Plant automation drives demand for inspection technology

The greater use of automation at food processing plants is enhancing the threat of foreign matter contamination, making it increasingly crucial for operators to leverage potent inspection systems.

Food plants are increasing their use of automation. Processors seeking to enhance operating efficiencies while compensating for reductions in available labour are leveraging more innovative technologies for functions ranging from washing, cutting and mixing, and the packaging of final products.

While newer machine designs are enabling operators to produce higher quality food products faster, this increase in automation also brings additional operating challenges that require highly effective detection systems. Not only does the greater use of production technologies increase the probability of machine components, such as bolts and brackets, falling into food during processing, but in addition, fewer workers means less chance of spotting foreign matter in products or preventing such incidents from occurring.

Plant employees who prepare or process food by hand, for instance, typically have a better ‘feel’ with regard to avoiding excessive force, and are able to adjust their movements, says Michael Ahern, National Sales Manager for Anritsu Infivis Inc. “The processing machinery does not know when things are going wrong in such a way,” he said. “There is a greater risk of matter getting into a product any time operators add automation to their production lines.”

“The recent push for automation is replacing functions that are easy for humans to execute,” Ahern said. “When once plant workers had to cut a food product by hand, there are now very sophisticated machines to perform this role.”

While he notes that such machines can be expensive, labour shortages are making the technologies more cost effective for processors. Indeed, additional processors are investing in robotics due to the shortage of skilled workers and the expense of attracting and retaining labour.

Furthermore, inspection systems are becoming increasingly valuable by enabling detection of smaller objects while having a range of price points and capabilities to support processors of all sizes and their unique requirements. That is important, as worker shortages, which have been an issue for several years and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, are likely to be ongoing.