How we’re protecting your health and safety COVID-19 Update
March 14, 2019
Australian manufacturers today are under more pressure than ever to produce the highest quality goods. With increasingly tough competition at home and from overseas, there’s no room for error.
However, retailers and consumers are both demanding these high-quality products at lower prices. This leaves manufacturers with a challenge: how can you ensure exceptional quality while protecting your profit margin?
Traditionally, manufacturers have relied on the human eye to pick up errors. That was sufficient when line speeds were slower; however, today’s speeds mean human inspectors just can’t check every product on the line — and that’s simply not good enough to meet the increasingly stringent regulations of retailers and trade customers.
For many, the solution is automated product inspection.
Automated product inspection systems help ensure that every product leaving your factory doors ticks all the boxes for consumers and retailers.
At the same time, inspection systems can substantially decrease operational expenses and optimise plant efficiency.
Automated product inspection systems include: metal detectors, checkweighers and x-ray systems.
Product integrity is a big issue for manufacturers. The high speeds at which products are processed, packaged and labelled today, along with short and varied production runs, results in a wide variety of possible defects. The second those defects leave the factory doors, they can damage the brand reputation and customer relationships.
Companies can spend a great deal of time, energy and money checking products manually. However, with complex processes and faster production lines, humans are unable to inspect for packaging errors, contamination and quality standards without impacting efficiency.
In a worst-case scenario, relying on human inspection means problems may only be found days after they first appear. However, hundreds or even thousands of contaminated products could have been produced before the issue was even detected.
Where human inspection is utilised as the main method of quality control, the first time you find out you have a problem is when a customer alerts you. That’s where brands run the risk of recalls, a damaged reputation and high costs.
This is where automating inspection has many benefits.
Which standards apply to your manufacturing facility?
First, let’s look at measurement standards.
Trade measurement laws apply to all retail and wholesale transactions where measurement determines price.
As a manufacturer, you must comply with Australia’s trade measurement laws if you sell goods by measurement (e.g. selling meat by weight) or manufacture, pack, import or sell pre-packaged goods.
In Australia, the National Measurement Institute (NMI) regulates all trade transactions involving measurement.
They employ trade measurement inspectors who can visit your business in response to a complaint or enquiry from a consumer, or as part of a trade measurement compliance program.
Coles and Woolworths have previously been prosecuted and fined for significant breaches of trade measurement law. For example, a birthday cake by Woolworths was found to be seriously underweight.
The UTML is the longstanding international system. It states that one package in 12 can be less than the stated weight, but the average content in a sample of 12 prepacked items of the same measurement cannot be less than the stated quantity. No items can have a shortfall of more than 5%.
There are exceptions, such as mushrooms and soap, where a greater maximum deficiency is allowed as a result of moisture loss.
The AQS is designed to assist packaging companies to make it easier to meet the average net content requirements. The AQS standard is especially good for large production runs, helps minimise waste and re-work and is globally recognised. This is the “e” mark on a product.
Under this system, the average net content in a pre-packed sample from the production run cannot be less than the quantity marked on packs. An allowance is made for a small number of packs that exceed the tolerable deficiency. However, none can have more than twice the tolerable deficiency.
The AQS provides a 97.5% assurance that goods are within the prescribed tolerances (source).
Woolworths, Coles and other major retailers manage their own quality standards for suppliers.
Let’s look at the Woolworths Supplier Excellence Program.
There are separate Codes of Practice for:
For example, the Weight, Volume and Count code requires suppliers to have a “clear documented policy and procedure for the management of weight, volume and count for each product manufactured which conforms to the legal requirements of the country of manufacture and the country of intended sale”.
For inspection, Woolworths asks suppliers to carry out a risk assessment to determine the requirement for metal detection/X-Ray and the format it should take.
The code also details the types of metal detector and X-ray systems to be implemented. For example, a metal detector must have an automatic rejection device or an alarmed belt-stop system.
