4 Ways to Safeguard Products in an Automated Environment

Christy Draus, Marketing Manager, Eagle Product Inspection

28 September 2020

The development of next-generation technologies, along with outside influences like the recent global health crisis and ongoing labor challenges, have spurred the use of greater automation in food and beverage manufacturing facilities. Although automation makes operations more efficient, there is the potential for new vulnerabilities and risks that can impact food safety and quality. Advanced inline inspection systems are designed to work in these new production environments to best protect products and brands. 

If the food and beverage marketplace has changed dramatically in recent times, so have operations within production plants. To increase efficiencies and optimize time and labor, manufacturers of consumable goods are increasingly deploying automated systems.

From the greater use of robotics to the integration of technologies and machinery, automation is taking hold across many types of production, processing and packaging lines. Last year’s labor shortages and this year’s COVID-19 pandemic have only exacerbated the shift to greater automation.

While these kinds of technologies are making many aspects of manufacturing easier and more efficient, automated systems don’t mean automatic food safety.

For one thing, although the risk of human error may be reduced through automation, there is still an inherent risk in the handling and production of items meant for human consumption. No one system is 100% fail-safe, and there is a chance that products can be contaminated with a foreign material at various points in the process. Moreover, there are different and unexpected vulnerabilities in any new machine added to a plant floor.

The good news is that x-ray inspection technologies are keeping pace with advances in automated equipment. Here are four ways that you can keep a close and, yes, automatic eye on products as you add or upgrade other manufacturing systems:

  1. Re-assess your assessments: If your operations include more automated systems, you should conduct new risk assessments to determine critical control points where foreign contaminants might be introduced or not caught. The risks change along with any change in machinery. 
  1. Leverage the latest inspection technologies: Advanced x-ray solutions not only keep up with quicker line speeds and multilane setups found in highly automated plants, they are designed to find the smallest contaminants at many stages of the production process. For example, in a poultry processing line, the new radically-enhanced Eagle PXT™ Performance X-ray Technology inspects incoming raw materials to ensure that hard-to-find bone contaminants (down to 1 mm) are removed before moving into further production. Ground poultry can be inspected using a pipeline x-ray machine to detect contaminants introduced before or during that stage. Processors also can perform an additional check for contaminants before packaging. Meanwhile, look for the latest image analysis software that can deliver the highest greyscale in the industry.
  1. Conduct parallel quality checks: As long as you’re saving time and resources with automation, perform concurrent quality assessments such as fill level, mass measurement and component count with advanced x-ray systems. Those in the produce industry, for example, can use the same inspection system to protect products from physical contaminants and to conduct key quality checks, like identifying voids in potatoes, checking components in a salad kit, ensuring proper fill level for fruits in jars and more.
  1. Keep up the training: The importance of training and technical support is greater than ever, with the introduction of often-complex automation systems. Machine operators need to understand how to optimize all features of inspection systems to help ensure the safety and quality of food and beverage products. With thorough training that includes basic operational instruction as well as guidance on how to optimize efficiencies and best integrate technologies, operators can help their business keep a competitive edge, stay compliant and extend the life of its inspection systems. Eagle’s extensive training program also enables users to better understand and use information generated by x-ray machines and software, including real-time and stored data and images.

As companies look ahead to what’s likely going to be another transformative year, they may be weighing capital improvements for greater automation. Keep in mind that looking to the future also requires greater scrutiny of products for safety and quality.