“The hand is quicker than the eye” is an old adage from magicians and illusionists. Indeed, the human eye can be fooled from time to time. And when it comes to food processing and packaging it is important that our eyes are not fooled. With advances in vision inspection equipment, machines can help with visual inspections. This automation can greatly improve quality, safety and efficiency in a food packaging operation.
In a recent article from the International Society of Automation (ISA), machine vision technology was explained as being “more intelligent” to address food industry regulations by improving the methods for repeatable visual inspections. There are several reasons that a plant should consider vision inspection technology for their food packaging:
- Accuracy and consistency – the machine eye does not tire and is consistently reviewing using the same criteria
- Efficiency – the machine is able to inspect a substantially larger number of products in a short period of time
- Hygienic – the machine meets with FDA regulations because it never needs to come in contact with the food or package
- Cost effective – the cost to implement vision technology has greatly reduced in recent years
- Variable – the machines can be configured to be used with a variety of different types of products and packages
The machines can detect when an object is placed in front of the sensor for inspection. A camera is then triggered that can take a picture of the product and the image is then reviewed based on many criteria that is configured by the business. For example, in food packaging and processing the machine may inspect:
- Size and shape of product
- Package markings
- Read barcodes
- Read human-readable text
- Detect some defects in packaging and flag or route for human review
With the machine vision technology, the number of food items that can be inspected can increase exponentially because the camera can review individual items in a very short period of time. This allows the human inspectors time to address more serious issues.
With integration into other systems such as motion control and scheduler software, the vision inspection technology can be very useful to improve plant efficiency.