These are just a couple of examples of the supplier code of practice. If you are considering supplying to Woolworths, Coles and other major supermarkets, you must become familiar with their standards
Checkweigh systems are used to precision weigh products to ensure they are suitable for sale at that weight. They typically sit at the end of the line, where they are the policeman of the production line, keeping an eye on the weight and checking it remains legal. They can support weight compliance for two standards: AQS and non-AQS (UTML)
Checkweighing is essential if you supply to leading retailers. They often have their own compliance requirements which recommend checkweighing.
Checkweighers typically sit at the end of the line, where they can precision weigh at required line speeds.
If a product is overweight or underweight, the checkweigher will instantly remove it from the line (reject the product) and alert the operator immediately, so you can address the problem before you produce thousands of out-of-spec products.
A checkweigher can also be used for trend control. It can control the filling process to alter the amount of product being filled. For example, if a box of flour is supposed to be 1kg and the weight starts to trend upwards, the checkweigher will send a signal to the filling machine to reduce the amount.
Expert Tip: Checkweighers can also supply data. Using a software reporting package, they can tell you how many packs have been produced, the weight of each pack, and the weight of the total batch.
Checkweighers are most often associated with compliance to regulations. They can also boost your bottom line by reducing waste, tightening tolerances and ensuring more consistent products.
By improving weighing precision, checkweighers are proven to provide an immediate contribution to productivity and profits. The more accurate your checkweigher, the more money you can save. So even with a packet of nuts, saving the tiniest amount of overfill could add up to massive savings over time.
Because checkweigh technology can help manufacturers detect issues with product overfill (or underfill), you are able to correct the problem fast and save costs.
Metal detection systems only inspect products for metal. They are ideal for inspecting dry products (think flour, coffee powder, sugar) and frozen products, and give very good results on a wide range of other products.
Metal detection systems sit towards the end of the line in most cases and check the “final product”.
One of the biggest culprits for food contamination today is metal and (in-particular) non-magnetic stainless steel. This is where metal detection technology is extremely effective.
Metal detection systems can be affected by electrical interference, vibration, salt, moisture and high or changing product temperature. That said, advanced metal detection systems today can be configured to detect contaminants even in products with high moisture content.
Systems can have a greatly reduced sensitivity when inspection products in aluminium packaging such as foil pouches or metalised film – an increasingly common packaging type in the food industry. If aluminium or foil packaging is being used, look to X-ray metal detection technology.
Metal detector can also be used in reverse. For example, a packet wraps should include a sachet of metal filings for oxygen absorption. The metal detector can be used to check that every pack has an oxygen absorber. If there is no oxygen absorber, the product is rejected.
Glass, stone and ceramic are the main culprits for contamination. By evaluating density through the product and packaging, X-ray inspection equipment can identify these foreign bodies.
Advanced X-ray inspection systems can perform in-line quality checks to:
Unlike metal detection, X-ray inspection is ideal for a wide range of packaging, especially in bottles, cans, jars, pouches, boxes, trays and foils as well as many products that metal detectors typically struggle with, such as high moisture, high salt or high temperature products.
It can also detect contaminants embedded right in the product and tell the operator where in the product the contaminant sits.
Over recent years, X-ray equipment has become a lot faster and easier to use, making it ideal for high-speed production lines. This makes it a worthy investment for those processors who want to reduce contamination and protect against recalls.
Which one will provide the best performance for your facility?
There are essential boxes any inspection system must tick. For food and beverage applications, both metal detectors and X-ray systems must be:
Bottom line – the system often needs to be able to pick up the smallest contaminants from thousands of products in challenging processing environments.
So which inspection technology should food and beverage processors invest in to ensure the safety and quality of their products — metal detection or X-ray?
One solution doesn’t fit all. There are many factors that affect performance so the best way to choose your ideal inspection system is to look at your exact application, product and industry needs.
Contact Matthews Australasia to speak to a specialist about your application needs.
There’s no doubt that automating quality processes is the key to delivering the highest quality products. And in today’s environment, that is a huge competitive advantage. But there’s also a push from the major Australian food and grocery retailers to embrace this technology to enhance product quality and reduce the risk of errors.
We’re not saying that inspection systems are the magic bullet – there are other processes and checks that can help. But they are proven to vastly improve processes and reduce the risk of recalls due to packaging and labelling faults. And that can only be a good thing for any manufacturer.