Food Processing Equipment How-Tos

Thursday, January 25, 2018

This article was originally published as a white-paper from Key Technology. 

Source: www.key.net/resources/white-papers


A Step Change in Digital Sorting

As technology evolves, there are times when changes are incremental and times when a step change massively disrupts the status quo. Digital sorting has recently experienced a step change. The disruptive new technology, now in commercial use at food processing facilities around the world for more than a year, offers new capabilities and delivers new standards of performance.

What’s new? Everything. From the sorter’s mechanical architecture to its sensors, software, ejection system, user interface (UI) and more, a combination of incremental and disruptive changes have been brought to the market. This white paper will describe what’s different and present the benefits these new features bring to processors of frozen and fresh cut fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, wet and frozen potato strips, potato chips and other snacks, nuts, dried fruits, confections, IQF seafood and more.

Driving the Changes

The evolving needs of food processors are what push processing technology advancements. Processors seek the next level of improvements in product quality, increases in yield, greater automation to minimize labor, enhanced equipment ease of use to reduce training requirements, superior sanitation, simplified maintenance, greater operational efficiencies and lower cost of ownership. What’s new is how today’s advanced digital sorters are doing more to better satisfy these objectives.

All-Sided Surface Inspection

For years, food processors looking to achieve advanced product quality objectives have wanted total surface inspection of each item in their product stream, but the production challenges of sustainably achieving this have seriously hindered its success – until now.

Thoroughly inspecting all sides of a product enables all defects and foreign material (FM) to be detected and removed. Positioning cameras and laser sensors orthogonally to the product flow allows two-sided viewing, while arranging cameras in an off-axis configuration achieves all-sided viewing of each object.

The problem with legacy belt-fed sorters is that the bottom-mounted sensors, when present, are located such that they are subject to splatter, where product residue, other debris and/ or water can splash onto the sensor windows, which gradually inhibits the sensor viewing performance until the windows can be cleaned. In high-volume, continuous production environments where major sanitation routines are scheduled far apart, those extended runtimes essentially render the bottom-mounted sensors useless after a short period.

Now, a giant leap forward in full-surface inspection functionality is here. This dramatic step change is possible thanks to a new mechanical architecture on belt-fed sorters that positions bottom-mounted sensors, along with light sources and backgrounds, strategically away and protected from product splatter. With a radical new design that keeps these surfaces clean, full viewing of the product stream is sustained throughout even the longest production cycles and in the most aggressive production environments. Blind spots are eliminated and 100-percent surface inspection is maintained as accurately after equipment sanitation as it is following days and weeks of continuous operation.

Chute-fed and freefall sorters have long been able to accommodate front-and-back mounted sensors but have been limited to double-sided laser scanners and single-sided cameras or vice versa. Now, when the application warrants, the most modern chute-fed sorters can be fully configured with both laser scanners and cameras mounted on the front and back of the product stream. Since cameras are better at recognizing product defects based on color, size and shape and laser scanners are ideally suited to detect FM, equipping a sorter with both sensor types front-and-back maximizes product quality.

FM and Defect Discrimination

Both incremental improvements and a step change are enhancing the sorter’s ability to consistently differentiate FM and defects from good product. Today’s advanced digital sorters feature next-generation 4-channel cameras and laser sensors configurable with up to 8 digital channels, all at twice the resolution of previous generation systems. Higher resolution sensors can detect smaller defects and FM, and the clarity and volume of channel information from the sensors help achieve clearer discrimination between good product, product defects, and FM contaminants.

A step change is introduced on sorters that incorporate the new multi-sensor Pixel Fusion detection concept. Pixel Fusion uniquely combines pixel-level input from multiple cameras and laser sensors for the greatest detection accuracy possible. This multi-spectral level of analysis allows a sorter to detect and remove even the most difficult-to-detect FM and surface defects with fewer false rejects. Pixel Fusion also helps the sorter identify specific FM types for the purpose of automatically alerting when a particular FM finding occurs during production. This capability is of most value when the tolerance for FM is particularly tight, such as when inspecting final product quality at the end of the production line, immediately upstream of packaging. Understanding when a specific FM finding occurs and being able to view a sensor image of the found FM type stored by the sorter can help food processors identify and correct the root cause of the FM introduction into the product stream. And it can help link FM and other quality issues to specific batches of raw product being processed.

For processors interested in leveraging chemometric analysis in addition to product quality management and FM elimination, hyper-spectral imaging technology is a powerful solution. Already in widespread use on chute-fed sorters for nuts when managing a high volume of incoming shells and available as an option on ADR systems for removing potato strip sugar ends, hyper-spectral imaging allows invisible product conditions to be identified and measured or used as a criteria for automated sorting.

Independent of the sensor types employed, today’s intelligent sorters improve FM and defect removal by leveraging more advanced software and algorithms. For example, object-based recognition is achieved by connecting pixels, identifying the background and electronically extracting and separating each object as images are processed. This enables a variety of detailed calculations to be performed, including measuring the length, width, area, symmetry and/or shape of each object as well as the location of a defect on the product and/or the total defective surface area of an object to make accept/reject decisions.

 Grade

The primary job of any sorter is to maintain product grade, as defined by the processor, while maximizing process yield. An effective tool in this pursuit is intelligent Sort-to-Grade (STG) software, which is popular with potato processors because it enables them to accurately maintain complex final product specifications without operator intervention. As this STG capability is developed for other products, dramatic new operational and product quality benefits will become available to more food processors.

Simply speaking, STG allows a sorter to recognize and categorize every surface defect as well as the size of individual objects, intelligently performing accept/reject decisions based on how the outcome will impact the aggregate ‘in the bag’ product grade. For example, if the target grade permits a certain measure of minor defects to be present, an STG-enabled sorter will automatically pass only the allowed amount of that defect type. By controlling the quality of the output to a defined grade, STG ensures final product specifications are consistently met. By accurately passing only allowed defects, STG increases process yield by one to three percent while making grade. By eliminating manual adjustments, it dramatically reduces the need for any operator intervention during normal production.

Accurate Ejection

Supporting all the technology advances realized in defect and FM detection, improvements in the sorter’s ejection systems have kept pace. The most modern ejection systems are customized to match the needs of the application, with air nozzles spaced ideally for each product type. Intelligent software on advanced sorters adjusts the power, pattern and duration of the air nozzles to suit the size, shape and weight of each object targeted for separation. Smart sorters can actuate one or more nozzles using contour-based or centroid-based calculations to target precise hit points on the object, maximizing removal accuracy and preventing the targeted item from disturbing the path of other objects around it. Matching superior detection accuracy with superior ejection accuracy maximizes product quality and minimizes the amount of good product inadvertently rejected.

Easing Use

At the same time digital sorters are getting more sophisticated in their ability to detect and eject FM and defects, their increased processing power is being harnessed to ease use and enhance automation. Navigating with swipes and taps, much like a smartphone or tablet, the newest sorters feature a UI that is so intuitive a new operator with minimal skills can master the full extent of its capabilities in less than one hour. UIs can provide different views and functionality access to users of various levels, depending on their needs.

New automation intelligence helps maintain peak performance while easing use by allowing a sorter to run virtually unattended during normal production. In addition to STG, which makes the smartest accept/reject decisions to achieve grade and maximize yields while eliminating manual adjustments, today’s most intelligent sorters offer a host of smart features.

Auto-learning allows the sorter to automatically process trend variations in incoming product quality and determine if sort recipe adjustments are necessary. Then, self-adjust algorithms enable the sorter to automatically adapt to normal changes in the product or operating environment. Predictive system diagnostics alert users to attend to critical system components before the component has an opportunity to fail. Advanced sorters can also be programmed to send smart alarms to remote devices if certain conditions of interest begin trending in problematic directions. The FM Alert function captures, time-stamps and saves sensor images of critical FM to immediately alert to such critical FM findings. Recipe-driven operation and repeatable system calibration ensure consistent sorting performance day after day, including when running the same sort recipe across multiple sorters in different lines or plant locations.

Big Data

Modern digital sorters can be leveraged to collect, analyze and share useful information across the processor’s enterprise. Called ‘Information Analytics,’ this highly customized capability enables a sorter to collect real-time data and generate reports about the sort process and every product and object flowing through the sorter, including leveraging data additional to that which is required to perform the sorting operation. By turning data into knowledge, it facilitates the processor making more informed decisions about line functions upstream and downstream of the sorter.

What’s evolving rapidly is the ease of harnessing large amounts of valuable data. Today’s most sophisticated sorters feature advanced software that enables universal connectivity via an OPC-compliant infrastructure, supporting integration with virtually any factory automation system such as MES or SCADA from various manufacturers. Additional integration scenarios include support for Modbus and Ethernet/IP devices, as well as the creation of CSV and database files.

Sorter connectivity enables the remote management of the system in addition to data reporting. Remote access via a secure portal eases use by allowing the sorter to be monitored and controlled by personnel off the plant floor, including management and the sorter’s supplier located off-site. This capability increases the first-time fix-rate, reduces in-plant service requirements and speeds issue resolution time to improve performance, increase uptime and extend equipment life.

Conclusion

For food processors looking to enhance product quality, increase yield, reduce training requirements and improve operational efficiencies, the newest digital sorting equipment is worth close consideration. Those who recognize and implement successful new technologies ahead of the rest – the early adopters – put themselves in a position where valuable competitive advantages can be won.


January 2018

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Until recently, processors of fresh-cut produce have relied on labor-intensive manual inspection to remove defects and foreign material (FM). But tightening restrictions on pesticide use and the growth of organic products are making defects more common while the scarcity and cost of labor and consumers’ increasing scrutiny of fresh-cut product quality is rising. Given these market dynamics, processors are looking for methods to improve inspection.

Advancing technology and experience in other food segments have ushered in a new set of solutions. Automated optical inspection systems (also called sorters), which have been widely adopted for decades in the potato processing and processed vegetable industries, have recently been developed for fresh-cut produce. Compared to manual inspection, which is inconsistent and subjective, sorters are able to assure product quality and food safety by more effectively identifying and removing defects and foreign material, while at the same time reducing labor costs and improving operating efficiencies.

In this white paper, we will explore a wide range of sorting technology. The objective is to help fresh-cut processors understand what tools can be leveraged to maximize product quality and identify the criteria they should consider when selecting the ideal sorter for their products and applications.

Sorting Basics

From on-belt to in-air systems, sorters typically handle up to 7.5 metric tons per hour when sorting leafy greens and up to 28 metric tons per hour when sorting cut vegetables. Some sorters rely on cameras, others on lasers, and some combine cameras and lasers to view product from the top only or both top and bottom. Some sorters inspect only an object’s color, others inspect an object’s color, size, and shape, and some sort based on the object’s structural properties, including differing levels of chlorophyll. The processor’s products and business objectives determine the suitable sorter configuration.

Regardless of configuration, each sorter contains similar basic elements. The material handling component presents the product in the optimal method to the sensors. The sensors capture data, which is analyzed by the image-processing system. Defective product and foreign material are either ejected by mechanical paddles or air jets.

Although sorters are designed for continuous, 100 percent, in-line inspection at full production speeds, they can also be used in a batch-feed mode.

Cameras and Lasers and Wavelengths

The ideal sorter for any given application combines the lights, cameras, lasers, and image processing software that most effectively differentiate good product from defects and foreign material. To maximize that differentiation, it is important to identify the wavelengths that produce unique “signatures” for each object of interest. The sorter manufacturer might use a spectrophotometer on the customer’s products, defects and foreign material to see how these objects respond to different wavelengths. Armed with this data, the manufacturer will identify the ideal wavelengths or sets of wavelengths from infrared (IR) to visible to ultraviolet (UV) for the specific application and recommend the most appropriate technology to achieve the desired results.

Tri-chromatic cameras can be set to inspect within the visible range (red, green, and blue) or a combination of visible and IR or UV spectrums. These cameras capture product information based primarily on material reflectance and, depending on the image processing software, can recognize defects and foreign material based on color, size, and shape.

Sorting systems can also use lasers, sometimes in conjunction with cameras, to inspect product. Lasers are used primarily to inspect a material’s structural properties, which make them ideal for detecting a wide range of foreign material and some product defects. Like cameras, lasers can be designed to inspect only within the visible range or within the IR or UV spectrums too.

If multiple sets of wavelengths are needed to detect the range of defects and foreign material for any given product, the sorter can be equipped with multiple cameras set at differing wavelengths and/or multiple lasers or a combo-laser that simultaneously inspects at more than one set of wavelengths. Similarly, if multiple products are run on the line and each product is most effectively inspected at a unique wavelength, selecting a sorter that inspects at all these wavelengths is desirable.

Size, Shape, and Color

All sorters, even the simplest systems that rely only on monochromic (black and white) cameras, can detect differences in color (if only on the gray scale) to distinguish good product from defects and foreign material. But most sorters are capable of much more. Sophisticated color cameras are capable of detecting millions of subtle color differences to better distinguish good from bad objects. And the resolution of cameras and lasers differ with the highest resolution sensors able to detect the smallest defects and foreign material. The resolution of commonly available cameras and lasers detect defects and objects down to 3-5mm. Ultra-high resolution systems can detect defects and objects as small as 1mm.

Enhanced capabilities can be added if the sorter’s image processing software offers “object-based recognition,” enabling it to analyze objects based on size and shape as well as the location of the defect on the product, if desired. Some sorters even allow the

user to define a defective product based on the total defective surface area of any given object. These object-based considerations put more power into the processor’s hands to produce optimal product quality.

Fresh-Cut Applications

A wide range of leaf defects can be identified by sorters equipped with color cameras. If the defects can be seen on both the sides of the product, a sorter with only top-mounted cameras is effective. To detect and remove single-sided defects, and in situations where product overlap occurs at higher capacities, sorters with top- and bottom-mounted cameras are often recommended.

Defects associated with water exposure, sun exposure, chemical burn, insect damage, rodent damage, rot, disease, bacteria, and fungus, as well as problems in the outer wrap of iceberg, romaine, and cabbage due to bruise damage or wilt, can all be removed with color camera-based sorters. Typically, color cameras that inspect within the visible spectrum are most effective for detecting leaf defects in iceberg, romaine, and cabbage. Vis/IR (a combination of visible and IR) cameras are usually most effective for baby spinach and spring mix.

