Choosing a Complete X-ray Solution

By Daniela Verhaeg, Marketing Manager, Mettler-Toledo Safeline X-ray

X36 Series
X36 Series

Buying new equipment for a food processing line can often be a complex procedure, and choosing x-ray inspection technology is no exception. Producers have a lot to consider, from the system’s suitability for the products being processed, to the compatibility with existing machinery on the production line, as well as the capital expenditure on the new machinery.

So how can food producers ensure they select the most appropriate x-ray inspection system for the needs of their production line? Here’s a checklist to help producers identify the best solution.

  1. Conduct a hazard analysis

No two production lines are the same and each one will come with its own threats to product quality and safety. These include a risk of contamination from foreign bodies, such as glass shards, metal filings, pieces of rubber or plastic, even splinters of calcified bone or mineral stones.

To understand precisely what hazards threaten the production line in question, it is imperative that food producers first of all carry out a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) audit. This is a comprehensive study of the entire production line to identify the points on the line most vulnerable to contamination, which will, in turn, help the manufacturer understand which foreign bodies are most likely to contaminate their products.

A HACCP audit is not just a requirement for compliance with food safety regulations, such as the General Food Law in the European Union (EU), or the Food Safety Modernisation Act (FSMA) in the US. It will also determine what type of product inspection technology should be selected for the line. For example, if the line is most vulnerable to contamination from metal shards then, depending on the packaging format used, the producer should opt for a metal detector. If the contaminant threat is from multiple foreign body materials, then an x-ray solution will be more suitable. If the line is vulnerable to glass contamination and the products to be inspected are packaged in glass jars or bottles, then producers should look for x-ray systems specialising in glass-in-glass detection.

Product inspection experts can support food producers in conducting a HACCP audit in line with regulations that they are looking to comply with.

  1. Identify Critical Control Points (CCPs)

Once manufacturers have identified the biggest contaminant threats to their line, they should then determine where on the line they would most benefit from having a product inspection system. The results of the HACCP audit will also help food producers here, as it can help them locate their line’s Critical Control Points (CCPs) – the stages on the production line most vulnerable to foreign body contamination.

When selecting CCPs and choosing where to fit an x-ray solution, consideration should be given to rejecting foreign bodies as early as possible to both minimise the quantity and value of wasted product removed from the line, and reduce the extent of contamination. This will particularly be the case if contaminants are removed at the beginning of the production line, as the act of processing raw ingredients can lead to foreign bodies being broken into smaller fragments and spread throughout the food, ultimately becoming harder to detect or even potentially damaging machinery downstream.

Both the application and location of the CCPs will determine the type of x-ray inspection solution. For example, if fresh fruit and vegetables are being inspected and the CCP has been identified at the beginning of the line, then a specialist bulk-flow system will be appropriate, as it is able to accurately remove the portion of the product which contains the contaminant, without rejecting conforming product. If the CCP is identified at the end of the production line, an x-ray system capable of optimum inspection of packaged goods is more suitable.

Whatever x-ray solution is chosen, it must be specifically designed for use on the identified CCPs.

  1. Define commercial and operational needs
Mettler_Toledo_AXR_Sushi_Tray
Mettler_Toledo_AXR_Sushi_Tray

Before creating a shortlist of x-ray inspection machines, it is imperative that food producers define their specific commercial and operational needs. The former is concerned with minimising operating costs over the lifetime of the product inspection system and the overall production line, while the latter is about ensuring ease of use during processes, such as product changeovers, to keep production downtime to a minimum.

By looking at the system’s overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) – how well the machine performs relative to its designed capacity – and its total cost of ownership (TCO), producers can understand how it will meet their commercial needs. For example, if a system offers a lower OEE, then it is likely that it will negatively impact line efficiency, undermining the productivity of the line. If the system has a higher TCO, then it is likely to cost more over its lifetime than alternative systems, also affecting efficiency. System manufacturers will be able to provide this information for producers to study.

To help producers understand the effect of the system on their operational needs, it can be productive for manufacturers to make a wish list of what they desire from their x-ray inspection systems. Features such as an intuitive graphic user interface and accurate auto set-up features can facilitate system set-up for faster product changeovers, reducing downtime and helping to maximise line productivity.  

  1. Understand the system’s full capabilities

When considering x-ray inspection solutions, manufacturers should check the capabilities and key functions of their shortlisted equipment to ensure their final choice meets the requirements of their production line. They should think about the ease of use offered by the technology, and whether it enables quick and efficient product changeovers – a particularly important benefit for lines that need to carry out short product runs.

