Why building reliable, cost-effective ID and inspection solutions will reduce your costs

Proper product identification and inspection is a key part of cutting costs and adding value in winery businesses. “The Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker Magazine” caught up with one of the WineEng 2014 conference speakers on why. 

Having an eye-catching label is important in marketing wine — but so is having proper coding, as Matt Nichol pointed out at the Winery Engineering Association conference, WineEng 2104, at McLaren Vale in June. 

Nichol, from product identification and automatic data capture specialist Matthews Australasia, says while a label may have initial shelf appeal, the wine may not even reach the shelf without proper traceability coding. 

“Identifying products by their lot or batch number, and with barcodes, allows them to be traced through the supply chain,” says Nichol, who is a national key account manager with 15 years’ industry experience and Matthews’ product manager for laser technology. 
 
“And that’s important on two fronts. 

“Firstly, it’s a legal requirement from Food Standards Australia New Zealand — or FSANZ — that food and beverage businesses can provide information about their products, and where the ingredients came from — including on request if FSANZ asks. 

“And secondly, the majority of wine today is sold via retailers. Most are either supermarkets or affiliated with supermarket chains, but whether it’s these large retailers, or the small, independents, they don’t accept products without proper coding. However, even product sold at the cellar door still needs proper product identification. 

“Why? Traceability is one of the major reasons. 

“Coming back to FSANZ again, updates to the legislation in 2012 said that traceability in the Australian food and beverage sector should enable businesses to identify the source of all inputs one step forwards or backwards at any point in the supply chain. It doesn't matter whether those inputs are raw materials, additives, any other ingredients or packaging. Traceability enables a winery — or any other business — to target the particular product involved if there’s a safety problem. This minimises  any disruption to trade and reduces any potential public health risks.” 

Compliance 

Nichol says, “Compliance is vital. That means all records should have a means of identification, so that dates, batches and lot codes can be readily traced in the event of a product recall or regulatory audit. 

“Wine makers should change batch codes frequently — at least daily — to facilitate trace-back for product recall. Where the batch code involves the date, carefully check it for accuracy and legibility during the production run. This can also be done automatically with vision inspection systems.” 

More on that later.

Reliable ID

Matt Nichol says reliable identification has three elements: it’s consistent, of high quality and is verified. 

“’Consistency’ is when every product is marked, accurately and correctly in the factory. ‘High quality’ naturally refers to the code’s quality, that it lasts though the supply chain and will scan every time; while ‘verified’ means that every code is checked and meets your customers’ requirements.”  

Product ID 

Firstly, what are your product identification requirements? 

These begin with branding or “primary” labelling and/or coding, then marking the individual product for traceability through the supply chain (say with barcodes) and legal requirements (such as batch or lot codes). 

With primary coding, lasers mark bottles for a discrete, but legible, permanent mark, but inkjet on labels is also an option. 
 
“Wine makers should also consider QR codes to really connect with consumers, and get some good interaction, while 2D codes are very useful for counterfeit protection.

“Carton, or ‘secondary’, labelling is critical for managing your supply chain and making it efficient.
 
“Retailers usually have pretty strict requirements and guidelines, so talk to these immediate customers as well. If you export, then make yourself aware of the importing country’s requirements plus any export requirements Australia has.” 
 
The third level of coding is pallet labelling. 

“And this,” says Nichol, “is where lots of supply chain problems occur. The most common pallet label ‘fails’ according to major retailers are: the label position is incorrect or there is no label, the SSCC — which is the Serial Shipping Container Code — is duplicated or doesn’t match or has already been used in last 12 months, the label is damaged or won’t scan, or it’s hiding under stretch wrap, or it’s only on one side of the pallet, or the product label is incorrect.

“Now that’s a fairly hefty list! 

“So how can you fix this? Firstly, you must know the standards. Secondly, use the right technology. Thirdly, test and check your systems, and the labels and codes it produces. Maintain your system, if you don’t, it won’t stay trouble-free. And lastly, maintain your data integrity.” 
 

How to choose the best technology

Nichol also had some tips for wine makers when thinking about coding equipment.  

“Think about what you’re printing, what you’re printing on, your line speed, your factory environment, your future plans and your budget. Also, considering employee training, and what sort of support does the vendor offer? Then, take into consideration any requirements in your supply chain.” 

Wine makers have a wide range of technology options to code products: continuous inkjet, laser, printing-and-applying labels (with label printer applicators or LPAs) or applying pre-printed labels (with label applicators or LAs). 

 “The best way to choose one is to be guided by your products’ presentation, each technology’s total cost of ownership and what sort of flexibility you want. 

