X-ray machines have long been deployed in the food and beverage industry to help ensure product safety and quality. Inspection equipment that uses x-ray detectors with advanced computers and software can be added at multiple points in a manufacturing facility‒ protecting products and reducing risks. Determining where x-ray systems should be installed and what types of machines work best with a particular product or package depends on the operation and the business goals, but there are some basic tenets to understand and questions to ask when setting up an inspection system.
You’re thinking about adding, changing or upgrading x-ray technology on your manufacturing line. What next?
When talking about x-ray fundamentals with customers, we help them get started by reviewing how x-ray works and then assessing their current operation to determine where they can and should deploy inspection machines to get the best food safety and quality benefits. Our experts also answer frequently asked questions about introducing or enhancing inspection systems, from basic x-ray safety to worker training to the potential range of applications.
“X-ray 101” begins with an overview of the technology itself. In a nutshell (sometimes literally, when we’re working with nut manufacturers!), x-rays are invisible forms of electromagnetic radiation that can pass through materials. An x-ray inspection systems use an x-ray generator to beam low-energy rays through a product into a detector generating a greyscale image. A computer within the x-ray machine is powered by imaging software that analyzes the image and compares it to a pre-determined standard to be accepted or rejected. If rejected, an automatic reject system kicks in to remove the item from the line.
Once familiar with x-ray technologies, you can start the decision-making process on how to use inspection systems in your facility to strengthen your food safety and quality efforts. To make those decisions, you can ask some important initial questions:
1. What products am I making now, and what do I plan to make in the future?
Depending on your product line, you might need to inspect raw or bulk, in-process and packaged foods or beverages. X-ray inspection systems can be put in place to conduct safety and quality checks for a broad range of fresh, frozen, free-flowing, pumped, wet, dry and packaged products. Accordingly, a machine that works best in powdered ingredients can be set up upstream, while the end of that line can be set up with a system designed to check boxes of finished products. Today’s x-ray machines are versatile and, at the same time, often designed for specific products and functions.
2. Where are my main vulnerabilities for food safety and quality?
If you receive bulk or raw materials from suppliers, you can have potential contaminants coming in with those items, which happens more than you might think. It occurs in items like grains, powders, produce, animal-based proteins, and more. Your facility will also have different critical control points during the many steps of processing or production and in the transition from product creation to packaging. Your HACCP plan can help you identify vulnerabilities, like susceptibility to metal fragments during the rolling process or plastic pieces accidently introduced during the mixing phase. It is important to identify these critical control points to then select the correct x-ray inspection machine for that specific entry point. Your food safety manager can also do a walk-through, virtual or in-person, with an Eagle expert. Bear in mind that if you’ve added new products or changed your line since the last time you installed an x-ray machine, you might have different or new points of vulnerability.
3. What labor challenges are we facing?
The labor shortage in the U.S. and other parts of the world, stemming from the pandemic and other socioeconomic factors, has likely affected your operation. X-ray in section systems can effectively replace and surpass manual inspection and are a fail-safe at key points in the manufacturing process. Inspection systems also cut down on false rejects that require manual rework. By training a small number of employees to operate an intuitively-designed, efficient x-ray machine, you can redirect or maximize labor in other parts of your facility. One soup and sauce manufacturer, for instance, reported an uptick in productivity when using a multifunctional x-ray system that automatically checks for contaminants and performs quality checks that would otherwise take time and labor.
4. What is your current knowledge level about x-ray inspection technology?
Getting started with x-ray involves figuring out the proper configuration for your needs and setup, but is also about understanding what x-ray is and how it can be used. Often, we are asked about x-ray radiation and we let customers know both the basic facts and important details about these technologies. For example, while x-ray equipment generates ionizing radiation, modern x-ray inspection machines used in the food industry do not contain any sources of live radiation and their use is highly regulated. Eagle x-ray machines are housed in a stainless steel cabinet, with access protected by two forced break interlocks. Eagle offers several resources and extensive training on safe x-ray equipment and usage; here too, our experts are available to answer any specific questions.
It’s important to remember that there is not a cookie-cutter approach to x-ray systems used in a food or beverage manufacturing facility. Your line, business and people are unique, and your choice of inspection technologies will reflect those factors. After asking and answering the basic questions, Eagle’s team can also work with you to turn plans into installations that get right to work protecting your products and brand.