But much more is possible with color sorting. One processor that packs peach slices in glass jars learned that customers prefer the color of the slices to be consistent. Mix yellow and orange slices in one jar and customers perceived the yellow slices as unripe and left the jar on the shelf. This processor used color sorting to separate the slices by color. The technology allowed them to pack jars with only yellow slices and jars with only orange slices. All the jars sold well and their sales increased.

Shape sorting has been used in the processed vegetable industry for years to differentiate green beans from same-color stems and knuckles. Extend this shape-sorting capability further and consider using the technology to separate straight green beans from curved ones. Such a separation would enable the processor to package straight beans in single serve packs and price them at a high mark-up while diverting curved beans to bulk product, thus increasing the overall value of the green beans.

Processors of leafy greens such as iceberg, romaine, cabbage, spinach, spring mix, mâche, butter leaf, arugula, and oakleaf often find sorting with a combination of cameras and lasers most effective. The cameras detect leaf defects based on color while the lasers detect insects and animal parts as well as sticks, rocks, cardboard, plastic, metal, and glass, even if they are the same color as the good product, based on the object’s structural properties.

One type of laser sorter that is very effective for a variety of fresh-cut products is fluorescence-sensing laser sorters. These sorters detect objects’ differing levels of chlorophyll to detect and remove foreign material. This technology is so powerful, it can sort leafy greens and identify and remove leafy green product left over from the prior crop as well as leaves from trees, even if they have similar color, texture, and shape as good product.

Fluorescence-sensing laser sorters are also useful to some processors of cut vegetables. For example, carrot processors interested in identifying and removing carrot tops with stems remaining on the crown or even embedded in the crown can achieve this sort with fluorescence-sensing lasers.

Sorters that combine color cameras and infrared lasers can be effectively used to detect and remove core from cut iceberg and romaine lettuce, along with leaf defects and foreign material. This powerful capability allows processors to cut the un-cored head with conventional cutting technology and then use the sorter to remove the core. It enables processors to eliminate manual cutting and outer leaf removal, which reduces labor costs and improves yields. And because the core is not removed in the field, the shelf life of the product improves.

Sorter Selection Criteria

When searching for the perfect sorter for any given application, several variables should be considered beyond throughput, cameras, lasers, and wavelengths.

The value of the sorter manufacturer’s experience cannot be underestimated. Their expertise helps identify the ideal wavelengths and sensors to use to achieve the customer’s sorting objectives given the products and applications. Their expertise also guides them to consider custom-engineered product handling components that minimize product damage and sanitation features such as clean-in-place systems that minimize bacteria and

keep the sorter operating at peak performance.

Of course, the effectiveness of the sorter relies not only on the hardware but on the software – the algorithms – that manipulate raw data and categorize information based on the customer-defined accept/reject thresholds. The art and science of image processing lies in developing computerized routines that improve the effectiveness of the operation while presenting a simple user-interface to the operator. Thus, the sorter manufacturer’s expertise in developing algorithms for the customer’s products affects both the sorter’s performance and ease of use.

When comparing competitive systems, consider the resolution of the cameras and lasers because higher resolution allows the sorter to detect and remove smaller defects. Compare cameras and their ability to detect possibly millions of subtle color differences. Compare the illumination system (usually either fluorescent, LEDs, or HID), understanding that superior lighting leads to superior sorter performance.

Sorters are sophisticated pieces of equipment based on technology that advances at a rapid rate. As technology advances, the capabilities of sorters grow, which can be used to the processor’s advantage. To continue to get the most from a sorter and maximize the return on investment, look for a modular sorter that is designed to be easily upgraded, or reconfigured in the field.

Last but not least, it is important to consider the level of service a supplier can provide in a specific region – from engineering to after-sales support.

The Bottom Line

With the arrival of sorters designed specifically for fresh-cut produce, processors now have a highly effective tool for removing defects and foreign material while reducing labor costs and improving operating efficiencies. Processors that select and install the ideal sorter for their application are better able to consistently assure product quality and food safety. But most importantly, they are safeguarding their customers and protecting their brands.


October 2017

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Sorters, which include both optical (digital sorters) and non-optical (mechani­cal sorters), are found throughout potato processing plants. At some points on the production line, either optical or non-optical systems can be used, and the processor should consider his or her objectives to select the best solution for their appli­cation. At other points along the line, there is clearly a superior choice. And in some cases, optical and non-optical sorters are best used in combination with one feeding the other.

This white paper will cover optical and non-optical sorting technologies, high­lighting the strengths and the ideal potato processing applications for each, from receiving whole potatoes to packaging finished goods at both potato strip and potato chip/crisp facilities.

Clarifying the Terminology

Optical sorters are increasingly being called ‘digital sorters’ to reflect the fact that advanced systems can detect product attributes, including some that are invisible to the human eye and thus challenge this limited concept of ‘optical.’ Like other digital technologies, these sorters rely on computerized devices to perform.

Presently, digital sorters feature cameras, lasers and hyperspectral imaging systems that operate in a wide range of wavelengths within the visible light spectrum as well as invisible infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV). Depending on their sensors, lighting systems, software and algorithms, sorters can recognize each object’s color, size, shape, structural properties and chemical composition to detect and remove non-conforming products and foreign material (FM) from the product stream and sepa­rate product by grade.

Non-optical sorters include a wide range of mechanical equipment such as rotary sizing and grad­ing systems and multi-deck shakers. Unlike digital sorters, these systems rely primarily on mechanics instead of computerized devices to perform various operations such as separating product by length or diameter or removing fines or FM that is either heavier or of a different size than good product.

The Pros and Cons

A digital sorter can achieve the most thorough FM removal and offers the ability to sort for the wid­est range of product characteristics simultaneously, among many other benefits. The biggest down­side to a digital sorter, compared to non-optical alternatives, is the initial cost of the equipment, although improved product quality, increased yields and reduced operating costs often generate a rapid payback.

The question then becomes, where on the production line are select operations effectively per­formed with mechanical, non-optical sorters? And where do digital sorters add the most value?

Potato Strip Processing

At receiving, the objective is to remove dirt, rocks, golf balls and other undesirable materials, either before or after the whole potatoes are washed. With a throughput of up to 36 metric tons, a me­chanical length sizer removes field debris while simultaneously grading whole potatoes by length so small potatoes are sorted out to reduce the production of strips that are too short. A digital sorter could also accomplish these goals while removing a wider range of FM, but it would significantly restrict throughput and the added value of the optical solution may not justify the added cost of the equipment at this point on the production line.

After peeling, a digital sorter adds significant value. It can be designed to reject potatoes with remaining peel, which are redirected back to the peeler for rework. At the same time, data from this sorter can provide feedback to operators to adjust the peeler, or the sorter can be connected to automatically control the peeler in real time. By fine-tuning the peeling operation, the digital sorter helps meet product specifications while reducing the yield loss that comes from over-peeling and the production inefficiencies that result from reworking under-peeled potatoes.

A whole potato digital sorter equipped with multi-chromatic cameras is the best solution for use after the peeler. If the sorter features three-way sorting, it can pass good potatoes through while dedicating one reject stream to rework and another reject stream to potatoes with rot, green de­fects and FM. This sorter can also sort too-long potatoes that can be redirected to a Potato Halver. If the whole potato sorter features a hy­perspectral sensor, it can detect and remove potatoes with invisible ‘sugar end’ defects and measure solid content while simultaneously ejecting FM, remaining peel and other defects.

Non-optical sorters cannot detect peel, ‘sugar ends’ or solid content, but they are used after peeling, prior to the cutter, often in addition to a digital sorter. Because digital sorters cannot accurately mea­sure diameter, a mechanical diameter sizer is used to remove whole potatoes that are too large to feed the hydro-cutters. If a digital sorter is not grading whole potatoes by length, an upright length sizer can also be used to redirect over-length potatoes to a potato halver to prevent processing strips that are too long.

After cutting whole potatoes into strips, non-optical sorters are often used to remove slivers and small diameter cuts. With its high efficiency, high throughput and affordable cost, a rotary sizing and grading system, such as a sliver sizer re­mover or precision size grader, is usually the preferred technology at this point on the production line. Compared to drum-style graders, rotary sizing and grading systems offer gentle handling, easy adjustability, simplified maintenance and improved sanitation.

Prior to blanching, drying, frying and freezing, most potato strip processors rely on a digital strip sorter equipped with multi-chromatic cameras and/or an Automatic Defect Removal (ADR) system to remove surface defects on the cut strips. The objective is to remove all non-conforming strips at this point in the line, before investing in the energy-consuming processes that follow. If the ADR features a hyperspectral sensor in addition to cameras, it can detect and cut invisible ‘sugar ends’ from the strips, along with other visible surface defects, to recover the good product and increase yield.

While this digital sorter could also be programmed to remove slivers and small diameter strips, it is more efficient to combine a rotary sizing and grading system or a multi-deck shaker upstream of the digital sorter and/or ADR. By removing slivers and smalls with a mechanical system prior to the optical system, the digital sorter and/or ADR can focus on FM and/or defects, which improves the accuracy of the operation to enhance product quality, maximize yields and minimize compressed air consumption.

After an ADR, a mechanical sorter removes nubbins that result from the ADR cut­ting process. This nubbin removal can be achieved with a rotary sizing and grading system or a multi-deck shaker.

After blanching or frying, again some processors often want to remove too-short strips, which they divert to co-product, and too-long strips, which they divert to the ADR to be cut. Here, depending on the number of decks, a multi-deck shaker could remove only too-short strips or both too-short and too-long strips. Some processors use shak­ers with up to five-decks to separate strips of multiple sizes, which are later combined in the right proportions to achieve product specifications.

The last opportunity to correct product quality problems is after freezing, immediately prior to packaging. If the processor is confident that all FM and product defects have been removed with the digital sorter prior to blanching and no quality problems have been created after that point, then a multi-deck shaker may be sufficient, removing too-shorts, too-longs and possibly separating strips of other sizes to be combined in the right proportions.

Most processors, however require a more robust final quality check using digital sorters equipped with a combination of cameras-and-laser scanners immediately prior to packaging. In addition to re­moving FM and defects, those digital sorters can be equipped with three-way sorting, sort-to-grade and strip-length-control functionalities to automatically ensure maximum process yield.

Sort-to-grade (STG) targets all FM and criti­cal defects for removal, but minor defects are considered differently, with accept/ reject decisions based on how potentially passing each defect will affect the overall final product quality, as defined by the user. The STG-equipped sorter will allow some minor defects to pass and still maintain grade. It ensures product quality while reducing operator intervention throughout the day and increasing yields by one to three percent.

Like STG, strip-length-control is a dynamic tool that analyzes data in real-time and enables the sorter to make intelligent decisions. It removes enough short strips to make grade while passing enough short strips to maximize yields.

Potato Chip/Crisp Processing

Potato chip/crisp manufacturers sometimes use mechanical sorters to size grade whole potatoes, thinking there is an opportunity to make the cutter more efficient by feeding potatoes of a consistent size.

After frying, almost every potato chip manufacturer relies on a multi-deck shaker to remove fines, followed by a digital sorter to remove FM and defects prior to packag­ing. Lines producing continuous-fried chips are often satisfied with camera-based digital sorters that identify and remove defects such as green, bruises and overcooked black spots. If FM removal is a high priority, a camera/laser combination sorter is preferred because lasers are better than cameras at detecting FM. For lines producing batch-fried kettle-style chips, a camera/laser sorter equipped with application-specific software and algorithms is ideal because the lasers achieve better detection of several common batch-fried defects such as clumps of chips and doubles stuck together, oil soaked chips and blistered chips.

Conclusion

When selecting the ideal sorting technology to meet the specific needs of each application, it’s helpful to understand the strengths and weaknesses of both optical and non-optical alternatives. Whether the perfect solution is ultimately found with a digital sorter or a mechanical grading system or a combination of the two, working with a supplier that has a deep understanding of both tech­nologies allows for a thorough analysis. Bringing the art and science of digital sorting and mechani­cal grading together with a deep processing knowledge and application expertise delivers the most added value.

Originally Published by:

Key Technology, Inc.

150 Avery Street

Walla Walla, WA 99362

T: 509.529.2161

E: product.info@key.net

Website:  www.key.net


August 2017

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Executive summary

Industries today face critical challenges to process operations: operational acceleration; evolving technologies; and a changing workforce. Modern automation systems offer real solutions to these challenges through new functionality that, in essence, can result in a future-proof plant. First in a series of three, this paper explores these challenges and explains how process automation systems can address them.

by Peter G. Martin

Globalization; energy markets that change in real time; variations in materials and prices; aging of the industrial workforce; inability to attract the next generation of talent; and difficult regulatory pressures are all challenges that face industrial companies. These trends contribute significantly to the high level of stress present within today’s industrial business environment.

New tools and updated automation systems help address these challenges by enabling organizations to keep pace with accelerating operational and market requirements. The benefits of evolving the business through use of these tools include enhanced productivity derived from the new technologies, attraction to the firm of qualified new employees, and the ability to then support these employees with the required knowledge.

Only a decade ago, basic manufacturing processes operated with what was then an acceptable production pace: within the limits and constraints of their material and energy storage boundaries. This storage capacity was viewed as a necessary aspect of production value chains, ensuring that materials and energy would be readily available when required. But storage-based value chains also added cost to the business and removed agility from the operation.

Over time, critical business variables associated with industrial production have begun to fluctuate with more frequency. For example, today the price that an industrial firm pays for electricity might change every 15 minutes. This increase in speed has also impacted the frequency in variation of the production value and material costs of an operation. Now the speed of business is so fast that industrial operations must be able to respond to market changes in real time. Unfortunately, the energy and materials storage points in the storage-based value chains of a decade ago are becoming the limiting factor in these operations.

Introduction - The speed challenge

“Today, the price of electricity might change every 15 minutes, which impacts the production value and costs of an operation.”

A number of industrial businesses are working to change their process designs by improving their agility. Automation systems must be designed from inception to be extremely agile, adapting to process changes quickly and easily. As these process changes are implemented, object-based industrial service-oriented architecture (SOA) can help industrial companies to adapt flexibly – therefore future-proofing the operation while maintaining the operational integrity of the plant.

