Food Engineering

Automated tube tester debuts

May 1, 2011

Laser and high-resolution optics provide consistent, quantifiable measurements of the key parameters of tubes used to package foods and other products. Source: Cerulean.

Burst tests, leak detection and other package-integrity testing remain largely lab-based, manual processes, even as the machines that produce those packages accelerate their output capabilities. At the request of a toothpaste manufacturer, a British firm that fabricates high-speed packing machines for tube-filled products has developed an at-line standardized testing system that takes some of the subjectivity out of those tests and hopefully allows package formers to improve production consistency and reduce waste.

Called the Q-Test, the automated tester was designed to test laminated and extruded-plastic tubes, container options largely relegated to pharmaceuticals and cosmetics in North America but formats popular for food products in Europe and Japan. Development work began in late 2008, when Colgate-Palmolive Co. asked Cerulean, a London area division of Molins Plc, to devise a machine to test tubes that feed into the packing/filling machines it manufactures. The first inspection machine installation will be at Colgate’s Morristown, TN toothpaste plant.

Q-Test has two modules, explains Peter Wilson, Cerulean’s global sales manager: pneumatic measurements that test for leakers by pumping pressurized air into a tube at 5psi and, for burst tests, 30psi. The machine also performs torque measurements of the tube’s cap. A second module utilizes laser and a camera with a high-resolution lens to inspect side-seam integrity, as well as measure length, diameter and ovality. Currently, QA technicians use high-power microscopes to examine the 1.5mm-wide seams, but that is “labor intensive and open to interpretation, with potential inconsistent results,” he says. Automated inspection takes about a minute.

Although the machine is designed for tube inspection, Wilson believes it can be adapted for plastic bottles and other containers. “We already have a list 3-ft. long of things the machine doesn’t currently do, so the Q-Test 3 is on the horizon,” he says.

For more information:

Peter Wilson, Cerulean, 44 1908 396034,