“For instance with presentation, how important is the product appearance? Do you need shelf-ready packaging? And how permanent do you need the code to be?
 
“Sometimes people can just look at the initial cost of equipment. But don’t, look at the total cost of owning it. By this, I mean: consider all the running costs, as well as the capital outlay. What about the maintenance costs? The servicing costs?
 
“Then think about how flexible you need the equipment to be: do you have to code or label lots of different sizes or shapes?  Do you need to ramp-up throughput? 

“Don’t just think about your immediate needs, think about your future line-capacity considerations.” 

Reliable inspection

Matthews Australasia is a product identification and automatic data capture specialist. However, the 38-year-old family-owned business — which is a member of the Family Business Association (FBA) — is also heavily involved in developing inspection systems. 

“Inspection,” says Matt Nichol, who is a member of FBA’s Victorian committee, “is key to improving production methods, reducing waste and increasing efficiency. 

“Reliable inspection is a must for wine makers — indeed any business — serious about making the most of its resources and being competitive.” 

So what is it? 

“Reliable inspection is consistent — it checks every product. It takes action — if the product is not within tolerance, it either automatically stops the line or rejects the product — and it’s all about capturing quality data. For instance, it will show you an analysis of your rejected product, such as 40% were due to the front label not being placed straight, which is information you can then use immediately to fix the problem. 

“Some people can be overwhelmed by automated inspection processes, but we approach it like this. 

“Firstly, what is the business’s biggest quality issue? Then, which issues can automated inspection solve? After that, we look at what the critical issue is that the business has to have resolved, and what would be nice to resolve? From drilling down like that, we get the base solution that particular business needs.” 

Types of vision technology

Nichol covered three types of vision technology: 

vision systems: this is the basic solution, giving a pass or fail, they have few tools and cover simple applications; typical costs are up to $8,000
smart cameras: these have faster cameras, with more flexibility and can do more complex inspections; typically costing up to $15,000
vision systems, also called machine vision systems: these PLC-based systems are fully customised and system dependent; their typical base price is around $20,000


What type of ‘quality’ do you want? 

“There are two types of quality checks: quality control and quality assurance. 

“Of course, it’s completely up to each business which they use, but here is our view, from what we’ve seen in nearly 40 years of helping businesses improve their processes: 

“Quality control — QC — is the traditional approach. It detects defective output. 

“Quality assurance — QA — is the proactive ‘lean’ approach. It minimises the chance that your output will be substandard and is all about process design.

“In our view, the scale tips in favour of using QA as a guide to reducing waste, increasing efficiency and improving your production methods overall.” 

Vision inspection’s power 

Matt Nichol also spoke of the power that vision inspection will bring to a business. 

“You can do more than just scan using a laser scanner, with vision camera technology, wine makers can grade their barcodes to verify them against GS1 Standards — and they can do it inline. That’s a major benefit. 

“But beyond the barcode matching GS1’s Standards, vision inspection systems make sure your wine has the right barcode, that it matches the packaging and the product, that it’s in the right spot, that it’s readable, that the right label is on the bottle, that the front and back labels match and that the neck label is the right one. 

“And on top of checking that everything to do with the labelling is correct, it can check the lot codes are correct, that the right cap is on, fill levels are correct, tampers seals are as they should be and that the labels are presented according to your specifications. 

“Finally, vision systems also ensure that your bottles are orientated as you want them to be — of major benefit with shelf-ready product — and that all products are packed in cartons, which, of course, ensures your customers get what they pay for. 

“And all of these things protect your reputation.” 

Endless possibilities

Matt Nichol says coding and labelling are all about compliance and supply chain efficiencies, but they can be so much more. 

“Matthews specialises in helping businesses have the right coding, labelling, automatic data capture and inspection systems, so that they comply with legal requirements and the needs of their supply chain. 

“However, we have always advocated that businesses should make sure these systems work for them and supply business intelligence. The old ‘slap on a code and ship the product’ is just a cost. We believe that when integrated with your other business systems, your coding and labelling systems will enhance your productivity. 

“Businesses can gain great efficiencies by automating their processes. Using simple inspection systems — such as check-weigh and vision — vastly help with product quality.” 

Nichol says it’s also important to define your application well, to save you money in the future; businesses should work with the vendor to help them through this. 
 
“Also, always consider the total cost of ownership, not just the capital cost, and finally, work with your customers, to ensure all their requirements are met.” 

This article was originally published in The Australian & New Zealand Grapegrower & Winemaker Magazine, July 2014. 

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