Packaging machinery can go a long way to helping to keep the customer satisfied, as Torsten Giese, Marketing Manager – PR & Exhibitions, Ishida Europe explains…
In competitive retail markets packaging equipment can play a significant role in helping companies achieve success. The multihead weigher, for example, offered a revolution in accurate pack sizes and minimising giveaway when it was first introduced in the 1980s. From the very earliest models, product giveaway, which had been as much as 15% using manual weighing on bench scales, was reduced to well below 1%.
While the automation of the process greatly increased the speed of the packing operation, the significance of this was not just due to faster speeds – high-value products previously wasted in overfill were now being packed into additional packs. Output was therefore increased without additional input. There were other benefits too. Accurate filling meant packs could be designed smaller, reducing the cost of packaging, storage and transport. Consumer satisfaction increased as a result, as this eliminated the possibility of customers feeling short-changed by the correct amount of product in an oversized bag.
Since then, multihead weighers have continued to evolve and develop to meet the ever-changing demands of the retail food industry, improving in terms of even faster speeds and greater weighing accuracy. Equally important, the technology has been able to be adapted for individual applications.
Today, therefore, there are models with special raised surfaces for sticky products such as prepared fruit, jellies and gums, and weighers incorporating reduced angles and drop distances to protect fragile or brittle products from breakages. For fresh meat and poultry, anti-stick contact surfaces, plastic hoppers with scraper gates and belt feeders all help to keep product moving easily through the weigher. Mixed weighers can handle individual products separately for discharge into the same pack.
As well as different product types, another ever-changing challenge for multihead weighers is the variety of pack formats into which weighments have to be discharged. In terms of bag sizes alone, different weighers can now handle target weights from as small as 0.5g to 5kg and in some cases even heavier.
Equally significant, special distribution and filling systems have been introduced to ensure an accurate, consistent and spillage free interface between the weigher and the pack for other pack formats such as trays, pots and pouches. A further development has been the introduction of Weigh Batcher systems that allow the accurate weighing of fresh meat and poultry to be combined with manual manipulation in order to optimise the products’ arrangement and presentation in a tray.
Checkweighers are another essential part of the packing process to provide additional evidence that all packs leaving a factory are meeting the relevant legal weight requirements.
However, the continuing development of checkweighing technology means that checkweighers are now able to play a far more extensive role in the packaging process. Some of the most recent models are capable of providing a wide range of data monitoring and analysis. This can help to assess packing line performance and enable manufacturers to manage their operations more effectively, leading to improved Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE) and enhanced profitability.
Checkweighers can be combined with metal detectors, but for the detection of a wider variety of foreign bodies in packs and its ability to carry out an extensive series of additional quality control inspections, X-ray technology is becoming increasingly popular.
In terms of contaminants, X-ray can spot many different items including stone, glass, metals and dense plastics. Some X-ray models can detect impurities down to 0.3mm in size.
However, product quality is about far more than contaminants in a pack. Poor presentation, non-uniform product or incomplete packs are equally damaging to brand reputation. This is where the versatility of X-ray is a major benefit. The technology can alert operators to missing items in packs, and the presence of deformed product or packaging.
X-ray inspection systems can also provide full traceability. In the event of a complaint, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) or other data systems linked to the X-ray machine allow the retrieval of the X-ray image of a particular pack, establishing beyond doubt whether or not it contained a foreign body or showed a quality issue. As the system can capture every single image, it can also be used to expose any false claims.
Product quality is also about maintaining freshness and increasing shelf life, which means ensuring the integrity of seals. For sealed MAP (Modified Atmosphere Packing) packs, latest advanced seal testing, such as our own just-launched Ishida AirScan model, uses laser technology to identify leaks of CO2 from holes as small as 0.3mm at speeds of up to 180 packs per minute.
Fast and accurate weighing and effective quality control are just two examples of how packaging equipment can help maximise throughput and efficiency on the line and achieve high-standards of pack presentation and product quality and safety, all of which are essential for success in retail markets. Keeping up with the newest developments and investing in the latest models will help manufacturers make the most of their opportunities in a fast-changing market.
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