Expert Column Series 2 and 3 Concluding expert features from Mettler-Toledo
Proactive on Productivity and Future Proofing your X-ray Investment
By Daniela Verhaeg, Marketing Manager, Mettler-Toledo Safeline X-ray
Proactive on Productivity
Customers have never had it so good. They are spoilt for choice in every area of life and particularly in the retail sphere. In any supermarket you will be overwhelmed by the sheer choice of what is on offer. In a globalised context, this of course poses a challenge for manufacturers who have to continually develop new innovative products that will tantalise the consumers’ refined taste in a yet unseen way, while keeping production costs at bay. With global economies slowly climbing out of recession, manufacturers’ budgets are still limited, which continues to curb major capital investment decisions.
However, despite those financial restraints manufacturers require product inspection systems to protect their brands as poor quality products will damage their reputation with consumers and potentially their future business. The quality of products has to be controlled on the production line and incorporating x-ray inspection is one of the most effective ways to safeguard against potential issues.
This of course raises the question how can x-ray inspection systems positively affect productivity? And which features of an x-ray inspection machine will allow for enhanced productivity?
Manufacturers need to remain successful in a highly competitive and increasingly global marketplace. Reducing the risk of poor quality products will help them to increase their profitability as they avoid unnecessary and costly product recalls. To achieve this, they must ensure that their products meet the quality standards that their customers demand.
But an x-ray inspection system can do so much more than identifying contaminants; they can also reduce overall maintenance and ownership costs as many systems now combine the jobs that would normally need more than one machine. For example, the X36 Series x-ray system is designed to consistently detect and remove miniscule contaminants for all products, whilst simultaneously performing product integrity checks, from checking the mass of complex products to the damaged products and packaging on single or multi-lane applications, without compromising the throughput rate and process efficiency. Also when the technology is equipped with a low power generator, the machine does not require additional cooling or air conditioning, thus reducing power consumption, energy costs and overall Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).
Today’s x-ray inspection systems also feature the latest, state-of-the-art technology. These systems are equipped with intuitive Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) – known for their ease of programming and minimal input requirements, they will greatly reduce the burden of time and cost-intensive maintenance. This in turn, will not only optimise the performance and accuracy of operators, but also comes with the added benefit of reduced training time, improved usability and the ability to provide accurate feedback for the operator. The greatest benefit of intuitive HMIs is that it will facilitate the product changeover process with the aid of pre-set menus, thereby minimising changeover downtime and allowing for short product runs. This is of particular interest for manufacturers who process a multitude of products on their production lines, as they no longer face the problem of expensive downtime. The productivity-enhancing effect of x-ray inspection systems is not solely attributable to the intuitive Human Machine Interface. By offering exceptional detection sensitivity at high speeds, modern x-ray inspection systems allow for higher throughput rates without ever affecting the quality of detection.
Manufacturers need now, more than ever, to adopt systems that enhance their productivity while performing other tasks. Through utilising x-ray technology, businesses can be assured that they can produce multiple products at high throughputs with the confidence that they are only exporting high quality safe goods.
Future Proofing your X-ray Investment
The latest x-ray inspection systems that are available on the market today provide enhanced graphical interfaces for ease-of-use and, combined with the versatility of new software solutions, also provide on-screen self-diagnostics, enabling operators to monitor the systems on one screen. Combining different streams of information saves manufacturers valuable time as it allows more products to be inspected simultaneously and monitored quicker.
These systems can also verify fill level, measure headspace and check component presence and absence to alert manufacturers to inspect for over- or underfill to avoid waste and also consumer disappointment. More importantly, they are network compatible, allowing remote access by technicians to quickly diagnose and correct issues. Advanced versions can also be set up for remote server access and integrated with networking programmes to allow uninterrupted monitoring of statistics, images and reports generated from the individual x-ray system, from any computer with network access. This allows manufacturers to adhere to retailers’ codes of conduct and helps them to prepare for safety audits.
When considering future market needs it is clear that the food industry will continue to invest in food x-ray inspection systems as they will provide manufacturers a strong return on investment (ROI). This is due to the overall low cost of ownership, achieved through simple low-cost maintenance and replacement structure.
Trends in the food industry however, are fast paced and ever changing. Producers of x-ray inspection equipment therefore need to consider new food demands and more innovative packaging designs. By the same token, innovative packaging designs also lead to their own challenges as machines previously calibrated to scan standard types of packaging will have to adapt to be able to accurately analyse new shapes, sizes and materials such as flexible packaging and pouches.
As food safety regulations increase, compliance and traceability through every stage of a product’s life cycle will grow significantly in importance. For full compliance, it is essential that food manufacturers are able to access product tracking information simply and quickly.
In the future, all product inspection equipment will need to dually function as management tools as well as process control tools to give company leadership the information they need to make informed decisions and guarantee compliance.
In short, manufacturers should consider the following questions and advice on how best to select the correct x-ray inspection systems to future proof their business:
1. What are the typical types of contaminants within your production line? What are the nature of your products and the format of your packaging?
2. Know your Critical Control Points (CCPs) as this will help determine where on the line the x-ray system needs to go.
3. Look for a system that can inspect for multiple quality parameters than just one.
4. Take into account facility floor space.
5. Are environmental issues important for your business? If yes, then look to adopt an energy saving product inspection machine.
6. Ensure that the x-ray technology fully documents all activity in the event that you need to prove due diligence.
7. Be confident that the x-ray machine can be easily integrated into your existing production line with minimal downtime.
8. How future proof is your investment? Can it easily cope with new product demands and lines?
9. What type of service and support do you need? Remote access? 24×7?
10. Ask your supplier for references and testimonials.