As the speed of business continues to accelerate, many traditional functions that industrial operations have performed in transactional business systems will require execution in real time. Therefore, business functions such as real-time performance measures, real-time activity-based accounting, and profitable safety and asset performance management will need to operate in a real-time system.

As well as helping companies meet business challenges by future-proofing their operations, modern process automation systems also future-proof their technology. Control room components such as operator consoles and engineering tools have much shorter lifecycles than process-connected components such as transmitters and control software. Process manufacturers need the flexibility to upgrade all  components to meet emerging business requirements, without having to upgrade everything at once.

To accomplish this goal, the most effective automation systems embody a “continuously current” approach, which allows a plant to evolve to the latest state-of-the-art technology while preserving existing hardware, software, and applications. Industrial businesses can therefore protect their engineering investments, and in many cases, use emerging technology to drive more value from their automation solutions.

From an architectural perspective, three key features of such an automation system are:

Providing a distributed software architecture that operates in standard operating system environments such as UNIX and Windows NT

Utilizing industry standards where available

Building a distributed object-based communication infrastructure

In recent years, the concept of continuously current technology has been taken to a new level by extending the basic system design to become an industrial service-oriented architecture (SOA). Incorporated into the process automation system, the SOA design is based on a two-layer set of services that wraps around Microsoft’s Windows NT kernel and utilizes open web technologies.

The first layer consists of operating system services that extend Windows NT for highly distributed and secure industrial usage (see ). These services include distributed object management, common name space, inter-process communications and security services, among others. Adding these extended operating system services to the Windows NT kernel means that users experience the full benefit of the Windows NT system services as well as of the industrial context provided by these extensions.

The technology challenge

The second layer provides a set of application services that are common across all industrial systems. These services include common human machine interfacing, historical data management, and a real-time workflow engine. This application layer of services is based on the desire among industrial companies

to have common approaches across their systems to simplify system design, implementation, and operation, as well as to offer operational insight and encourage collaboration across their operations.

An aging workforce is also an important issue. This will impact industrial companies in three ways. First, critical expertise and experience will be displaced from the workforce. Second, new, younger workers must be readied to replace the talent that is leaving. Third, industrial companies will need to develop plant environments that attract younger talent. Automation technology can help future-proof industrial operations within each of these three areas in a number of ways.

The people challenge

On average, today’s most experienced workers will retire at an average rate of 10,000 per day in the USA alone.

Properly designed automation software can help capture the intellectual property of both engineers and operators before they depart. On the engineering side, applying an advanced object infrastructure and taking full advantage of the technology independent characteristics of modern applications can enable these applications migrate forward easily on new technology platforms, effectively preserving their design intelligence over time.

Software workflow engines at the system platform layer allow intellectual property originating with engineering, operator, and maintenance veterans to be embedded into the system environment. These assets can be accessed on demand. Thus these workflows can offer to new hires operational insights from more experienced contributors who may actually have left the organization.

Highly complex and error-prone operations such as plant and unit startup and shutdown can be directed down optimal operational paths. Also, operators and maintenance workers can be guided through unexpected and perhaps unsafe events via intellectual property embedded in automatically triggered workflows.

A properly designed automation system can also address bringing new and younger employees up to an acceptable level of effectiveness in the shortest time possible, so they can replace retiring personnel. Tightly coupled, first-principle based operator training simulators used in conjunction with contextualized virtual reality training systems can help new operators achieve certification levels in less than half the time of traditional methods.

Experience demonstrates that operators can become proficient in short order on the day-to-day, repeatable functions they are expected to perform. The challenge has been to train for infrequent and unexpected events. Now these can be programmed into simulation and virtual reality software, enabling operators to practice responding to these events in a repetitive manner and getting them to proficiency very quickly. But reaching proficiency is only the first step.

Once operators reach certification levels, they must continue to build on their performance. The advanced automation answer is to embed lifetime training capability into the online environment through performance feedback mechanisms and performance prediction software. Since people learn by feedback control, providing these capabilities within the operational insight environment drives them to even higher levels of performance than that of their predecessors.

In the final component of the people challenge, potential employees from the X, Y and millennial generations may not be attracted to industrial careers because they view them as “old and dirty.” But the industrial environment can be made more appealing by system features such as visualization software that can run on a traditional CRT console, a display wall, or a smartphone and that can be adapted to operate in new human interfacing technologies as they are introduced.

Coupling such user-friendly high-technology environments with advanced learning environments based on a deeper understanding of how people learn could be a major attractor of new talent into the operation. Future-proofing automation technology is only one of the issues industrial companies face as they move forward. Many critical challenges and changes that are expected to impact industrial operations will require similar efforts.

Automation system technologies cannot address every aspect of future-proofing industrial plants, but they can help in three critical areas: protecting the operational integrity of plants, enhancing the operational insight of people, and enabling plants to adapt easily and affordably to change. Companies that deploy object-based industrial SOA will gain significant capabilities for addressing all of those objectives.

About the author

Dr. Peter G. Martin is VP of Strategic Ventures and Marketing and an Invensys Fellow within Electric’s Process Automation Industry business. He has worked for Foxboro and  Invensys for over 35 years in training, engineering, product planning, marketing, and strategic planning. Peter holds multiple patents for dynamic performance measures; real-time activity based costing; closed-loop business control; and asset and resource modeling. He is a published author, was named one of Fortune magazine’s “Hero of U.S. Manufacturing” and one of InTech magazine’s 50 most influential innovators of all time in instrumentation and controls. He is an ISA Life Achievement Award recipient, recognized for his work in integrating financial and production measures that improve the profitability and performance of industrial process plants. Peter has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in mathematics, a master’s degree in administration and management, a Master of Biblical Studies degree, a doctorate in industrial engineering, and doctorates in biblical studies and theology.


July 2017

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Color-coding is an important part of any food safety program. Not only does it help prevent cross-contamination due to pathogens, allergens, and foreign contaminates, color-coding has a variety of other uses. With the number of governmental regulations growing, it is essential that food processing facilities stay on top of the current trends and best practices to be market leaders. Implementing a color-coding program is a great way to help accomplish that. Here are the ten things that you should know about color-coding:

10 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT COLOR-CODING:

1. Benefits All Food Processing Facilities

Any food processing center can benefit from color-coding. Color-coding helps keep work areas

sanitary and organized. There are some industries that can especially benefit from color-coding. Not surprisingly, these industries tend to carry higher risks and take more precautions.

Some of the industries that can benefit the most from color coding are:

• Meat/poultry

• Seafood

• Dairy

• Produce/raw ingredients

• Baking/snack

• Confectionery

• Beverage

• Vineyard/winery

These industries are most concerned with preventing cross-contamination and cross-contact, especially when dealing with pathogens, allergens, and other foreign contaminates, and complying with strict FDA and USDA regulations. In the light of the recent increase in food recalls, it is more important than ever to be vigilant in food processing facilities.

Color-coding can do more than just help prevent cross-contamination, such as aiding organizational efforts. When everything has a place, and everyone knows where that place is based on an object’s color, it’s easy to keep tools put away. For a large facility, color-coding can separate tools by shift or by area. For smaller operations, a single color could be used per employee or employee role.

Color-coding goes beyond cleaning and material-handling tools. All kinds of accessories can be color-coded to help ensure complete understanding. Hair nets, footwear, clothing, gloves, mats, bins, and even tape can be color-coded to make distinguishing between different zones easy.

Color-coding has a number of benefits to offer any food processing facility, especially when it is implemented effectively.

2. Prevents Cross-Contamination

Color coding is an easy way to visually separate work areas and prevent cross-contamination.

Facilities with cross-contact concerns with allergens should particularly consider color-coding to

lower that risk. The threat of recalls is always present, especially with facilities that contain allergens.

Color-coding can help decrease the risk of contamination that leads to recalls. Color-coding developed using the guidelines of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP), a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material product, procurement, and handling, to manufacturing, distribution, and consumption of the finished product. Control measures are used to “prevent, eliminate or reduce a significant hazard” in this system. Color-coding is an excellent example of a control measure.

Cross-contamination is prevented by keeping foods that transfer bacteria separate, or by keeping allergens separate. For example, we all know raw meat should never come into contact with processed meat, so you keep them separate. The simplest way to do this is to color-code the food processing facility. When a facility has a color-coded program in place, it becomes much easier to distinguish between sections. For example, raw meat zones can be color-coded red, and the processed area green.

Sample Color-Coding Systems:

Preventing Functional Cross-Contamination:

Red: Raw Meat

Green: Processed or Cooked Meat

Preventing Departmental Cross-Contamination:

Blue: Seafood

Yellow: Chicken

Preventing Allergen Cross-Contamination:

White: Milk

Green: Soy

Yellow: Wheat

Just about every food processor knows that complying with food safety regulations from the FDA and other regulatory bodies is a vital aspect to the success of their overall operation. Without achieving this compliance, it would be fairly difficult to run an effective food processing program. The list of recalled food products seems to grow every day– many the result of some sort of cross-contamination, and those recalls can cost millions of dollars. The old adage, “better safe than sorry,” comes into play when talking about protecting against recalls. Color-coding is one simple method tohelp keep your food processing operation as safe as possible.

One of the most important measures to come out of recent FDA regulations is HACCP. Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points is a preventative approach to the identification, evaluation, and control of food safety hazards that may cause illness or injury when not properly controlled. Put simply, HACCP is a measure designed to help control the threat of cross-contamination from biological, chemical, and physical agents. According to the FDA, “any action or activity that can be used to prevent, eliminate or reduce a significant hazard” is considered a control measure. Color coding is an excellent example of a control measure.

3. Marks Zones and Critical Control Points

Once potential food safety hazards are identified, critical control points can be documented. The FDA defines a critical control point in a food manufacturing process as “a step at which control can be applied and is essential to prevent or eliminate a food safety hazard or reduce it to an acceptable level.”

Knowing where the critical control points exist in a food production process is essential to designing an effective HACCP plan. Included in the many HACCP compliance resources available from the FDA is an example of a decision tree to help a food processing operation identify critical control points, seen below. Using a decision tree like this is not a mandatory part of the process, but it is valuable as a tool to facilitate the development of a thorough food safety program.

Since color-coding is a control measure, color-coding zones often coincide with critical control points or groups of critical control points. For instance, a color zone may be assigned to an area where raw meat exists in a facility, since raw meat poses increased risks of bacterial contamination. There may be several critical control points that require other control measures within that one color zone, such as testing for contaminants or refrigeration of the raw meat prior to processing. Once the meat has been cooked, a different color may be assigned to the zone following the raw meat area to prevent bacterial cross-contamination into the finished product. For this purpose, color-coding is an excellent and simple way to visually confirm that equipment is in the appropriate critical zone in a food processing facility.

When color-coding is implemented, it is easily apparent which zones are which, and what they represent. Because of this instant recognition, separating contaminated food before it goes out to the public becomes easier. And we all know that internal recalls (and no recalls) are less costly than public recalls.

4. Has Established Best Practices

While the FDA does not currently have any standard set rules to follow when it comes to implementing a color-coding program, there are some common best practices that can optimize the process. Here are some ideas to help you design an effective color-coding program:

Keep your color-coding system simple– Limiting the number of colors you use will go a long way towards simplifying the process. Too many times, people get bogged down with the idea that every line and every single process has to have a different color. This is not the case. Try to have a different color only when cross-contamination is a concern at a critical control point in the process. Those points where control is not needed could potentially use the same color, since cross-contamination is not a threat. If too many colors are used, the process becomes confusing and less effective.

Pick logical colors for each area– Making the transition to a color-coding system should be as seamless as possible. In order to keep confusion low when stepping into this system, try to pick colors that make the most sense in each area. For example, certain colors might make sense for certain areas in your food processing facility, such as red for raw meat, or yellow for wheat. Do what is most logical for your facility. Also, make sure that it makes sense to both managers and employees. If everyone is on the same page, the transition should run smoothly.

Avoid complicated color assignments– Having customized tools, like a different colored handle than the broom, might seem like a great idea to help differentiate zones. However, it could also lead to confusion. If you mix and match handles and brushes, the end result might be chaos. Say you have a red broom with a green handle. Now, you have the problem of trying to figure out if it goes in the green zone or the red zone. Save everyone the confusion, and stick to one color per zone. Instant recognition is the key to keeping confusion to a minimum. You should be able to look quickly and determine which zone is which. Remember, color-coding is supposed to solve confusion, not add to it. Roll out the color-coding program at one time –This goes back to avoiding confusion.

If you try to incorporate the new system in with the old one, people are just going to be confused. It’s best to start the program all at once. It might be more difficult in the beginning, but it will be worth it in the end. Also, having a definite end date to the old program and a definite start date for the new system will make the transition even smoother.

Good communication is key– Having everyone on the same page will help with starting your color-coding program. A good place to start is by discussing changes with shift managers, then rolling it out to employees. The mangers should have a good understand of the new system so they can address any questions or concerns employees might have. Offer a cheat sheet to employees that explains the color zones so they’ll have the information with them at all times.

Reinforce color-coding with good signage– When you’re starting a color-coding program, you don’t want any ambiguity in how it’s perceived. Make it absolutely clear what the program is and when it is starting. The best thing to do is label every point in the process, in multiple languages if necessary. Be sure your tools and storage areas match– Be sure the tools are stored in the same area where they are used to avoid confusion, cross-contamination, and equipment loss. If the red tools are stored on a red bracket or red shelf, it is easy to see exactly where that tool should go when it isn’t in use. Having an organized storage area will be very helpful in maintaining the integrity of the color-coding system.

Follow through– Utilize the same documentation at point of use, with the purchasing department and with the quality manager so everyone is on the same page. Make sure all loose ends are tied up to further the success of the color-coding program. If the program is successful, your facility will be much safer.

5. Regulators and Auditors Love It

If your business is food processing, you’re no stranger to government rules, regulations, and auditors. Complying with federal food safety regulations is crucial to the success—and even the existence— of your operation. Keeping the auditor happy sometimes becomes a top priority (such as the day before the audit), because no one wants to deal with the time, money, and marred reputation of a production delay or facility shutdown. If you’re looking for ways to strengthen the food safety efforts at your operation, you need to know about color-coding—because we guarantee that your auditor does. Even though color-coding is not a standard rule or even a requirement, it is a practice that regulating authorities commonly favor.

