As businesses strive to maximise efficiency and accuracy, the food production industry is seeing major growth in vision systems. Historically, items transported on a production line would be analysed and monitored via linear weighers, but in recent years these systems have been superseded by vision technology that is able to electronically ‘count’ items as they pass through production, ensuring optimal accuracy at the end of the line.
Part of the demand for these new generation vision systems has come from companies who are looking for ways to improve their operational efficiency. In the food production process – specifically in bakeries – there are many reasons for weight variations, so its paramount that accurate product readings are collected. There can be differences in the size and weight of a roll, for example, depending on whether it was made on the side of the line or in the middle. Before the introduction of vision systems – when production depended on the use of linear weighers – a pack that was meant to hold 100 items could end up with just 90, simply because some of the items weighed more than others. On the other hand, in some cases there could have been 110 items, which might be good for the consumer, but it means that the company is losing money by literally giving food away!
Such inefficiencies are being eliminated by new players in the production process involving form, fill and seal machines. There is a bigger emphasis on analysis over a broad range of items. Ilapak’s range of vision counting systems can accommodate fresh, par-baked, frozen and difficult to handle raw dough products, such as baguettes, pretzel sticks doughnuts and croissants. Within the Ilapak suite of counting systems, the flagship product is the Vision 2000, which offers flexibility and accuracy benefits and provides a viable low-noise alternative to conventional vibratory counters.
The Vision 2000 uses scan camera technology to count and feed baked goods into packs for the infeed of a VFFS (Vertical Form, Fill and Seal) machine. It has the ability to process up to 100,000 products an hour, with a 99% level of accuracy possible. Ilapak’s range of vision systems have the fastest available camera technology on the market to further boost efficiency and reduce production time, whilst also maintaining the same high levels of accuracy.
Images from the camera are overlaid to produce a real-time picture of the product flow, while the associated software processes this image and calculates when the target number for each pack has been reached. Using this technology, there is the ability to calculate different pack sizes at any one time, so for a bakery that is producing 80,000 products an hour, these items can be divided up into packs of 80, 100 or 140 items.
As production rates continue to grow in light of increased demand for fresh food, the importance of vision systems cannot be underestimated. The integration of a VFFS machine – compared with a bag in box system – allows multiple as well as single bags to be made and placed into boxes at a much higher rate, thus meeting the demands of producers and also the higher production levels. There are additional benefits in material costs and these vision systems are easy to maintain and clean. While other counting systems use polyurethane belts that require sidewalls to be removed before cleaning, the Ilapak range uses plastic chain items, which are much easier to handle. Cleaning and maintenance can also be done quicker, ensuring downtime is kept to a minimum and the levels of efficiency are maintained.
As well as ensuring the right number or items are in a pack, Ilapak’s portfolio of counting systems take quality control into account and can identify and reject deformed or damaged products, such as bent or broken baguettes. In certain cases, lasers can also be fitted to calculate and verify product height, while there is also the option of a metal detector, which can share a rejected system with the quality control module.
Featured image: The Vegatronic 1000/600 VFFS coupled with Vision 2000 offers flexibility and accuracy as well as a viable low-noise alternative to conventional vibratory counters