Capabilities are up. Cost is down. With the risk of calamity more serious than ever, processors are ready to embrace high-tech inspection systems.

Omron’s F210 vision system is designed to handle OCR, level detection, label inspection, and carton inspection from the same controller. Source: Omron.
AS PLANT NUMBERS SHRINK, LINE CAPACITIES CLIMB, AND the threat of recall keeps more operations executives up at night, processors are beginning to see that high-tech inspection system may save dollars and make good sense at the same time.

"Quality inspection is like purchasing insurance," says Tracey Hartje, sales manager for Loma International, Carol Stream, Ill. "You hate buying it on your home, but if something big happens, your premium sure looks like a small investment."

As high-tech inspection equipment enters the mainstream, processors are finding they can get more power for less money.

"We have broken the $2000 price barrier," says Richard Daigle, marketing manager for DVT Corp., Duluth, Minn. He's referring to DVT's Legend 510 SmartImage Camera, a vision inspection system with a price tag of $1995.

A fully functioning CMOS smart camera system, the 510 does not have the reader capability of its sister system, the new Legend 550 series. Still, the 510's accurate angle measurement and speeds comparable to CCD cameras in parts per minute inspection should appeal to prospective buyers.

The Legend 550 - DVT's next generation in smart camera technology - features DSP technology and more memory. "We took the earlier 540 series and added a new Texas Instruments processor that bumps speeds up to eight times faster. It's a great camera that works well in operations where speed and label reading come into play," says Daigle.

The Guardian vision system from FMC FoodTech/Allen Systems features a 2048 pixel high-resolution camera and “Bull’s-Eye” ejection system. Source: FMC FoodTech.

Catch some rays

Falling costs and user friendliness have made X-ray technology another inspection alternative. Features such as contaminant-detection capability, speed, and the overall variety of tasks they can perform make the systems more enticing.

"X-ray is the fastest growing segment of a maturing market," says Hartje of Loma International. "Consumers have raised the bar on quality and safety issues, and, today, it is easier to justify the cost of the machines. A couple of years ago, they sold for $80,000-120,000. Today they range from as low as $50,000 to a typical price of $80,000."

The X3 is its latest generation of Loma X-ray inspection equipment. It features AutoTrack, an advanced image processing system that automatically adjusts to the optimal performance setting product by product.

"X-ray equipment is the wave of the future," says Don Bina, communications specialist for Thermo Electron, which markets X-ray equipment, metal detectors, and checkweighers. Bina thinks the food industry will see more X-ray technology because of its 3-D capability and its ability to work with high-performance checkweighers.

The Loma X3 detects contaminants such as metal, bone, glass, and plastics. It can also identify missing items, provide mass measurement, and detect broken or malformed product. Source: Loma International.

Heavy metal detection

While X-ray technology is making headway, metal detection equipment has made significant advances of its own. The Loma IQ2 metal detection system was designed for upgrades with easy access electronics, plug-ins, and user friendly control panels. The system is easy to calibrate and can automatically capture settings for 100 products.

The new Thermo Goring Kerr DSP IP model metal detector from Thermo Electron is the first metal detector capable of handling 1450-psi washdown pressures and temperatures of 150

The Thermo Goring Kerr DSP IP is the first metal detector capable of handling 1450-psi washdown pressures and temperatures of 150ºF. It is the only IP 69K approved metal detector in the industry. Source: Thermo Electron.

Seeing the light

Key Technology of Walla Walla, Wash., has upgraded its line of optical sorting systems capable of detecting defects and ejecting them from a stream of raw product traveling at high speed.

"Our equipment's most noticeable improvement has been in its approach to lighting," says Tim Reardon, marketing manager. Sorters, he explains, have to "normalize" light to keep it consistent. "Now we are using HID (High Intensity Discharge Lamp), a bulb that puts out a broad spectrum of light from blues to infra-red. It provides a remarkable improvement in color recognition."

FMC FoodTech/Allen System's Guardian broad belt vision system scans for defects and tonal variations with both wet and dry product. The system features a 2048-pixel high-resolution camera capable of detecting subtle defects or monochromatic shades. Also offered is an optional HSI (hue, saturation, intensity) color recognition system and UV lighting package. The company claims high accuracy with its "Bull's-Eye" ejection system.

Up until recently, machine vision hasn't been a critical necessity to the food industry. But today better educated consumers and hard-nosed retail customers are quick to reject suspicious or unsatisfactory product.

"Now processors can't afford to take the risk of recall," says Mark Sippel, senior product marketing manager, machine vision, for Omron Electronics, LLC, based in Schaumburg, Ill. "Sampling product from a line is no longer enough. They need 100-percent inspection."

Five years ago, Omron took the advanced technology of its high-end, large-scale label inspection systems containing up to eight cameras to a smaller, more compact and affordable machine vision sensor, Sippel explains. New generation units are more flexible, easier to mount, take up less space, and, with fewer eyes, enable easier camera placement.

Last autumn, Omron introduced its latest model, the F210 vision sensor system for label detection. Capabilities include optical character recognition, level detection, label inspection and carton inspection. The system features Omron's QUEST algorithm for enhanced OCR/OCV capability to read and confirm lot codes, date codes, and other information to facilitate traceability on containers as small as pill bottles. A fine matching algorithm can detect differences between live product image and a user-taught model. Its ILS (Intelligent Light Source) controls light source intensity and direction, with savable settings. In the same family, the F210CF model, designed to inspect, grade and verify date codes, is the first application-specific vision sensor.

The DVT Legend 510 SmartImage Camera has a price tag under $2000. Cost includes software licenses and upgrades and classroom training and support. Source: DVT.


Perhaps the most useful characteristic of the current generation of high-tech inspection systems, and a reason they are likely to proliferate in processing plants in years to come, is their ability to interface with information systems. Such interfacing can provide real-time status and history for both a product and a product run - critical to tracking sources of contamination or irregularity.

"Knowing not only how to control a line but also to track a problem to a final box or pallet is the next big area in food," states Doug Burns of Milwaukee-based Allen-Bradley. A-B's current thrust is to build systems that are not only compliant with industry and regulatory standards, but ready, too, for integration with higher end systems. This takes a lot of the high-level engineering requirements off of the back of processors. "We're not quite at the plug-and-play level, but we are light years ahead of where we were five to 10 years ago," says Burns.

Allen-Bradley's control platform, Control Logix, is designed not only to acquire data but make it useful. "We've also introduced Power Programming, a methodology for how you lay out your program so that everyone in the organization up and downstream is following the same plan," says Burns. "Now a processor without a huge engineering staff can get familiar with the technology in an integrated factory talk environment. This is the missing link between the machine builder doing his own thing and the end user pushing his own designs and specs."

For more information, contact:
Patty Roberts, Allen-Bradley, 414-382-2000

Richard Daigle, DVT, 678-852-9431;

Neil Anderson, FMC FoodTech/Allen Systems, 503-538-3141

Tim Reardon, Key Technology, 509-529-2161

Tracey Hartje, Loma International, 630-681-2055

Mark Sippel, Omron, 847-843-7900

Don Bina, Thermo Electron Corp., 763-783-2630;