Regulatory agencies, like the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), exist to provide guidance for food safety procedures and ensure compliance with laws relating to the safety of the nation’s food supply. One such law is the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) that is intended to transform the U.S. food safety framework from a reactive damage control approach to more of a proactive prevention of foodborne illness crises. FSMA Section 103 requires food facilities to prepare written plans to evaluate hazards and implement effective preventive controls. It mandates several steps to ensure a true preventive approach to food safety.

Regulating authorities look favorably upon the practice of color-coding because it is a method that can easily be documented and followed by employees. A color-coding program that is written into a HACCP plan essentially becomes part of the facility’s SOPs (standard operating procedures). A HACCP plan is a written outline that identifies potential food safety threats and critical control points. Color-coding adds an extra layer of preventive protection in addition to other food safety efforts such as hygienic building layouts and hygienic equipment. Programs that are easily documented are also more easily communicated to employees, and the employees’ adoption of food safety procedures is imperative to a program’s effectiveness.

Visiting authorities and customers will readily notice color-coding programs upon entering a processing facility, which is precisely why the approach is so effective. Segregating zones by colors offers quick visual confirmation that equipment is where it belongs and is not contributing to the unintentional transport of contaminants throughout the facility. When color-coding is utilized as part of a multi-faceted approach to food safety, it adds credibility to the effectiveness of the operation for regulators and customers alike. With the new laws and proposed guidelines surrounding food safety, prevention is the preferred approach by regulatory authorities. In the long run, prevention is a better business practice than reactive damage control.

The old saying about closing the barn door after the horse is out comes to mind when thinking about recalls; it’s better if a recall is prevented from happening in the first place. News of recalls travels in the blink of an eye since the rise of social media. In that short time, your facility’s reputation can be irreparably damaged. To safeguard your operation from the negative publicity of a food safety crisis, it is imperative to prevent recalls before they happen. Monitoring any sort of cross-contamination threat inside the facility is fundamental, and color-coding is a simple way to keep those risks in check.

Recalls are serious business. No one wants to see a recall happen to their company, but it still happens all too often. It goes without saying that food safety is important for more than just preventing costly recalls, though. From the field all the way to the table, keeping our food safe has to be top priority. Knowing where food is coming from, and what happens to it on its way through your facility, can potentially prevent a catastrophic recall. The concept of knowing and keeping track of food products is known as traceability. Traceability means being able to verify where food has been every step of the way – from the field it came from, to the line it’s processed on, and what truck carried it. It’s a complex chain of custody, but necessary to monitor in order to protect consumers.

Tracing the overall process is challenging, and maintaining that same control over your own facility isn’t much easier. Many food processing facilities are large outfits with numerous people working different shifts, and some are small, localized businesses with few staff members. Trying to keep track of food’s movements can prove difficult for big processors and mom-and-pop shops alike, though traceability is important in every single production facility.

Having color-coding in processing facilities enhances the level of traceability. Having a color-coding system helps track tools within the facility, making food that much safer. If you use red for the raw meat zone, then you know that a red tool in the yellow zone, which is for processed food, is a contamination threat. You can then take steps to remove the potentially contaminated food from that   area. This is much easier than trying to remove contaminated food after it has left the facility, which could cost millions of dollars.

The benefit of having tools that are completely color-coded is that they provide instant recognition. To immediately know the origination of a tool is vital to preventing lost time, production shutdown, and delays. Having tight traceability in food processing facilities can not only diminish the chance of a recall, it also helps keep your facility on time with deadlines, helps the bottom line, and looks good in the public’s and regulators’ eyes.

In order to effectively trace food through the system, though, there must be consistency between all levels of movement. From the farm to the table, everything should be documented for the highest level of traceability. With the technology we have at our disposal, there is no reason not to be able to considerably reduce the number of recalls we see. Food processors should urge their suppliers to practice the same level of consistency with food safety. You may not be able to control what happens outside your facility, but you can choose to use suppliers that follow best practices.

6. TRACEABILITY

The environment in a food processing facility can be chaotic. This is compounded when you bring multiple languages into the mix. Trying to keep everything organized and streamlined can at times be a daunting task. Having a color-coding program in place can help eliminate some of the confusion that can arise from a language barrier.

Whether you have just one employee that speaks another language, or 500, color-coding can help to keep efficiency high and mistakes low. Because colors are universal, no matter what language someone speaks, they are going to be able to tell one color from another. Red is red, even if the word itself is different. If red is for the raw zone, and someone who speaks a different language sees a red tool in the blue zone, they know immediately that something is not right and can then take appropriate actions.


However, if no color-coding program is in place, and say, for instance, the method of communication is to have labels on the tools stating what zone they belong in, that employee might not know for sure if that tool is supposed to be there or not. With this kind of system, any time spent confused is loss of work, or worse yet, a cross-contamination hazard. Better to have a proper system in place to begin with so any problems can be fixed as soon as possible.

But, before you assign colors, remember there must be good documentation and communication of zones. This goes for all people, no matter the language. There must be signage and internal communication that clearly states what these different colors mean, and what the appropriate steps are when something goes wrong, in all languages spoken in your facility. Once everyone is on the same page, your color-coding system will work easier.

What about those who can’t see colors, you might ask? Color blindness can affect about 8% of men and .05% of women. Depending on what kind of color blindness your employee has, choosing colors that have a high contrast might be a solution. Every situation is different, and the most important thing is to know your employees’ needs and how to best meet them.

Having a color-coding program in place can help to limit the language confusion found in food processing facilities. Less confusion means safer practices, and this means better food safety. This can add up to fewer recalls, which saves money.

7. BREAKS DOWN LANGUAGE BARRIERS

The core piece of advice Remco communicates to food facilities implementing a color-coding program is to keep it simple. A common paraphrase of Occam’s Razor is “All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.” A color-coding program that is overly complex could become problematic for your facility and end up requiring more time and effort than it should, as well as involving more risk for cross-contamination. Determining what works and what doesn’t is easier with a simple color-coding plan.

Food safety is a challenging endeavor in an industry with complex regulations, and color-coding is intended to simplify an element of it. Completely simplifying food safety is impossible, but color-coding can help, along with supporting the overall goal of meeting food safety regulations. Color-coding offers a method to intuitively keep tools organized and clearly communicate which tools belong in certain areas.

Visual identification of equipment is quick when tools are color-coded. The foremost principle to remember regarding the simplicity of a color-coding system is to limit the number of colors used to what is absolutely necessary. For example, many food production operations have determined that only two colors are needed: one for “food contact” and another for “non-food contact.” A plan like this would ensure that tools used on the floor are easily identified as being different than those intended to be used on food and food contact surfaces. This type of simplistic plan is very easy to explain to employees and communicate throughout the facility.

In cases when more than two colors are necessary, it is advisable to choose colors based on functionality. For example, some food production facilities employ processes that involve cooking raw meat. The potential for cross-contamination between raw and processed zones is a hazard that absolutely must be managed. Typically, two different colors are designated for raw and processed zones, and a third color is chosen to identify equipment designated for non-food contact areas. This type of a plan integrates more colors, but remains intuitive and should only require basic training for employee adoption.

8. KEEP IT SIMPLE

Color-coding can become a method to standardize processes within a plant or a group of plants. Some businesses choose to standardize processes in order to reduce waste and variation in the end product result. This type of standardization can be applied to cleaning tools and sanitation  processes, and color-coding is a suitable fit for this type of model. For example, you could apply the same color-coding model across all production lines that run the same process within a plant.

It can be taken a step further and applied across all plants that run the same processes so that only one training program needs to be developed and administered. Using a color-coding model that is not straightforward can create more of a need for specialized training. For example, a total color-coded red broom and handle is easier to identify than a specialized broom that mixes a green broom head with a red handle.

A plan with combination color equipment will require more time and resources to train staff, especially if either color is used elsewhere in the plant. The whole premise of color-coding is to make tools easy to visually identify without the need for in-depth training. Using combo color tools robs a color-coding program of that intuitive simplicity, and in turn requires more resources than necessary for your operation to implement and adopt. It also increases the risk of cross-contamination if employees do not understand the program.

When designing a color-coding program for your operation, remember that the ultimate end goal is to ensure the safety of the food produced in the facility. For each color that you integrate into your plan, ask yourself if it is a necessary step in the process in order to effectively mitigate risk. If a color designation does not serve the purpose of managing a significant food safety risk, it is always the best practice to opt for simplicity. A plan that is overly complex is difficult to communicate and understand. A simple plan is easily adopted and becomes an intuitive method for managing food safety risks.

9. COMMUNICATION IS KEY

A solid communication plan is essential to an effective color-coding system. With the proper communication channels in place, your color-coding system has the best chance for successful adoption—in turn helping you mitigate the risk of cross-contamination. Communication should start at the top of the company, and go down to each and every employee.

When all employees are knowledgeable about the new or changed program, the chances of success are higher. The initial employee training communications must be clear and concise to ensure everyone is on the same page. When starting, or even revising, a color-coding system, employees must understand the reason for the change. Dealing with the threat of cross-contamination is serious, and the need to establish barriers to those threats is critical. The better every employee understands this, the more effective the color-coding system will be when put into practice.

Communicating with employees on how color-coding can help with tool storage is also very important. Establishing procedures for storage can help with tool inventory management. If employees are taught the proper procedures for tool storage right out of the gate, this will go a long way in preventing any loss of tools or time. One particular way to help encourage proper storage is to use custom shadow boards that integrate outlines of the tools so that there is no question where tools belong.

Many food processing plants use the 5S system to maximize organization. The use of color-coding is a natural fit for the 5S philosophy. 5S is a Japanese-designed workplace organizational system which uses five phases: sort, set in order, systematic cleaning (or shine), standardize, and sustain. Along with using shadow boards, 5S helps encourage employees to properly store tools, maximizing their usable life.

Daily communication to employees is essential to the longevity of the program. This starts with good signage. Clearly written instructions, multilingual if necessary, are essential to providing employees with instructions on the color-coding program. It may even help to include visual or graphic representations on the signage for each zone; for example, a picture of a peanut on the sign designating the color of tools intended for use with peanuts. In addition to written instructions, daily verbal communication is also vital. Any changes or revisions to the color-coding plan must be clearly communicated to all employees, from the top down.

It is a best practice to include your color-coding program in your official regulatory documentation. Many regulatory bodies require documentation of certain procedures, and color-coding can become a great advantage for your operation. While color-coding is not required for compliance with any food safety regulations, it is looked upon with favor by auditors.

Including your color-coding plan in the facility’s Preventive Control or Prerequisite Procedures, which includes GMPs, SOPs, CCPs, and Non-CCPs, will go a long way in ensuring company-wide adoption, consistency, and compliance of the program. For facilities that must comply with HACCP or HARPC regulations, including color-coding on those plans, is again not required, but is a best practice. HACCP, or Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points, is a food safety management system which helps to identify and control cross-contamination threats. Similarly, HARPC, also known as Hazard Analysis and Risk-Based Preventive Controls, also requires identification and control of risks in food processing facilities.

Here are some important things to remember:

• Start at the top and go down

• Communicate with all levels of employees to ensure complete implementation

• Have good signage

• Signs should have written and visual cues to identify the zone and where the tools are approved for use

• Include a printout that gives details for reordering of tools, such as vendor, item number, manufacturer, etc.

• Keep up with regular training

• Include color-coding on regulatory plans

10. USE COMPLETE IMPLEMENTATION

The final key to the success of a color-coding program is ensuring that it is completely integrated into the facility. If you have decided to take the plunge and start a color-coding program, or if you think yours needs some tweaking, remember that even a good color-coding program can be problematic if it is not uniformly applied. Ensuring complete implementation will improve internal adoption.

Doing something halfway is never a good idea, and the same holds true for color-coding. When a color-coding program is implemented in pieces, the chances of success start to diminish. On the surface, it might seem easier to slowly bring in color-coding into your facility; but in the long run, it will be better for everyone to roll the program out all at once. Incomplete implementation might seem desirable due to a limited budget, time constraints, or lack of manpower. However, having months of color slowly being added can prove confusing to employees. Once it is a part of everyday life at the facility, a color-coding program will be one more asset that you have at your disposal.

Communication and complete implementation of the color-coding program go hand-in-hand. By communicating with every employee and team member, complete execution of the color-coding system will be that much more successful. One issue that might prevent a complete roll-out of a color-coding program is budget concerns. This is a valid issue, and one likely to be shared by many operations.

However, because a successfully applied color-coding program can help decrease the chance of cross-contamination, and therefore recalls, it could save money in the long-term. Color-coding a food processing facility is an investment. Just like any investment, there are start-up costs—but the end result will be well worth the money put into it.

In addition to budget concerns, lack of time and manpower can also be issues standing in the way of fully introducing a color-coding system into your facility. Every food processing facility, from the smallest to the largest outfits, can benefit from a color-coding program.


June 2017

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Packaging distribution systems that take solid food products from the processing line to form-fill-seal (FFS) packaging machines typically include conveyors with gates, scale feed shakers, and multihead weighers that feed either vertical- or horizontal-form-fill-seal machines. By understanding the interaction of these components and considering the system as a whole, processors can maximize the output of the FFS machine while maintaining the highest product quality and easing operations.

In this white paper, we will explore the physical relationship of the FFS machine to the upstream equipment. We will cover analog versus digital call signals, flood feeding versus steady state feeding, mass flow versus volumetric flow, proportional gates versus standard gates, integrated control systems, and more. The objective is to help food processors optimize their packaging operation by selecting machines that work harmoniously as a system and integrating the controls so the machines communicate seamlessly.

Snack food processors arguably have the most challenging situation when integrated seasoning application systems are added to the line and small packages are produced at the fastest line speeds possible. However, the benefits of fully integrating the distribution system apply to all types of food processors. Whether the company is packaging snacks or baked goods, cereals, confections, shredded cheese, fresh-cut produce, frozen fruits and vegetables, nuts, poultry, seafood, or pet foods into flexible bags, the same considerations exist in line optimization.

