Intensified food safety regulations, the rising cost of raw materials and growing competition from international food brands are forcing more and more US and European food manufacturers to look for new ways to comply with health and safety demands, while optimizing production line efficiency.
When properly installed and operated, product inspection equipment can help manufacturers realize these goals. However, pumped production lines can prove difficult for traditional inspection systems. In this article, Kyle Thomas, strategic business unit manager at Eagle Product Inspection, discusses how pipeline X-ray technology can help manufacturers ensure the safety and quality of a range of pumped food applications.
What challenges do pumped production lines present manufacturers when it comes to product inspection?
Thomas: A wide range of processed food passes through pipelines every day, from meat and poultry to dairy products, fruit and vegetables to confectionery. However, contamination detection in pumped products can prove problematic for the following reasons:
•Processing makes it harder for traditional inspection systems to detect foreign bodies as contaminants are often broken down into smaller, less identifiable pieces.
•Removing contaminated product on pumped lines can prove tricky, and reject portion sizes tend to be larger for pumped applications. This is because standard reject mechanisms can’t isolate a single item.
•Downtime is a possibility, caused by contaminants damaging downstream processing equipment, such as grinders.
•Product passing through a pipe performs differently than product traveling on a conveyor, so speed variations must be taken into account.
•Pipework can run across roofs or be at an angle, making it challenging to incorporate inspection technology.
What impact can these factors have on production line efficiency?
Thomas: Using traditional product inspection solutions, the factors I mentioned can have an impact over and above minimizing the risk of contaminated product reaching consumers. First, the product that’s being rejected accrues more and more cost as it moves down the production line. Second, to ensure contaminated product is removed from the production line, it may be necessary to reject additional conforming product, thereby increasing waste. Third, to ensure accurate detection with traditional solutions, it may also be necessary to use narrow pipework, which can decrease throughput rates, slowing down the production line and reducing productivity.
How can manufacturers optimize contaminant detection on pumped lines?
Thomas: Manufacturers can enhance contaminant detection on pumped lines by installing a pipeline X-ray inspection system. Pipeline systems contain a flat manifold inspection area that promotes uniformity of inspection and maximizes detection of dense contaminants, including metal, glass, mineral stone, calcified bone, high-density plastics and rubber compounds.
Systems are available with a range of fully integrated reject valves, including a three-way ball valve. All the valves can be synchronized with the pump, minimizing rejected portions and saving costs. In addition, advanced systems allow a very accurate setup of the reject valve to shorten the time it’s open, reducing product waste.
Also available are pipeline X-ray systems that have a reject valve with a blade for solid/muscular products; the blade can cut out and reject just the contaminated product. Such systems may also contain a sensor to help ensure contaminated product is rejected, even if the speed of the pumped product changes.
Pumped production lines pose a challenge when it comes to maintaining optimal hygiene standards. However, advanced pipeline X-ray systems feature a uniquely robust, ingress protection [IP] 69-compliant design that supports and facilitates rigorous hygiene regimes, maximizing uptime and optimizing productivity. In fact, the equipment can be disconnected from pipework for easy cleaning. Regular equipment maintenance can also be an issue on pumped production lines, as can performance testing, which is a requirement for compliance with many Global Food Safety Initiative [GFSI]-approved standards.
Modern pipeline X-ray systems have a number of features that simplify maintenance and testing procedures, enhancing overall equipment effectiveness [OEE] and return on investment [ROI].These include piping and inspection manifold systems that can easily be removed for cleaning and maintenance. Plus, some X-ray system manufacturers supply an optional infeed pipe with a test piece insertion port that allows machine operators to perform regular testing.
What is the value of integrating X-ray inspection at the pumped production stage?
Thomas: Despite the challenges presented by the pumped stage of a production line, the benefits of inspecting pumped foods before final processing and packaging are numerous. Contamination detection levels are typically better in the early stages of the production process, where unprocessed pumped product can be presented in a shallower depth and with a more uniform [homogeneous] texture than in sealed packs.
What’s more, catching contaminants early can allow manufacturers to recover product and feed it back into the line, lowering waste and helping prevent the damage to downstream processing equipment that larger contaminants can cause. In addition, isolating and removing contaminants during this stage of production save packaging materials and the related cost that would be incurred if inspection only took place after final packaging.
Additionally, when installed early in the production process, product inspection systems can serve as a check on suppliers’ quality control and ensure any contaminants are removed before further value is accrued through processing.
Can manufacturers overcome all product inspection challenges by locating X-ray systems at the pumped production stage?
Thomas: Not all product inspection issues can be surmounted by locating X-ray systems at the pumped production stage. Therefore, it’s important to establish critical control points [CCPs] to mitigate risks and install product inspection equipment at these points to reduce the risk of contamination to acceptable levels.
Pipeline inspection systems can be used at different stages on a production line, depending on the identified CCP. However, a common location is at the start of the production process when product value is low and the risk of contamination from incoming raw materials is at its highest. Since pumps can run across roofs and at angles, a common challenge is finding the right location to incorporate a product inspection machine. A popular solution is to build a platform to host the X-ray machine.
End-of-line X-ray equipment is also available which, in addition to contaminant detection, is simultaneously capable of performing quality control checks, such as measuring mass, counting components, monitoring fill levels, measuring head space, checking seal integrity and identifying damaged products and packaging.
Why is it important for pumped food manufacturers to optimize contaminant detection?
Thomas: Enhancing contaminant detection on pumped food lines is crucial to comply with food safety standards and regulations. In fact, recent changes in food safety standards are driving the adoption of X-ray inspection.
As well as helping manufacturers adhere to a diligent Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points [HACCP] program, an X-ray pipeline inspection system can assist manufacturers in achieving compliance with GFSI-recognized standards, such as the British Retail Consortium [BRC] Global Standard Version 7, as well as the US Food Safety Modernization Act.
X-ray inspection can also help manufacturers adhere to national food safety regulations and major retailers’ food safety requirements. Plus, compliance with food safety regulations is vital to accessing lucrative overseas markets; minimizing the risk of expensive, brand-damaging product recalls; and safeguarding consumers.