TECHNOLOGY designed to better control the end-of-the-line manufacturing processes, including coding and packaging, can provide food and beverage manufacturers with a cost-efficient solution that not only reduces production costs but also product liability.
"In food manufacturing, coding and labelling errors could cost manufacturers dearly because they often require reworking," Matthews’ manger for identification systems, Mark Dingley, told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
"Reworking could involve going back and repackaging the defective production or completely reproducing that product. Either way, both processes would require extra time spent by workers to fix the defect and also extra material to reproduce that product."
However, eliminating coding and labelling errors is about more than just production efficiency and waste management; it is about cost management.
"Manufacturers are now checking for coding and barcoding errors all the way along the production process, from primary through to cartoning or palletisation," Dingley explains.
"The idea is to control wastage costs by checking the product in stages as it comes down the line, rather than checking all at once as it comes off the production line. This allows manufacturers to correct an error without stopping an entire plant’s production, and reduces potential costs which could arise as a result of coding or packaging error."
One technology helping local food and beverage manufacturers better monitor and control the production quality to eliminate product recall, rework, lost production and material wastage is iDSnet – a package code management system designed to deliver a true product-traceability solution throughout manufacturing businesses, thus streamlining operations.
Using iDSnet technology, in addition to eliminating coding and labelling errors, manufacturers can better control the production process by assessing performance speeds, optimal efficiency and overall efficiency to see if they are meeting their efficiency targets, says Dingley.
"The technology captures information from various points along the production line – such as scanners, photo eyes, vision inspection systems, packaging equipment and so on – showing the true performance of those production lines in real time. Manufacturers can look at the data to see how effective their production line is, to determine how to achieve overall equipment effective (OEE) standards," he says.
"Having access to real-time data gives manufacturers the ability to make decisions based on how their production line is running in actual time or over a certain period of time, and informs them of any issues, such as stoppages, as they may arise down the production line."
Omron Electronics product specialist for machine vision, Panfilo Tarulli, says checking for product defects as goods come down the line is definitely the more cost-efficient method, rather than waiting to check the completed products at the end.
"Most food lines operate at very high speeds. Within an hour, if a defect is not recognised, the manufacturers can lose thousands of defective products. At this stage, the product can be reworked, but at a heavy cost to the manufacturer," Tarulli told Manufacturers’ Monthly.
"But once labels are applied to the defective product, the cost of reworking becomes too expensive. The manufacturer is better off disposing of the defective product and reproducing a new batch. Reproduction however does come at a cost: a new roster for the reproduction needs to be scheduled and more raw materials need to be used, which adds to the cost of production."
A technology that is helping food and beverage manufactures better manage their production costs and reduce labelling errors is machine vision – an imaging-based technology that provides continuous inspection of products on a production line.
"You can install a vision system after each process or after several processes – it really depends on where the waste is having the biggest impact on your yield rates," says Tarulli.
"If for example you lose in a year $70,000 dollars in defective products, then a $40,000 vision system fully installed and commissioned has just saved you $30,000 in your first year alone."
Tarulli says Omron’s FZ3 vision system sets a reference point, which is used to compare products on your line. The measurements received fill levels, expiry dates, codes and label information are analysed, and adjustments can be made to set your optimum efficiency level.
Vision systems are also used in areas where human intervention creates problems. The idea is not to replace workers in the production process, but to maximise their skills in other areas of production. This could mean workers spend their time monitoring the line and ensuring that all processes and systems are in place and functioning, rather than checking products.
Though such technology provides opportunities for manufacturers to achieve higher returns in the food and beverage industry, for workers on the factory floor it provides a source for acquiring new skills.
"Workers on the floor can monitor and access the data through these systems, via scoreboards, which inform them in real-time of how the line is running, whether there are any errors and how efficiently it is running," says Dingley from Matthews.
"Knowing how to read and interpret such data not only helps to build worker confidence, it empowers them to take greater control over their work. Overall, it lifts their skills level and improves efficiency."