Form-Fill-Seal Machines

A vertical-form-fill-seal (VFFS) or horizontal-formfill-seal (HFFS) packaging machine is the anchor of the packaging distribution system. A processor’s preference in bag style and need for line speed mandate the decision to choose one type of FFS machine over the other, and upstream and downstream machines must complement it. Optimizing the output of the FFS machine is the goal of the packaging line because the quantity of saleable bags produced has a direct effect on the processor’s bottom line.

The FFS machine must pull film and achieve good seals with jaws that maintain the correct temperature, dwell time, and pressure while the ideal amount of product is filling each bag at a rate that optimizes the line. Thus, the success of the operation is dependent, in part, on the ability of upstream equipment to deliver the ideal amount of product to the FFS machine at the perfect speed with the necessary separation between product charges that allows the jaws to seal properly without product interfering and compromising the quality of the seal.

To achieve this, the FFS machine and the scale upstream are integrated – the FFS machine is the system “master” because its demand for product controls the upstream equipment.

For most solid food products, a multihead weigher, often called a radial combination scale, is used in conjunction with a FFS machine because of its speed, accuracy, and reliability.

Multihead Weighers

The goal of the multihead weigher is to deliver product charges to the FFS machine at the ideal weight and at a speed that allows the FFS machine to maximize its output while achieving the perfect separation between product charges for the FFS machine’s jaws to seal properly. The scale is a “slave” to the FFS machine.

The speed of the FFS machine, the weight and volume of the product to be packaged, along with other physical characteristics of the product are factors used to determine the ideal multihead weigher for the application. The number of buckets, the size of the buckets, and the configuration of the chutes may vary dramatically from one application to another.

Ideally, the speed of the scale should be set slightly faster than the speed of the FFS machine so the FFS machine is never starved for product. The FFS machine will provide a signal to the multihead weigher when it is ready to accept the next product charge. Typically, a 100 millisecond separation between the trailing edge of one product charge to the leading edge of the next charge is sufficient regardless of the dwell time needed to achieve a good seal.

The multihead weigher is also known as a combination radial weigher. The weigher will use multiple buckets in a combination to achieve the total target weight desired. For example, if the desired target weight is 100 grams, the scale will choose multiple buckets that combined will equal 100grams. Typically, the scale chooses between 3 to 5 buckets in combination. The computer on the scale is constantly looking at individual bucket weights in search of the perfect combination.

Overfeeding the multihead weigher by delivering too much product results in fewer available bucket combinations within the scale. This affects the weigher’s ability to hit the perfect total weight of the charge, which hurts weighing accuracy. Underfeeding the scale requires more buckets in a combination to achieve the total weight, which hurts the speed of the system since the buckets will need time to refill before being available again. Both speed and accuracy of the packaging line will affect the production yield and ultimately, the bottom line.

In general, better speed and weighing accuracy is achieved with a multihead weigher that features more buckets because there are more potential combinations available to achieve the perfect total charge weight. However, higher capital costs associated with a larger scale force most food processors to consider the trade-offs, select a scale that achieves the optimal balance, and then focus on maximizing the effectiveness of the equipment.

For these reasons, feeding the scale at the proper rate has a direct effect on the efficiency of the scale and thus, the output of FFS machine. Infeed rings, infeed funnels, and linear feed pan designs help present a constant waterfall of product to each bucket. Yet it’s the relationship between the weigher and the upstream scale feed shaker that ultimately controls the flow of product to the scale. The better the integration between the weigher and the scale feed shaker, the better the FFS machine’s output.

Scale Feed Shakers

Scale feed shakers are specialized vibratory conveyors that feature either mechanical drives or electromagnetic drives. While horizontal motion can be used to feed scales, vibratory shakers offer the advantage of spreading and smoothing the product uniformly across the pan, which improves feed. The goal of this shaker is to evenly feed the scale so it is never overfed or underfed.

The most basic relationship between the scale and the scale feed shaker uses the scale’s infeed funnel as an accumulation device and a load cell or a level eye at the top cone of the scale that sends a digital on/off signal to the upstream scale feed shaker to stop and start, as needed. This method of integration, referred to as “plop and drop” or “flood feeding,” is less than optimal. This highly ineffective strategy has a tendency to overfeed the scale at the start and then starve the scale before turning back on, which hurts accuracy and speed and thus, has a significantly negative impact on the output of the FFS machine. Unfortunately, this method of scale feeding is widely used.

Fortunately, there are several options available for processors to optimize scale feeding and scale operations, which increase FFS machine efficiency and ultimately profitability, by providing a steady stream of product from the scale feed shaker at the proper flow rate.

One way to achieve this is to utilize a load cell or optical sensor at the top cone of the scale to send an analog signal to the scale feed shaker based on the weight or the height of product on the weigher’s top cone. The analog signal will speed up or slow down the flow rate of product from the scale feed shaker. This is designed to maintain a constant weight or height of product on the scale. Slight changes in speed may be required to adjust for bulk density changes in the product. Maintaining a constant weight or height of available product on the weigher’s top cone assures good product distribution to each bucket, which optimizes weights and speed.

An additional improvement, called volumetric flow control, integrates the analog scale signal with a photo eye on the scale feed shaker, which monitors the volume of product and controls the distribution shaker upstream to feed a specific amount of product to the scale feed shaker. Since bags are filled by weight, not volume, volumetric flow can be improved upon, especially when the density of the product varies.

The most accurate way to achieve a steady stream is called mass flow control. It integrates the analog scale signal with a load cell on the scale feed shaker, which monitors the weight of product and regulates the distribution shaker upstream to feed the perfect amount of product to the scale feed shaker.

Product flow from the upstream distribution shaker to the scale feed shaker are regulated by either a standard gate or a proportional gate. Standard gates simply open and close. Proportional gates allow the aperture to vary and thus, better control the amount of product flowing to the next stage. Using a proportional gate upstream of the scale feed shaker is an ideal way to control product flow. Snack food processors with a seasoning application drum between the shaker and the scale often settle on mass flow and proportional gates since these systems maintain the most constant feed rates, which will achieve the most uniform seasoning.

Distribution Shakers

Distribution shakers transport product from the processing line to the scale feed shakers. Typically, each processing line leads to one distribution system that features multiple shakers and gates that discharge product to multiple scale feed shakers, each of which feed a scale and FFS machine. Depending on the type of distribution shaker used, the configuration of the system, and the controls, line efficiency and product quality are both affected at this stage.

The distribution shaker can be a traditional vibratory shaker or a horizontal motion shaker. Horizontal motion shakers are ideal for many fragile, seasoned, coated, and frozen foods because they offer gentle, quiet, and sanitary conveying. Both conveyor types can be fitted with standard slide gates, flip gates, pivot gates, or proportional-control gates to discharge product to downstream equipment.

If the downstream scale feed shakers have sensors – either a photo eye that monitors the depth of product or a load cell that measures the weight of product – each gate on the distribution shaker can be controlled to feed the ideal amount of product to each scale feed shaker. Distribution systems can rely on data from volumetric or mass flow controlled feed shakers or unique optical sensors to control gates.

On the most basic lines with the fewest sensors and the least integration, if the FFS machine goes down, the FFS machine signal causes a cascading effect on the slave systems, shutting them down. However, this basic line is incapable of making more minor adjustments to compensate for constant changes in line flow. Systems operated in this manner can often be identified by overfeed conditions at the first scales in the line, which choke the scales and reduce the accuracy of fills and cause bags to break, followed by underfeed conditions at the subsequent scales, which stave the scales and reduce the output of these FFS machines.

On more sophisticated lines with more integration, each FFS machine controls its scale, which controls its scale feed shaker, which controls the gate on the distribution system so each machine is optimized individually as well as in combination. Each FFS machine can operate at different rates, producing different size bags, and the distribution shaker opens and closes each gate to discharge the exact amount of product to each scale feed shaker to optimize each scale and maximize the output of saleable bags being produced by every FFS machine.

Adding a Buffer

To maximize line efficiency and product quality, the distribution system must accommodate a constant flow of product coming off the processing line even when a FFS machine is down. This can be accomplished by either recirculating product or accumulating product.

If it is important to package the freshest product, as is the case with many snack foods, frozen poultry and seafood products, and fresh-cut produce, recirculation is not advisable because product could recirculate multiple times and then substandard product will be packaged and shipped. For these products, accumulation is preferred.

Product can be accumulated in different ways at various points along the line. If the distribution shaker is a horizontal motion conveyor that allows the flow direction to be controlled, the conveyor itself can be used for storage as well as distribution. The speed at which the distribution conveyors operate can also buffer the flow of product. Alternatively, a storeveyor or binveyor can be added to the line to provide bulk storage. In some applications, select areas along the processing line can accumulate product without negatively affecting product quality. For example, a freezer could accumulate product without hurting product quality – a fryer could not.

Control Systems

Each machine has its own control system. Among other things, the FFS machine controls how fast it pulls film and the time, temperature, and pressure of the sealing jaws; the scale controls the weight per charge; the scale feed shaker controls the product feed rate; and the distribution shaker controls its gates and product flow rates. The key to maximizing the performance of the line is linking these independent machines so they communicate with the others to improve the efficiency of the system.

On a fully integrated packaging line with integrated controls, one change on one machine or one point of input on one user interface automatically triggers all the necessary adjustments on other machines on the line. If a FFS machine goes down, upstream equipment automatically adjusts to accommodate it and continues to maximize the efficiency of the line, given the situation. If one FFS machine is changing over from a 14- gram bag to a 14-ounce bag, one point of input at one human machine interface (HMI) changes all the components on the line.

Typically, this high level of integration is achieved through a PLC at the distribution system level. If desired, data can be fed into a SCADA network so the system can be accessed from any computer on the network. Additionally, the network can be programmed to alert personnel via smart phones, tablet computers, emails, and/or text messages, regarding machine and system performance and conditions.

Conclusion

The benefits of optimizing a packaging line are numerous. Maximizing each FFS machine’s output of saleable product and eliminating product giveaway by producing on-weight packages goes straight to the bottom line. Maintaining high product quality promotes customer loyalty, and easing operations reduces training requirements and helps the line operate at peak performance.

Selecting right-size equipment that handles a specific product and produces the desired package is only the beginning of integrating a highly effective production line. To optimize the packaging operation, food processors – or their line integrators – must understand the interaction of the components and consider the line holistically rather than as separate machines that are connected. Fully integrating the controls costs more initially, but the added cost is quickly recovered by increases in overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and the increased output of the FFS machine producing saleable bags.

**This white paper was originally published on Key.net


January 2017

Saturday, November 12, 2016

One way of achieving improved productivity and efficiency in food manufacturing and processing industries is by automating processes within its facilities. Getting full-automation can be quite tricky but here are some tips to help pull off automation in different areas of your food manufacturing and processing plants.

1. Build up connectivity and integration

Most systems in food manufacturing and processing facilities are integrated on common platforms and networks. It is a must to ensure that these are fully integrated or connected for effective processing of all generated data. Installing a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) can improve packaging efficiency.

2. Carry out overarching integration

Packaging segments in food processing plants include equipment and components working together to operate a functional and systematic packaging line. By fully integrating all available units, you reduce risks brought about by equipment malfunction. If integration is not completely implemented, a defect in one machine may lead the entire system to stop working. Through implementation of an overarching system, the whole line would not come to a halt when an element breaks down.

3. Make use of automated weighing scales

Accurately weighing ingredients is crucial in the food manufacturing industry as miscalculation may affect food product composition that may possibly risk a consumer’s health. With automated weighing scales, facilities can secure accurate and precise weighing of food materials and components. Food processing facilities should consider investing on reliable conveyor belt scales.

4. Utilize software to connect processes

Most food processing plants fall short when it comes to connecting its packaging and processing areas, leading to blind spots which can adversely impact the overall system. Choosing a software that can make communication transparent and effective between an equipment from one area to another is essential as this can improve productivity and deliver faster return on investment.

5. Set a clear vision for the future

Equally important as automating processes, food plant owners and operators should have a clear definition of their project scopes including the measures that should be taken to extend results of these in the future. Planning with the management and making informed decisions on how capital and investment for current projects can support future ones is highly recommended. Consider how technology advances when it comes to your future projects and define a standard for both hardware and software components which can be directed to a 100% integrated system. Making good investments today can offer high returns in the future but be also critical of not adding extra costs for new functionalities that might not be useful in the coming years.

6. Employ a data-driven business

With all the latest technology available, food manufacturing and processing equipment can generate data highly valuable for your business. Utilize this data to your advantage and implement data-driven processes. Employ tools and systems to collect and analyze data. Real-time tracking and documentation improve efficiency of daily processes.


January 2017

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Many fresh-cut produce processors and packers have traditionally relied on belt conveyors to transport bulk and packaged product on their production lines, in part because low capital costs make these conveyors seem so affordable. But when ongoing maintenance and sanitation costs are factored in, the affordability equation shifts in favor of other conveyor types. Add performance issues like gentle handling and throughput into the analysis and each fresh-cut product and application points to its own ideal conveying solution.

In this white paper, we will explore the types of conveyor systems that are suitable for fresh-cut produce – belt conveyors, vibratory conveyors, and horizontal motion conveyors – highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each. We will consider a variety of fresh-cut products from leafy greens to whole and cut fruits and vegetables as well as a range of applications from simple conveying to dewatering, fines removal, and more. The goal of this paper is to help fresh-cut processors and packers identify the most effective conveying solutions for their specific applications.

Belt Conveyors

Belt conveyors typically offer the lowest initial capital cost of all the conveying solutions, which contributes greatly to their popularity. But such a simple cost analysis is shortsighted because high maintenance and sanitation costs cause the total cost of ownership of a belt conveyor to quickly rise.

Although the initial price tag for vibratory conveyors and horizontal motion conveyors is often significantly higher than belt conveyors, that higher upfront cost is quickly recouped due to lower maintenance costs. Keep a conveyor in operation for more than three years, and the vibratory or horizontal motion shakers usually cost less.

Although a total cost of ownership analysis indicates that vibratory and horizontal motion conveyors are less expensive than belt conveyors in the long run, there are fresh-cut applications that are best served with belt conveyors, warranting their use despite the higher cost.

