, with some being IP-67 washdown compliant. Frame design and other features across our entire product line have all been a result of this increased demand.
Spurgeon: In 2012, Eriez received an order for 27 X-ray systems on one order from a dairy processor. This order was in direct response to their customer’s requirement for inspection after the product was sealed. Accordingly, with a foil seal employed, there is no way a traditional metal detector could be used for this application and X-ray was required.
Gidman: The primary changes over the last few years have been a focus on service response time and cost.
Ries: More and more dairy products are converting to packages containing metalized film. Therefore, there is a growing need to move from metal detectors to X-ray systems. Additionally, we are being asked more for 3A certification of our systems, even those that run packaged products. This is due to the need to improve overall sanitation and the risk of biological hazards in production.
Dairy Foods: What key points are important for a dairy processor to know about X-ray, metal detection and checkweighing equipment in general and your products in particular?
Young: Cheese products are reactive and therefore difficult to inspect for conventional metal detection. X-ray eliminates this issue and offers significant improvement in contaminant detection size, especially for stainless steel. Foil tops and labels are not an issue for X-ray inspection. Checkweighers can communicate with fillers/baggers to automatically adjust weights in real time.
Gidman:It is important to understand that X-ray systems, metal detectors and checkweighers are for the most part complimentary technology. The proper use of each type of system and understanding the capabilities and limitations of the technology is essential for proper implementation of each type of system. Key points dairy processors should understand before implementing a specific technology are the cost versus benefits ratio. Understanding the cost versus risk and return over 10 years is important to calculate and understand before implementing a particular technology.
Miller: It is important to understand the additional quality assurance checks that advanced X-ray inspection systems are able to provide. As well as detecting the widest range of contaminants, X-ray inspection systems can perform a number of additional in-line quality checks. These include evaluating compartmental fill level, inspecting seal integrity on products such as yogurt containers, counting components and identifying faulty products.
Spurgeon: X-ray key points: It detects more than just metal foreign objects, can be used after a foil seal is placed on products, is the technology of choice with the world’s largest retailers, is priced competitively when comparing to a metal detector checkweigher combo system.
Metal detector key points: Mature technology that has been proven millions of times over, lower in price, limited in the scope of inspection to just metal, consistently losing market share to X-ray.
Checkweighers: Very good technology when used on high-speed packaging lines as it historically exceeds accuracies offered by alternate X-ray systems. Costly to operate, typically two or three separate conveyor belts, and has to be frequently calibrated.
Dairy Foods: What tips and ideas can you offer a plant manager regarding inspection procedures and employee training?
Foley: The best tip is to ensure that metal detection is an integral part of [a company’s] HACCP plan, including inspecting everything from raw ingredients to finished product.
Gidman: With the implementation of Third Party Audit standards, it is essential that workable procedures and processes be implemented for each application. Each application is different and having a local expert that can assist in preparing/educating/assisting the processor in these areas is essential. Start-up assistance and training for new equipment purchases is critical to implementing proper operation and procedures.
Studwell: Metal detector heads come in a variety of aperture heights and widths. You want the correct aperture size to give the best possible detection performance. Major variations in product size can affect performance. Don’t place anything on any of the inspection systems. Keep test sticks, production logs, etc., in a special place away from the systems.
Young: Employees have to take ownership of the processes at every level, regular validation of inspection technology is critical for consumer safe products and most companies have very detailed HACCP plans. Reject confirmation and lockable reject bins are a good means of helping ensure that suspect product is removed from the production lines.
Miller: HACCP audits facilitate processors to establish reliable and fully documented product inspections to show due diligence during each phase of production in the event of an incident or product recall. Regular HACCP audits, such as when opening a new dairy production facility, installing a new line or adding a new product to existing lines, will identify any potential contaminant risks that need to be addressed.
Grube: Develop and maintain a reliable and verifiable inspection program. Also, establish specific guidelines for contaminant type, size and inspection sensitivity. Be sure to evaluate your inspection area: Is it wet or dry; what variations in temperature occur and how are these compensated for; how is your inspection equipment integrated with other production and packaging systems; what are wash down procedures; how are inspection events tracked, recorded, and recalled? Establish equipment operation and procedural training for new employees, and also regular continuing education programs to update long-term employees. n
Read more from the experts on detection systems. The discussion continues online at www.dairyfoods.com/XrayCheckweigh.
Meet the panel
• Janet Chandler, OCS Checkweighers Inc., Snellville, Ga.
• Geri Foley, Mettler Toledo, Tampa, Fla.
• Steve Gidman, Fortress Technology, Toronto
• Todd Grube, Heat and Control, Hayward, Calif.
• Ray Kondracki, Yamato Corp., Mequon, Wis.
• Christy Miller, Eagle Product Inspection, Tampa, Fla.
• Bob Ries, Thermo Fisher Scientific, Minneapolis
• Ray Spurgeon Jr., Eriez, Erie, Pa.
• Laura Studwell, Loma Systems, Carol Stream, Ill.
• John Uber, Mettler Toledo, Ithaca, N.Y.
• Christopher Young, Anritsu Industrial Solutions USA, Elk Grove Village, Ill.
Dairy Foods asked suppliers what questions were most commonly asked by dairy processors about their equipment at Pack Expo this year.
Young: X-ray detection of various cheese and dairy products was a common theme. Specifically these three: detection levels with X-ray, cheese is difficult to inspect with conventional metal detectors, many dairy producers appear to be focused on improving their detection capabilities; wash down capabilities with checkweighers, the typical plant environment is fairly harsh and requires weighing equipment capable of dealing with washdown and wet conditions; and the ability to look at cased/larger products while maintaining customer detection requirements.
Miller: We are regularly asked about the sanitary design of our X-ray systems because dairy processors need to comply with stringent equipment sanitation guidelines. In addition, food processors, including dairy, often ask “is X-ray safe to use in my processing facility?” The answer is yes as the levels of radiation used for X-ray inspection are extremely low.
Gidman: The ease of use of our equipment, what kind of performance and reliability can they expect and what types of environments our metal detectors can withstand. With the increasing food safety initiatives they are also often interested in our testing procedures and record keeping capabilities.
Grube:How can they improve their levels of contaminant detection and reduce the amount of false rejections? Processors’ customers are constantly looking for tighter control on metals and other contaminants that can work their way into products, which means processors are continually seeking new and more efficient means of inspecting their products and recording/tracing inspection events.
Studwell: What are the sanitary features of your metal detector heads and can they handle either extreme cold or extreme heat environments? Due to guidelines set forth by governing institutions, dairy processors are turning to harsh washdowns with extreme heat. Many dairy processors also process frozen foods such as ice cream and metal detector heads need to be able to withstand freezing temperatures.
Foley: Customers have been concerned about meeting the new food safety regulations, and specifically how they can incorporate a true metal-free program that ensures that any metal present is detected and, more importantly, rejected. The ability to capture inspection data electronically is also of paramount concern as handwritten records can be unreliable or lost, and the new regulations require that records be kept.
Reis: Dairy processors continue to ask about the benefits of X-ray over metal detection for products such as ice cream and cheese. Both those products have high product effect in a metal detector, so to achieve improved sensitivity they are switching to X-ray. They want to fully understand the benefits and what it will cost in terms of investment, training, maintenance and service.
Find suppliers in the Dairy Foods' Buyers Guide.