It is also important to consider whether the x-ray system in question meets the hygiene and environmental requirements for the line it is to be installed on. Some lines, such as meat and poultry processing lines have rigorous wash-down regimes to uphold consumer safety, so the x-ray system chosen needs to be able to facilitate cleaning and withstand frequent contact with water and harsh chemicals. X-ray solutions with an Ingress Protection (IP) 69 rating, for example would be ideal in such a situation. Those that feature a stainless steel casing with sloping surfaces and curved edges can make cleaning easier by eliminating potential dirt traps where bacteria can thrive, reducing downtime and maximising productivity. 

In addition to this, thought should be given to whether the system is able to carry out inspection for other quality parameters beyond contaminant detection. For example, is it able to identify missing or broken components, or check seal integrity? Can it perform gross mass measurement, or inspect fill level for portion control? If it can perform these checks and detect contaminants simultaneously, then it will help food producers uphold high product quality and a strong brand image, as well as ensuring compliance with food safety regulations.

  1. Consider data monitoring solutions

In order to demonstrate due diligence in the event of a product recall, it will be necessary for producers to record and store product inspection data from across their production line to show that every possible measure has been taken to minimise safety risks. It is important for food producers to consider the data monitoring options available to them when selecting their x-ray inspection systems to ensure their reputation is adequately protected in such a scenario.

Many x-ray inspection systems now feature data monitoring software to keep records of every pack they inspect and reject. However, there are technologies that offer advanced connectivity solutions. These enable data from across the production line to be recorded and stored at a remote, centralised location, facilitating access by authorised personnel in an event of a product recall, making it easier to locate the source of any contamination event.

Moreover, such connectivity options can simplify the set-up and product changeover process for producers by allowing every inspection machine on the production line to be adjusted at the same time from a single interface. It can also allow the recording and monitoring of data relating to the performance of each machine on the line, enabling producers to identify and rectify adverse operating trends. This can streamline the maintenance process for the entire line and maximise OEE.

Product inspection system experts can advise on the data monitoring and connectivity solutions available to help producers make the right choice to meet their individual needs.

  1. What additional support is provided?

Food producers should consider the level of support offered by the manufacturer of each x-ray system. Many suppliers will be able to provide guidance and on-site expertise throughout the installation stage to ensure the equipment is fitted and commissioned correctly to offer optimum performance. This may also include customising the machine to specifically suit the layout of the line.

There are growing numbers of suppliers that are also able to offer guidance and on-going local technical support after the installation of the machine to help carry out essential maintenance and help producers optimise OEE and reduce TCO. Some also offer remote machine performance monitoring packages to allow real-time preventative maintenance to take place without the need for technicians on-site. This can ensure the machine consistently operates at its best with no unnecessary downtime, maximising line efficiency and productivity.

In addition, more suppliers offer comprehensive warranties to producers for their systems, avoiding unexpected customer costs and giving producer’s peace of mind that they have made the right purchasing decision.

  1. The checklist for optimum product safety

There are many factors to take into account when purchasing an x-ray inspection solution and it is important for food producers to adopt a measured and methodical approach when selecting new machinery. Devoting time to consider their options will pay dividends for food producers, ensuring they choose the most appropriate system for their specific line requirements.

Food producers should take advantage of the support available from product inspection experts to help them select the right system. Doing so will go a long way towards optimising product safety and quality, avoiding the cost and reputational damage of product recalls, while also maximising production line efficiency to protect their bottom line.

About the Author:

Daniela Verhaeg
Daniela Verhaeg

Daniela Verhaeg is the Marketing Manager at Mettler-Toledo Safeline X-ray, based in the UK. She currently specialises in x-ray technology for product inspection. With five years’ experience working in the field for the food and pharmaceutical industries, she has extensive knowledge of x-ray equipment for the packaging and inspection sectors. Previous to her role at Mettler-Toledo, Daniela worked in other marketing roles in technology corporations such as Bosch Rexroth. 

About Mettler-Toledo Safeline X-ray

Mettler-Toledo Safeline is the world’s leading supplier of metal detection and x-ray inspection solutions for the food and pharmaceutical industries. Together with Garvens Checkweighing, CI-Vision and Pharmacontrol Electronic GmbH (PCE), Mettler-Toledo Safeline forms the Product Inspection division of Mettler-Toledo.

For more information on x-ray inspection procedures and technology, call Daniela Verhaeg, Marketing Manager of Mettler-Toledo Safeline X-ray on +44 (0)1763 25 7900 or email [email protected].

For general information on Mettler-Toledo Safeline, visit: http://www.mt.com/pi

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