These applications include the following:

  • Belt conveyors are ideal for achieving significant changes in elevation. Vibratory shakers are effective if the required incline angle is 10 degrees or less but beyond 10 degrees, a belt conveyor is needed.
  • Layering belts where incoming product is loaded either manually or automatically are best accomplished with belt conveyors because of the slow rate of movement – typically 3 to 4 feet per minute – which is needed to achieve a well- mixed product.
  • Trim tables can be served with either belt conveyors or vibratory shakers. Belts are sometimes preferred because they offer the most flexibility in speed.
  • Two-level storage conveyors that convey fresh-cut produce from a washer to a dryer are belt conveyors for two reasons. First, there is usually a significant rise in elevation. Also, a belt conveyor can easily move both forward and backward, which allows the two-level storage belt to transition product to the lower level if the dryer is mid-cycle and then bring that product from the lower level back when the dryer is available for loading.
  • Conveying packaged product can be achieved effectively with either a belt conveyor or a vibratory shaker. The sanitation advantage of a vibratory shaker is less of a factor with packaged product, making a belt conveyor appropriate here.

Vibratory Shakers

The goal of the multihead weigher is to deliver product charges to the FFS machine at the ideal weight and at a speed that allows the FFS machine to maximize its output while achieving the perfect separation between product charges for the FFS machine’s jaws to seal properly. The scale is a “slave” to the FFS machine.

The speed of the FFS machine, the weight and volume of the product to be packaged, along with other physical characteristics of the product are factors used to determine the ideal multihead weigher for the application. The number of buckets, the size of the buckets, and the configuration of the chutes may vary dramatically from one application to another.

Ideally, the speed of the scale should be set slightly faster than the speed of the FFS machine so the FFS machine is never starved for product. The FFS machine will provide a signal to the multihead weigher when it is ready to accept the next product charge. Typically, a 100 millisecond separation between the trailing edge of one product charge to the leading edge of the next charge is sufficient regardless of the dwell time needed to achieve a good seal.

The multihead weigher is also known as a combination radial weigher. The weigher will use multiple buckets in a combination to achieve the total target weight desired. For example, if the desired target weight is 100 grams, the scale will choose multiple buckets that combined will equal 100grams. Typically, the scale chooses between 3 to 5 buckets in combination. The computer on the scale is constantly looking at individual bucket weights in search of the perfect combination.

Overfeeding the multihead weigher by delivering too much product results in fewer available bucket combinations within the scale. This affects the weigher’s ability to hit the perfect total weight of the charge, which hurts weighing accuracy. Underfeeding the scale requires more buckets in a combination to achieve the total weight, which hurts the speed of the system since the buckets will need time to refill before being available again. Both speed and accuracy of the packaging line will affect the production yield and ultimately, the bottom line.

In general, better speed and weighing accuracy is achieved with a multihead weigher that features more buckets because there are more potential combinations available to achieve the perfect total charge weight. However, higher capital costs associated with a larger scale force most food processors to consider the trade-offs, select a scale that achieves the optimal balance, and then focus on maximizing the effectiveness of the equipment.

For these reasons, feeding the scale at the proper rate has a direct effect on the efficiency of the scale and thus, the output of FFS machine. Infeed rings, infeed funnels, and linear feed pan designs help present a constant waterfall of product to each bucket. Yet it’s the relationship between the weigher and the upstream scale feed shaker that ultimately controls the flow of product to the scale. The better the integration between the weigher and the scale feed shaker, the better the FFS machine’s output.

Horizontal Motion Shakers

Like vibratory conveyors, horizontal motion conveyors offer more gentle production handling than belt conveyors and lower maintenance and sanitation requirements lead to a lower total cost of ownership than belt conveyors.

Horizontal motion conveyors provide gentle handling for delicate products that can slide on the conveyor bed without being damaged, such as whole mushrooms. Leafy greens, however, get scuffed and damaged by riding on the bed of a horizontal motion shaker so vibratory conveyors provide gentler handling for these types of products. Also, the slower conveying speed of horizontal motion sometimes encourages processors to run product deeper to get the throughput they need, and loading delicate products deep can cause damage.

Another significant difference between horizontal motion and natural frequency vibratory conveyors results from dynamic loading. Horizontal motion shakers create high dynamic loads during operation and require isolation via a separate deck, while vibratory shakers require no additional isolation and can be suspended from overhead, mounted to other machinery, or supported from the floor. Thus, horizontal motion conveyors have less installation flexibility and higher installation costs compared to vibratory conveyor systems.

Despite the general advantages of greater throughput, improved installation flexibility, and reduced installation costs that vibratory shakers have over horizontal motion shakers, there are specific applications in which horizontal shakers are ideal, including the following:

  • Horizontal motion conveyors are perfect for some delicate products when high throughput is not important. In addition to whole mushrooms, whole potatoes, which bruise easily, are handled well with horizontal motion when they are not loaded too deep into the conveyor bed. This gentle handling advantage must be considered on a product-by-product basis because many seemingly delicate products such as blueberries are handled well with vibratory conveyors and other products like leafy greens are actually handled better with vibratory conveyors.
  • For fresh-cut produce that is not delicate, especially products that have no flat sides to scuff along the bed of conveyor, like baby whole carrots, horizontal motion conveyors work well. For these products, the throughput that can be achieved with higher-speed vibratory shakers can be matched on horizontal motion shakers by increasing the depth of the product flow.
  • Unlike vibratory conveyors, some horizontal motion conveyors can reverse product flow, which increases the flexibility of the line.
  • Although the noise of a horizontal motion conveyor drive is similar to that of the traditional vibratory conveyor drive, some products such as baby whole carrots that would make a drumming noise on vibratory shakers will run more quietly on horizontal motion shakers. That said, electromagnetic drives are the most quiet of all, so if product drumming is not an issue, an electromagnetic vibratory shaker will be the quietest solution.
  • Because horizontal motion conveyors can be heavily loaded, they provide some bulk storage capacity on the production line when conveying product in which gentle handling is not important.

Conclusion

To select the ideal conveyor for each situation, fresh-cut processors and packers should take into account a wide variety of factors from costs to performance issues. To determine the total cost of the conveyor system, start with the initial capital cost plus the cost of installation and add the projected annual maintenance and sanitation costs over the anticipated life of the equipment. Such a long-term view highlights the relative affordability of vibratory and horizontal motion shakers over belt conveyors.

Beyond costs, the strengths and weaknesses of each conveyor type should be considered as well as the specific applications in which one particular type of conveyor excels. Some delicate products such as leafy greens are gently handled with vibratory conveyors while other delicate products such as whole potatoes are handled well with horizontal motion conveyors. The benefits each type of conveyor must be judged on a product-by-product basis.

To help navigate this complicated analysis, processors and packers should consider working with an equipment supplier that offers expertise in the fresh-cut industry and provides a full range of conveying solutions to choose from. With a deep and broad knowledge base, such a supplier can be a valuable resource in identifying the ideal conveying solutions that create competitive advantages by improving the performance on the production line. Because, if designed properly, conveyors can do much more than simply move produ ct throughout the plant. Gentle handling, effective dewatering, and chilling, to cite just a few examples, can improve product quality and extend shelf life.

**This white paper was originally published on Key.net


January 2017

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The fast pace of technology development is fueling the rapidly expanding capabilities of electronic inspection equipment to deliver new value to potato processors. In addition to enhancing the effectiveness of sorters to achieve better results, new technology is enabling completely new sorting decisions that hold tremendous potential to address many of today’s product quality challenges.

In this article, I will highlight several leading-edge advancements on the horizon that promise to change the landscape of traditional optical sorting and usher in a new era of digital sorting with new sensors and greater software-driven intelligence. Forward-thinking potato processors that become the early adopters will be the first to transform industry threats like sugar ends and zebra chips into opportunities to pull ahead of the competition by leveraging new technology that optimizes product quality and maximizes yields in new ways.

Sugar Ends and Zebra Chips

French fries and potato chips processed from sugar end potatoes exhibit undesirable dark brown areas after frying that are caused by the higher concentration of reducing sugars caramelizing. The anomaly is also referred to as “glassy end,” “translucent end” and “jelly end.” Much work has been done, and research continues, to pinpoint the causes of this physiological tuber problem so steps can be taken to manage those conditions and better control it. Largely weather-caused, other factors such as field selection, crop rotation, irrigation practices, tillage, fertilization, planting, harvesting and storage are under scrutiny.

Since weather plays such a big part in causing sugar ends, with minimal aid from improved farming practices, potato processors will need to continue to manage often complex logistics regarding storage, crop shifting and blending and also remove/modify affected products to achieve their final product quality specifications. The challenge is that sugar ends are invisible to traditional cameras and lasers until after the product has been thoroughly fried.

Unlike sugar end potatoes, which are caused by environmental conditions, zebra chip is a disease caused by a pathogen. Like sugar ends, zebra chip is invisible to traditional optical sensors until the potato strip or chip is fully fried when stripes of sugars caramelize and dark lines develop, rendering these products unsalable.

Most optical sorters equipped with typical color cameras and/or lasers can easily identify the dark brown areas after the sugar end potatoes or zebra chips are fully fried. Therefore, potato chip processors can rely on a traditional sorter located after the fryer to remove these undesirable products prior to packaging. For potato strip processors that partially fry products, sugar ends and zebra chips are monitored along with other product quality attributes in today’s current process that, most argue, does not leave one with high confidence, statistically-speaking. When found to be out of grade, there are decisions to be made, all of which negatively affect profitability, such as re-work or negotiating a relaxed specification (at a lower cost), which can also jeopardize the customer-supplier relationship. New sorter capabilities are needed to detect and remove sugar ends and zebra chips on potato strip production lines and before frying on potato chip lines.

New-generation sorters that feature multispectral and hyperspectral imaging systems show tremendous potential in detecting sugar ends and zebra chips prior to frying, as well as other invisible potato defects. When complemented by capable algorithm and software intelligence, this new kind of sensor essentially enables sorting on the chemical composition of the product.

Like traditional trichromatic cameras, hyperspectral cameras collect data from across the electromagnetic spectrum. Trichromatic cameras historically used on sorters divide light into three bands, which can include red, green and/or blue as well as infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV). By comparison, hyperspectral systems can divide light into hundreds of narrow bands over a continuous range that covers a vast portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that extends beyond the visible. Compared to the three data points collected by trichromatic cameras, hyperspectral cameras can collect hundreds of data points, which are combined to create a unique “fingerprint” for each object. The hyperspectral sorter then processes those fingerprints to intelligently remove visible and invisible defects and foreign material.

While sugar ends and zebra chips cannot reliably be detected using traditional trichromatic cameras or lasers prior to being fully fried, new digital sorters equipped with hyperspectral imaging systems promise to expand sorting capabilities and tackle these product quality challenges.

It’s possible to incorporate hyperspectral imaging on freefall and belt sorters for inspecting frozen strips, wet strips and potato chips, and on whole potato sorters inspecting peeled or unpeeled tubers prior to cutting. There are significant operational advantages associated with locating these powerful detection capabilities upstream so the processor doesn’t invest resources in processing defective product. Additionally, there is significant yield-improving potential that comes from marrying hyperspectral imaging technology with automatic defect removal (ADR) systems that actually cut the affected area from the strip, maximizing recovery. These digital sorters and ADR systems are being developed for the potato industry now.

New Levels of Sorter Intelligence

While new sensing technologies are being introduced to expand sorting capabilities, new software and algorithms are also being developed to enable sorters to make new kinds of decisions. Sort-to-Grade and Strip-Length-Control are two examples of software-driven advancements for potato strip processors, and real-time data fusion is a new advancement that could benefit any food processor.

Sort-to-Grade is a powerful new capability that enables select sorters or automatic defect removal (ADR) systems to control the quality of output to a defined grade. By evaluating potato strips with minor defects against the current grade count, the sorter can allow some of those strips with minor defects to pass and still maintain grade. Tests show that Sort-to-Grade can increase yields by one to three percent while assuring final product quality.

Most sorters make accept/reject decisions by comparing the size and color of each defect to predetermined criteria. Until now, those decisions have been made regardless of final in-the-bag quality results. Since final product specifications often allow a specific amount of minor and moderate defects, the operator has historically had to adjust the sorter’s accept/reject thresholds subjectively in an effort to make grade given inevitable fluctuations in the quality of incoming product. This traditional “sieve” approach to sorting usually results in too many defects being ejected, along with the inadvertent ejection of good product, which translates into a significant yield loss. If incoming defects spike, the old “sieve” approach to sorting typically causes too few defects to be ejected and quality specifications are missed.

Now, with Sort-to-Grade, accept/reject decisions consider the size and color of each defect and, most importantly, how potentially passing that particular defect will affect the overall final product quality in comparison to product specifications. Sort-to-Grade is a dynamic solution that allows a processor to establish its target grade, and then automatically adjusts the sorter to stay on grade as incoming product conditions change, without manual intervention. This new capability enables sorting systems to objectively sort defects by count in real-time with 100 percent inspection. Sorting foreign material (FM) remains unchanged, since every processor is looking to remove 100 percent of FM regardless of count.

Strip-Length-Control is a subset of Sort-toGrade that focuses on strip length. It is also dynamic in that it automatically preserves the length profile of final product despite the length of incoming strips fluctuating as the sizes of whole potatoes vary. This new sorter capability allows potato strip processors to eliminate mechanical length grading methods and the product damage they can cause.

With either Sort-to-Grade or Strip-LengthControl capabilities enabled, the sorter can be programmed to send an out-of-grade alarm to notify operators to take corrective action when it isn’t possible to maintain final product quality requirements given the quality of incoming product.

Real-time data fusion is a new softwaredriven advancement that is enabled by the newest and most powerful computing platforms found on select digital sorters because it requires so much bandwidth to manipulate this high volume of data. Unlike parallel processing on a traditional sorter or the limited data fusion capabilities that can be achieved with some newer sorters, real-time data fusion fully combines the data from multiple sensors into one algorithm to make accept/reject decisions. Fusing data from multiple sensors increases the contrast between various types of objects, which improves the accuracy of differentiating FM and defects from good product to enhance a sorter’s ability to detect and remove objects such as glass, which have historically challenged traditional sorters. For potato strip and potato chip processors, real-time data fusion promises to improve product quality while increasing yields by reducing false rejects.

