With so many product inspection systems available for the food supply industry, manufacturers and processors need to know which one is right for them and how to utilize it to its full potential.
These seven tips will provide advice for choosing and using x-ray systems and the necessary knowledge on how to get the most out of any investment.
1) Implement an effective product inspection strategy
A comprehensive product inspection strategy protects your customers, end consumers and your brand reputation by ensuring that products are free from contamination, reducing the risk of costly product recalls.
To determine which technology to select and where to install, you should follow the principles of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) throughout the production line.
Firstly, you must conduct a hazard analysis audit to identify the points most vulnerable to contamination – the Critical Control Points (CCPs) – as well as the greatest contaminant threat(s).
If the biggest risk is from metal, rubber, plastic, glass or calcified bones, then x-ray technology is the most appropriate choice. Once you have selected the correct solution, you then need to establish your CCPs, apply corrective actions and instigate data management processes.
Following these principles will not only minimize contamination risk, but will also ensure compliance with food safety guidelines, such as the British Retail Consortium (BRC) Global Standards and International Featured Standards (IFS) in Europe, and those of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), all of which are now based on HACCP.
Compliance with food safety standards and retailer guidelines enables manufacturers to export to lucrative markets and major stores across the globe.
2) Future proof your purchase
When you invest in a new product inspection system, the future needs of your production line should always be taken into account.
Modern x-ray machines are engineered to be as flexible as possible, and are capable of handling a diverse range of products of different shapes and sizes. Furthermore, some x-ray systems allow for upgrades, or the implementation of additional features.
Today’s x-ray technologies are versatile and can inspect a variety of products, in a range of sizes and packaging formats. There are no limitations to the type of products that x-ray can inspect.
3) The benefits of multi-functionality
Today’s x-ray solutions can perform a wide range of in-line quality checks, including identifying missing or broken components, inspecting seal integrity and checking for damaged packaging. By assessing fill levels, the system also helps you to avoid product over- or underfilling, reducing waste from product giveaway, as well as ensuring compliance with contents labeling laws.
Current regulations regarding net content declarations are not stringent, but suggested reforms to legislation include stricter reinforcement of conformity by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), making it more important to ensure correct weight in future.
4) The importance of record-keeping
Safety standards are more rigorous than ever before, so it is essential to optimize quality control on production lines. Manufacturers seeking to expand overseas must comply with retailer guidelines, as well as regional and international regulations.
International programs, such as the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), help producers export globally by harmonizing food safety standards, making it easier for companies to comply with multiple requirements.
New technologies enable manufacturers to collect and document data about their lines. Vital operational processes are logged with the collection of datasets, such as historical data from networked product inspection systems.
This is then stored on a server that can be accessed remotely using statistical software to retrieve information, such as trend-lines, product reports or bar code specific information, enabling you to act efficiently and improve your operations.
X-ray technology that includes data collecting capabilities can demonstrate the quality and integrity of the product, proving due diligence in the event of a product recall, when it will then be necessary to show that every effort has been made to ensure food safety during manufacture.
5) Cut cleaning time with robust machinery
X-ray systems and other machinery has to be robust to withstand chemical cleaning processes in harsh wash-down environments, such as those in the dairy or meat industries. The wash-down cycle can be time-consuming due to the difficult removal of cumbersome louvers, but there are x-ray solutions designed to simplify the process and minimize downtime.
For example, some systems feature casings made of thick, stainless steel plates, cut and welded together to eliminate dirt traps for easy cleaning. There are also x-ray systems where the conveyor belt lifts up through the release of a lever, enabling operators to quickly access crucial areas of the machine internals, cutting downtime by as much as 20 to 30 minutes.
6) Get the right support
The service your business provides to customers depends on the service your machine supplier provides you. You need to ask yourself a number of questions, such as whether, to maintain productivity, you need support during working hours or round-the-clock, or whether you need remote online maintenance, or a speedy on-site response.
Prior to reactive support, you must also consider proactive support. For example, a Preventative Maintenance Agreement will help ensure that your equipment is maintained in optimal operating condition, pre-empting any potential future service issues.
By working with a reputable partner, you and your staff can receive guidance in how to use and look after the system, as well as radiation safety training support.
7) Don’t forget about spare parts
In the unlikely event that something went wrong with your x-ray system, would you know what to do and where to get the spare parts from if needed?
Before you invest in a new machine, always take the sales and service network of the technology provider into account. A supplier with a global distributor network and local maintenance support offers you face-to-face contact and ensures that you get the help and spare parts you need easily and quickly, wherever you are in the world.
In the end, the costs of implementing and maintaining an effective x-ray inspection system are much lower than the potential costs of product contamination. Can your business really afford to be without one?
Kyle Thomas, strategic business unit (SBU) manager at Eagle Product Inspection, is responsible for research and development and the expansion of Eagle's product portfolio to meet the demands of existing and potential customers in the food and beverage manufacturing and processing market.
He brings extensive experience and a high level of business acumen to this role, developed over 28 years with Mettler-Toledo, who acquired Eagle Product Inspection in 2011. Kyle has held senior positions in various parts of the business, most recently as marketing head at Mettler-Toledo Hi-Speed in the US.