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Machinery designers and system integrators working to optimise food and beverage, pharmaceutical and cosmetic processes understand how to deploy sensors as reliable quality control tools. Smart cameras and vision sensors are a stock-in-trade to inspect if caps or lids fit correctly on bottles or whether labels are properly applied. Monitoring for product defects and ensuring, for example, that there are the correct number of chocolates in a box, or biscuits in a tin, are everyday tasks. Auto-identification systems are routinely integrated with these systems to record, track and trace, avoid errors and record failures and trends.
Right product, right packaging?
But what if you simply want to be sure that the right product, flavour or batch has ended up in the right packaging?
FMCG and food manufacture are high-speed, multi-line production environments and, increasingly, consumer demand is pushing the need for more frequent product changeovers. In these challenging circumstances, it’s not just about whether the cap fits, but whether it is the right cap, film, label, lid, or outer for the product inside.
At the very least, a mistake could result in rejects, waste and downtime to reset a machine – for example, a strawberry ice-cream tub with a vanilla lid. But if the error continues beyond the factory gates, the consequences can be much worse. Retailers can demand severe penalties from manufacturers for breaches and a rejected delivery could trigger production rescheduling to accommodate an urgent demand for more product for a disgruntled customer.
The consequences could be even more serious if a regulatory or food safety breach occurs, for example if the outer has incorrect use-by, or dietary information for the contents within. What if, for example, the safety notes supplied with laundry detergents and cleaning agents are inadequate? Misuse could lead to serious problems. Pharmaceutical products in the wrong boxes, could even pose risks to human health.
The problem not only extends to primary packaging but also in secondary packaging – for example where several products, of one or more variety are included in multipacks, tray, carton or case.
Whether designing new machines, or upgrading existing systems, automating a process to signal mismatches would be a solution worth its weight in gold, easily paying for itself by avoiding downtime, customer returns or fines or even food safety systems.
Enter, a new technology from SICK, the Inline Code Matcher quality control system, an easy set-up, stand-alone system that simply and reliably matches 1D and 2D codes on the packaging and compares them with the pre-assigned product packing list. It is easily configured for high-production speeds and for code validation across multi-lane production lines. The system is well suited for retrofitting into existing plants.
With the high-reliability you would expect from SICK sensors, Lector 600 image-based code readers can be easily configured without any special training to monitor up to four lines simultaneously.
Low overall cost
Conscious of the keen margins associated with the sectors where this technology is of most value, SICK worked to develop low overall cost for the end-users through simple installation and operation, and minimal downtime. Just plug in the code readers and get started on the auto set-up.
Both configuration and operation of the system is intuitive via a tablet-sized HMI with touchscreen display. The system enables visual display of critical quality parameters in real time, as well as tracking and recording error patterns and long-term trends, so that processes can be improved, and any errors eliminated.
Any batch changeovers are accommodated quickly and easily ‘on the fly’, either by scanning the product, or by using a hand-held scanner to ‘teach’ the system.
Systems are usually configured to comprise between two and eight SICK Lector 620 image-based code readers, a 7inch touchscreen HMI, specially-developed software and a SICK Sensor Integration Unit. Nine different 1D codes are read as standard, including GS1 Databar, and five 2D codes including QR and Data Matrix. Up to four objects can be scanned per second per line.
The SICK Sensor Integration Unit includes a 4GB SDI card memory, for comparing pre-entered product data with the current run, saving error patterns and allowing rapid product switching or new products to be entered. Connection via USB Ethernet link to the factory control network facilitates wider digital data sharing and monitoring of the quality control process.
Easy to mount and align accurately, the Lector 620’s tough aluminium housings, 0oC to +50oC temperature range and IP65 environmental protection ensure excellent resistance to harsh production environments. For more information on the SICK range of products, please contact Andrea Hornby on 01727 831121 or email email@example.com.
About the author:
Mark Harris is SICK’s UK Product Manager for Auto-Identification and Systems. Mark has more than 25 years of experience in providing Auto Ident technology solutions for a broad range of factory and logistic automation solutions covering everything from automotive, food and FMCG manufacturing to courier express parcel and airport baggage handling systems.
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