Technology is always advancing and that’s good because its progress adds functionality and expands capabilities. However, the risk of obsolescence is a serious one and requires proper planning to minimize. Processors will want to work with suppliers that make upgradability a high priority and establish migration paths that enable existing customers to upgrade modules rather than forcing a redesign or replacement of the entire sorter. In addition to modular designs, features that often ease upgrades include FPGA (fieldprogrammable gate arrays) chipset technology, which allows for simple future hardware upgrades without module replacement, and the use of connectivity standards such as Camera Link and Fire Wire, which simplify sensor module replacements. The goal is to select a supplier and a sorter that will help generate the maximum long-term return on any sorting investment.

**This white paper was originally published on Key.net


January 2017

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Many vegetable processors and packers have traditionally relied on belt conveyors to transport bulk and packaged product on their production lines, in part because low capital costs make these conveyors seem so affordable. However, when ongoing maintenance and sanitation costs are factored in, the affordability equation shifts in favor of other conveyor types. Add performance issues like gentle handling and throughput into the analysis and each food product and application points to its own ideal conveying solution.

In this white paper, we will explore the types of conveyor systems that are suitable for vegetable processing lines – belt conveyors, vibratory conveyors, and horizontal motion conveyors – highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of each. We will consider conveyors used for bulk product conveying as well as for dewatering, fines removal, product alignment, inspection, and more. The goal of this paper is to help vegetable processors and packers identify the most effective conveying solutions for their applications.

Belt Conveyors

Belt conveyors typically offer the lowest initial capital cost of all the conveying solutions, which contributes greatly to their popularity. But such a simple cost analysis is shortsighted because high maintenance and sanitation costs cause the total cost of ownership of a belt conveyor to quickly rise.

The initial price tag for vibratory conveyors and horizontal motion conveyors is often $8,000 to $10,000 higher than that of belt conveyors. However, the larger upfront cost is quickly recovered because it can cost $3,000 a year more to maintain and clean a belt conveyor. If a conveyor is in operation for more than three years, then vibratory or horizontal motion shakers typically cost less overall.

Although a total cost of ownership analysis indicates that vibratory and horizontal motion conveyors are less expensive than belt conveyors in the long run, there are applications that are best served with belt conveyors, warranting their use despite the higher cost.

These applications include the following:

Belt conveyors are ideal for achieving significant changes in elevation. Vibratory shakers are effective if the required incline angle is 7-8 degrees or less but beyond that, a belt conveyor is needed.

Using conveyors to store large volumes of material is often best handled with a specialized belt conveyor called a “storeveyor,” while horizontal motion conveyors are perfect for many medium-capacity storage applications.

Conveying packaged product can be achieved effectively with either a belt conveyor or a vibratory shaker. The sanitation advantage of a vibratory shaker is less of a factor with packaged product, making a belt conveyor appropriate in this application.

With a range of plastic, fabric, and metal belt materials as well as conveyor geometries, belt conveyors can be designed for many food applications. However, high maintenance costs and sanitation challenges often make vibratory shakers and horizontal motion conveyors preferred solutions.

Vibratory Shakers

There are two main types of vibratory conveying systems – true natural frequency conveyors with mechanical drives and electromagnetic conveyors with electromagnetic drives. Both use frame-mounted drives and spring arm assemblies to distribute energy to the conveyor bed, producing a diagonal, harmonic motion that moves product forward.

Traditional vibratory conveyors that use mechanical drives produce high amplitude, low frequency movement. Electromagnetic shakers allow lower conveying pan amplitudes at higher frequencies to be varied, which make them ideal for lines that handle a wide variety of products or lines that require precise metering.

Compared to belt conveyors, vibratory conveyors are inherently cleaner with stainless steel product zones and no belt to pulley/gear laminations. They also reduce maintenance, which results in a lower total cost of ownership over the life of the conveyor. Some newer vibratory shakers take low maintenance to the next level with drive systems that eliminate the need to lubricate or change oil.

In addition to these across-the-board benefits, there are specific applications that do particularly well with vibratory conveyors, as follows:

Vibratory conveyors are ideal for dewatering, as the vibration releases the bond between surface moisture and product. Furthermore, the water can be easily collected from a vibratory shaker, which allows a processor to recycle it. This dewatering application is ideal for a wide variety of vegetables such as green beans, carrots, leafy greens, and more.

Vibratory conveyors work well for product distribution on processing lines and packaging lines because gates can be easily opened and closed to divert product to multiple points.

Depending on the product, vibratory conveyors can work effectively for sizing. A multi-deck shaker is fitted with screens that allow product of a particular size to drop to the lower level. An operator can quickly swap the screen to change the size. If the product is prone to blinding, another type of vibratory conveyor – a diverging bar grader – may be ideal.

Leafy greens are conveyed more effectively with vibratory shakers than with horizontal motion shakers because the product actually absorbs the energy of the shaker so the slight vertical lift of the vibratory conveyor helps move the product forward.

For hand-sorting vegetables, vibratory conveyors offer an adjustable speed control to display product evenly for thorough inspection.

Fines removal is handled well with either a vibratory conveyor or rotary-style sliver sizer remover. The rotary style remover is perfect for many round products such as tomatoes, where sliver shaped fines are created during the cutting process.

Feeding a cutter or slicer, where product orientation and singulating improves the effectiveness of the operation, is handled best with vibratory shakers.

Electromagnetic shakers that start and stop quickly are often ideal for scale feed applications where accurate metering to scales greatly enhances scale and bagger performance. Vibratory conveyors with mechanical drives and horizontal motion conveyors can also be used effectively in many scale feed applications, depending on the product.

Horizontal Motion Shakers

Horizontal motion conveyors offer the gentlest handling and the easiest sanitation of all conveyors types, while the lower maintenance requirements lead to a lower total cost of ownership than belt conveyors.

A few of the vegetable applications in which horizontal shakers are ideal, include the following:

Horizontal motion conveyors are perfect for some delicate products like frozen onion rings when high throughput is not important.

For foods that are not delicate, especially vegetables that have no flat sides to scuff along the bed of conveyor, like baby whole carrots, horizontal motion conveyors work well. For these products, the throughput that can be achieved with higher-speed vibratory shakers can be matched on horizontal motion shakers by increasing the depth of the product flow.

The sliding action of horizontal motion conveyors prevents mixing and size separation, making this conveyor ideal for premixed blends.

Horizontal motion conveyors are often ideal for seasoned and/or coated/breaded products. The gentle handling reduces the loss of seasonings or coatings and the horizontal motion produces a continuous self-cleaning action that prevents the buildup of the seasonings and coatings.

Unlike vibratory conveyors, some horizontal motion conveyors can reverse product flow, which increases the flexibility of the line and provides some storage capacity.

Although the noise of a horizontal motion conveyor drive is similar to that of the traditional vibratory conveyor drive, some frozen vegetables that would make a drumming noise on vibratory shakers will run more quietly on horizontal motion shakers. That said, electromagnetic drives are the most quiet of all, so if product drumming is not an issue, an electromagnetic vibratory shaker will be the quietest solution.

Because horizontal motion conveyors can be heavily loaded, they provide some bulk storage capacity on the production line when conveying product in which damage may not be a factor.

Conclusion

To select the ideal conveyor for each situation, vegetable processors and packers should take into account a wide variety of factors from costs to performance issues.

To determine the total cost of the conveyor system, start with the initial capital cost plus the cost of installation and add the projected annual maintenance and sanitation costs over the anticipated life of the equipment. Such a long-term view highlights the relative affordability of vibratory and horizontal motion shakers over belt conveyors. Selecting equipment that lasts longer also saves the time it takes to make subsequent purchase decisions and install replacement equipment.

Beyond costs, the strengths and weaknesses of each conveyor type should be considered as well as the specific applications in which one particular type of conveyor excels. The benefits of each type of conveyor must be judged on a product-by-product basis.

To help navigate this complicated analysis, processors and packers should consider working with an equipment supplier that offers expertise in the vegetable processing industry and provides a full range of conveying solutions to choose from. With a deep and broad knowledge base, such a supplier can be a valuable resource in identifying the ideal conveying solutions that create competitive advantages by improving the performance on the production line.

**This white paper was originally published on Key.net


January 2017

Friday, October 14, 2016

Many electronic sorters and Automatic Defect Removal (ADR®) systems are capable of identifying the same types of defects on potato strips with equal effectiveness. Sorters reject the entire strip containing the defect while the ADR actually cuts the defect from the strip. For processing lines combining ADR and sorters, the question becomes which comes first, the sorter or the ADR?

The most common approach currently used by most processors to control defects in potato strips includes a sorter, followed by an ADR on the sorter’s reject stream, followed by a nubbin grader. The 64 percent defect removal rate that this configuration is capable of achieving has historically been sufficient for many potato processors.

However, those processors looking to sell to upscale markets by offering higher quality product and those plagued by poor incoming product quality may benefit greatly from an alternate approach. This solution, called ADR®First, achieves a defect removal rate of 80 to 93 percent, depending on the configuration. With this development, processors can now improve the quality of their finished product while simultaneously controlling the length of strips in ways that were previously impractical.

In this white paper, we explore various line configurations that can be used to control the quality of potato strips. We will highlight the benefits of each and identify the processors that are ideally suited for each based on their production volume, range of products, and quality objectives.

The goal of this paper is to help potato processors identify the ideal line configuration for their specific applications.

A Brief History

When ADR systems were first introduced in 1983, potato processors were able to remove scores of workers previously required for hand-trimming defects. In addition to reducing labor costs, they increased yields and improved product quality.

But these early ADR systems, which featured water-actuated knives and water cooled lights, could suffer from failures of valves or lighting. Sorting systems came on the market in 1986, allowing processors to install optical sorters upstream of the ADR systems. By placing a sorter upstream of an ADR and sending only the sorter’s rejects to the ADR, 70 to 90 percent of incoming strips bypassed the ADR, improving reliability over those early ADR systems while retaining the benefits of automating defect removal.

This sorter-ADR line configuration is the de facto standard in the industry today.

The typical sorter rejects 80 percent of all incoming defects and sends them to the ADR, which then removes about 80 percent those defects. Thus, a net defect removal of 64 percent is achieved (80 percent of 80 percent). This is what most potato strip processors are experiencing today.

The Changing Situation

In 1999 the fourth generation ADR system was introduced. In addition to a new generation of electronics, it began using air valves rather than water valves to extend the knives; the reliability of the valves improved dramatically and inadvertent white cube generation became virtually non-existent. The advantage of positioning a sorter upstream of the ADR came into question and alternative line configurations began to be explored. Several market conditions are increasingly fueling this exploration.

For processors wanting to satisfy the most quality-conscious customers, a net defect removal rate of 64 percent is insufficient. Many Asian markets, including Japan, require quality that is difficult to achieve with the current sorter-ADR processing line. These processors want a new approach that improves the quality of their finished product.

Other processors are looking to produce more typical finished product quality but regularly suffer from substandard incoming product quality. As the industry expands into new geographies where crop dusting, adequate irrigation, or rapid harvesting and transportation to storage facilities are less available, raw potato quality often declines. In some areas, processors must grow their own crops, leading them to use potatoes even when the quality of the crop is poor. For these processors, the standard 64 percent defect removal rate of the traditional sorter-ADR line may be insufficient.

The third type of processor most interested in an alternative to the standard sorter-ADR line is interested in maximizing yields. Even infrequent experiences with poor incoming product quality on a traditional sorter-ADR line can have costly consequences because an overloaded ADR leads to excessive white cube generation. Additionally, ADR is highly effective in smart cutting and controlling strip length but when 80 percent of the product bypasses the ADR system, this yield-enhancing capability can be only marginally effective in optimizing quality and recovery.

The ADRFirst Approach

In a processing line where most of the production is strips, the ideal ADRFirst line configuration is an ADR followed by a nubbin grader. This system will typically achieve an 80 percent defect removal rate, a significant improvement over the 64 percent typically achieved with the sorter-ADR line. At the same time, eliminating the sorter reduces capital costs and maintenance. However, this solution controls quality only for strips.

For lines that handle cuts other than strips, an alternative ADRFirst solution may be preferred, one that includes a sorter downstream of the ADR and a recirculation system from the sorter’s reject stream back to the ADR. This configuration provides the highest defect removal of any solution. Of the incoming defects, 80 percent are removed during the first pass through the ADR, sending 20 percent of the defects to the downstream sorter that rejects 80 percent of those defects. Thus, the system recirculates 16 percent of incoming defects (80 percent of 20 percent) back to the ADR. After passing the recirculation flow through the ADR, the net defect removal of this line is an impressive 93 percent.

This ADR-nubbin grader-sorter line configuration is ideal for maximizing product quality. It is also ideal for lines that handle a significant volume of cuts other than strips. While strips pass through both the ADR and sorter to achieve that 93 percent defect removal rate, wedges, waffle cuts, spiral fries, and pomme Parisians bypass the ADR and an 80 percent defect removal rate is achieved with the sorter.

Processors with small lines producing up to 3.6 metric tons of finished frozen potato strips an hour can benefit from the ADRFirst solution that features one ADR and a subsequent sorter. If the line uses only the ADR without the following sorter, the capacity is 4.8 metric tons. For processors with lines producing higher volumes, more than one ADR system can be installed to achieve these high quality objectives.

Additional Benefits of ADRFirst

As discussed, the primary benefit of ADRFirst is higher defect removal rates, which help processors of potato strips produce higher quality products and effectively handle higher incoming defect rates.

But even potato processors who only occasionally suffer from poor incoming product quality will benefit from this new approach. Traditional sorter-ADR lines plan for a maximum flow of product through the ADR of 30 percent, based on an incoming defect level of 20 percent and a 2:1 bad:good ratio in the sorter’s reject stream. When incoming defect levels exceed that 20 percent, which happens often late in the storage season or when the sorter gets out of tune and rejects more good product than the typical 2:1 ratio, the ADR becomes overloaded. This condition results in more white cube generation, significantly reducing yield.

Even when incoming product quality is good, ADRFirst can improve yields. Since 1999, ADR systems have featured multispectral cameras that enable object recognition, allowing the system to identify individual strips. In addition to cutting defects, ADR can make a wide range of smart cutting decisions that help processors get the most from their product.

For example, if a particular product run can tolerate passing a minor defect, ADR can chose to pass one that would create nubbin loss instead cutting defects that won’t result in this loss of recovery. Similarly, if a strip is longer than a specified threshold, ADR can cleanly cut it in two or three pieces, depending on its length, even if no defect is present. This length control capability results in fewer bag seal failures, improved line flow at gates, and increased yield by reducing product breakage, while meeting product specifications.

The Bottom Line

The early adopters of ADRFirst were processors with low volume potato strip lines, looking to control defects while minimizing capital costs. These early adopters have shown that the effectiveness of this new approach is better than the standard line configuration in use today in terms of improving defect removal, length control, and yield. The performance and payback are so compelling that ADRFirst should clearly become the new standard for potato strip processors, large and small.

**This white paper was originally published on Key.net


January 2017

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

In the world of technology, hardware is an equalizer if processors are leveraging similar solutions, provided by suppliers with similar capabilities. In such an environment, what creates a competitive edge is learning to use that hardware more effectively. To the extent that greater intelligence drives this success, the pursuit is on, and digital sorters can help.

“Information Analytics” is the next wave in digital sorting. With it, we’re using digital sorters to sort while simultaneously using them to collect, analyze and share data across the processor’s enterprise. By turning data into knowledge that can be acted on in any number of ways, processors can better manage raw materials and optimize processes to produce the desired product quality while increasing yields and reducing costs.

More than Sorting

Digital sorters have a unique opportunity to offer intelligence at the same time they sort. They “see” 100 percent of the product flowing on the line. When harnessed, they can capture vast amounts of sort data and product data whether that data is used in the sort process or not. With their powerful computing power and easy connectivity to networks and other plant equipment, sorters equipped with Information Analytics offer new tools to optimize processes. The question becomes how to best utilize this enormous capability.

Customized Intelligence

Information Analytics is a massively flexible suite of software capabilities tailored to meet the specific needs of each processor. With it, the sorter is directed to collect the data that most interests the processor, analyze that data, if needed, and share the intelligence in a manner that maximizes the value to each user.

Data Becomes Knowledge

Given the versatility of Information Analytics, the variety of solutions it generates and the specific benefits it derives is virtually unlimited. Think of what you could do if you knew more about your product and processes. Here are some ideas:

Compare data to gain insights about processes, locations, operators and more. For example, collect product data from two sorters at different points on the line and better understand how a transformational process in between (like freezing) is affecting the product. Or, use this data to isolate a potential source of foreign material (FM). Consider data from different lines to learn where underperformance is and drive it out. Compare data from one facility to another to find differences and use the knowledge to improve operations. Compare data by shift and identify operators that need more training.

Use Information Analytics to create smart alarms. If the sorter sees certain conditions, such a spike in the incoming defect load or other out-of-bound conditions, it can send real-time emails, text messages or other alarms so the problem can be addressed as soon as possible. For example, ejection rates that are too high or too low can point to an upstream line problem that needs fixing. Smart alarms can be predictive too, identifying a trend that’s moving in a problematic direction, and sending an alarm before out-oftolerance conditions develop.

Data collected, analyzed and shared by sorters can optimize raw material utilization. Incoming product quality data can be collected and reported by batch, supplier, field, etc. This can support a payment plan that rewards quality with price, either improving the quality of raw materials to generate high quality finished product or saving money, or both.

Process control is a classic example of what Information Analytics can enable. A whole potato sorter (WPS) can collect dimensional data, even if it is not used in the sorter’s accept/reject decision, and use it to optimize feeding of the downstream cutting operations. Or, a WPS can detect remaining peel and control the upstream peeler to increase or decrease its dwell time, as required.

Beyond these real-time links, process control can be improved by Information Analytics via insights that come from the intelligence in offline batch reports that statistically manipulate the data into actionable intelligence. Some customers may want to know the standard deviation of their product length and width over a shift, while others want to know the distribution of critical, major and minor defects or FM. One customer measures the sorter’s belt coverage to calculate an approximation of the line’s throughput.

In addition to using Information Analytics to better manage raw materials and processes upstream and downstream of the sorter, it can be used to better operate the sorter equipment itself. For example, Sort-to-Grade (STG) for potato strips collects data, statistically manipulates the data and uses it to optimize its accept/reject decisions. With it, sorters grade by count, accepting or rejecting each defective piece to control the quality of the output to a defined grade, specified by the processor. When the grade allows for the presence of some defects, STG allows the processor to meet the grade requirements while maximizing yield. Simplified-Length-Control™ (SLC) is an STG-like software solution that focuses on managing the length of the French fry. STG and SLC can increase yield by one to three percent by reducing unnecessary rejects while improving the consistency of final product quality and dramatically simplifying the operator’s experience.

Other valuable data collected by the sorter can enable the FMAlert™ function, which captures and saves a digital image of every object of interest identified as a critical foreign material, to improve FM tracking and control. These images help processors quickly identify critical quality problems and take corrective action. Or, monitoring its eject-valve activity, a smart sorter can send an alarm if a condition is met such as frequent activity in one ejector or section of ejectors, which could indicate a sanitation issue such as a dirty belt or sensor window that needs cleaning. Sorters can even be programmed to autocalibrate to maintain performance as production conditions change.

Enabling Information Analytics

The flexibility of Information Analytics enables a smart digital sorter to be customized to collect, analyze and share the data in a manner that maximizes the value of the sorter to each customer. All three aspects – data collection, information analysis and connectivity/ data sharing – are tailored to the customer requirements.

Equipped with Information Analytics, the sorter continuously collects and stores a variety of information about the sort process and the product flowing through the sorter, whether that data is used to make sort decisions or not. Both real-time and batch data can include the objects’ dimensions; color and other image information; good product, defect and foreign material (FM) details; every aspect of the sorting operation such as detection activity of specific defect categories, ejection activity and more.

The sorter can leverage its powerful analytical capabilities to process the collected data to drive more intelligent sort operations and/or generate custom, configurable statistical reports from that analytical process.

Data can flow directly from the sorter to the food processor’s SCADA system as well as upstream and/or downstream equipment, thanks to a sorters’ OPC-compliant infrastructure. Additionally, the sorter can send statistical information to databases or CSV files, which can then be accessed, manipulated and used in a variety of ways. Sorters can be integrated flexibly with web browsers, Ethernet/IP and Modbus devices and/or any brand of PLC and protocol for reporting and/or remote management purposes.

Remote Access

Empowering the remote operation of a sorter is an indirect benefit of Information Analytics. The intelligence that Information Analytics delivers to remote operators allows them to understand what’s happening on the line without being present. The operator can also access and fully operate the sorter’s user interface from a remote location. Since Information Analytics establishes connectivity between the sorter and the customer’s network for data sharing, that connection goes both ways to permit a wide variety of remote activities.

What’s New?

Some examples of what can be accomplished with Information Analytics are not new ideas – they are field proven by the most technologically sophisticated potato processors in the world. What’s changing is that the trend to harness a digital sorter’s intelligence is now catching on with more processors, and demand is rapidly rising. To satisfy these customers, Information Analytics, a powerful suite of new software capabilities, has been created to streamline the customization process.

With Information Analytics, digital sorters sort while simultaneously collecting, analyzing and sharing data across the processor’s enterprise. By turning data into knowledge that can be acted on, potato processors are better able to optimize their operations to achieve their desired product quality while increasing yields and reducing costs.

**This white paper was originally published on Key.net


January 2017

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

As technology advances and capabilities grow, electronic sorters are accomplishing things that were not even dreamed of 30 years ago. For many food processors, these optical inspection systems have become invaluable tools for optimizing product quality and assuring food safety by automating the removal of defects and foreign material (FM). But getting the most from this sophisticated equipment – superior performance and the maximum return on investment – requires planning and attention.

The plant environment, product presentation, product outfeed, sorter operation and maintenance all influence the performance of optical inspection equipment. To operate at peak performance, many factors that are critical to success should be considered and the appropriate changes implemented. In this white paper, we will examine steps that processors can take to achieve optimal performance, regardless of the exact make or model of their sorters.

Plant Environment

The ideal environment for a sorter is steam-free and dust-free. It may sound obvious but it’s sometimes ignored – if visibility is obscured, it challenges the sorter, which relies on cameras and/or lasers getting a good view of the product. If a steam or dust problem exists, consider placing an exhaust system near the dust- or steam-generating device or even building a controlled atmosphere or purged enclosure for the sorter.

Likewise, factory lighting can make a difference in sorter performance. Relying on ambient lighting in the plant can be a problem since the quality of the light changes depending on the time of day, time of year and weather conditions. Ideally, plant lighting will be constant, with no direct sunlight or even reflected sunlight hitting the sorter and interfering with the cameras and/or lasers viewing product.

Vibration is an environmental factor that can challenge a sorter installed on a mezzanine. To minimize this disturbance, old bed-driven shakers that distribute a significant amount of vibration to their support structures should be replaced with shakers featuring framemounted drives that minimize the vibration being transferred to the structural support.

The compressed air supplied to the sorter should be dry and oil-free. To extend the life of the sorter’s valves, a filtration system should be installed on the air supply and properly maintained. The benefits in maintenance cost savings are significant. Too many processors overlook this easy-to-justify aspect of the system.

Water is sometimes required for a sorter’s cooling system or a clean-in-place system. To assure the cooling system functions properly, it is important that the temperature of the water be adequate and consistent. Additionally, chemicals, which are sometimes added to the water supply to control bacteria, can adversely affect the cooling system so discuss the use of these chemicals with the sorter manufacturer prior to use.

Hard water can be a problem for clean-in-place systems because it leaves mineral deposits on the camera and lighting windows that were intended to be cleaned. For plants with hard water and clean-in-place systems, a water softening solution might be necessary.

Product Presentation

To most effectively remove defects and foreign material, the sorter’s cameras and/or lasers need an unobstructed view of each object. It is important to spread product out with minimal overlapping as it is presented to the sorter since overlapping product can hide defects and foreign material from view.

Flow rate control is critical to maintaining product separation. Surges in flow rates always result in less than optimum sorting performance. Ensure consistent flow rate, and the electronic systems will function better.

Most sorters have built-in infeed conveyors or chutes that are wider and faster than the conveyors and chutes in the plant. This wider, faster infeed helps spread product across the width of the sorter and front-to-back. To improve the spread, consider a customized infeed shaker for the products being handled on the line. A bias discharge shaker is very effective for some products, while specially designed chutes or diverters are more effective in other applications. If product clumping at the sorter is still an issue, additional steps such as changing the frequency or stroke of the infeed shaker or adding screens or structures to the infeed shaker can be taken to help singulate product.

To further improve the sorter’s performance, reduce, as much as possible, the objects in the product stream that are not good product. For example, when producing potato products, it is important to remove slivers and fines upstream of the sorter by using shakers with screens or rotary sliver removers. An example of this is when peeled potato products are being produced, take steps to maximize the effectiveness of the scrubber to remove all loose peel. For products conveyed in water, dewatering prior to sorting minimizes the “optical noise” caused by water.

Sorter Discharge

After product is spread coming into the sorter via wider and faster handling, the product stream must come back down in speed and width at the discharge of the sorter to match the downstream equipment. The objective is to accomplish this with no product breakage or bruising.

Depending on the product, a simple outfeed chute can cause breakage as the product slams into the wall of the chute. Gentler handling can be achieved with a belt or shaker that moves product in the same direction as the discharge. Although this samedirection outfeed consumes more floor space, it can be well worth it for reducing product breakage. Because the space requirements of the ideal outfeed fluctuate widely, it is best to thoughtfully consider the outfeed concept given the products being produced when the line is being designed rather than after the sorting system is installed.

A good outfeed plan also provides for the airflow coming from the ejector system. When defect rates run high, the ejectors fire often and that air will go where it can -- it follows the path of least resistance. If the product is wet, mist travels with the ejector airflow and if the product is extremely dry, dust can be generated and carried with the airflow. Without proper planning, the airflow could cause mist or dust to collect on camera windows or other surfaces, which would degrade the sorter’s performance or create sanitation issues. Ideally, the sorter’s outfeed design allows the ejector airflow to travel out toward the rejected product stream or the good product stream.

Sorter Operation

To maximize performance, the sorter must be correctly set-up to handle each product. In addition, a well maintained and properly cleaned sorter is critical to achieve optimal sorting results. While it is beyond the scope of this article to dive into every aspect of setup, maintenance and sanitation, suffice it to say, the better trained the plant personnel, the better the outcome.

The most successful sorters typically operate in plants that have appointed one or more in-house sorting “champions.” The sorting champion digs deep to fully understand the equipment given the company’s products and operations. Ideally, the champion will receive in-depth sorter training from the manufacturer, followed with hands-on practice in his plant with his products. He maintains the procedures, which are often customized for the plant, production line and products. He becomes a resource for other employees who operate, maintain and clean the sorting equipment; he is available to assist them and he validates their training.

With his expertise and attention, the champion can help establish the proper settings for each product, with assistance from the sorter manufacturer. Typically, each product will have a unique set-up on the sorter to achieve the desired product specifications. Sometimes the settings are all electronic but other times, mechanical adjustments must be made to perfect the operation for each product. The software settings are usually stored in the sorter’s memory and recalled via the user interface but procedures for backing up these settings must be maintained, and procedures for establishing new settings must be in place and followed to optimize the sorter’s performance. All this is best managed by the sorting champion.

Avoid over-adjustment of the system. There is a common tendency in the industry today to make adjustments when they really are not needed. Further, it is common to see different operators using different procedures and settings; each one thinks theirs is optimum. The sorting champion and their operational procedures should help to avoid this issue.

Maintenance

Processors who believe they will save money by investing as little as possible in preemptive maintenance are sorely misguided because oftentimes, a sorter will achieve sub-par performance long before it actually fails. Sub-standard performance can be extremely costly because a resulting product quality problem can become a serious customer relations issue and a liability exposure.

Because the ideal maintenance program should take into consideration many variables that are specific to each sorter and each application, the sorter manufacturer should be consulted and their recommendations should serve as a starting point. Regardless of the specific equipment and application, quickly checking up on the sorter regularly, at pre-defined intervals, can pay huge dividends. These quick checks could be administered once every hour or once per shift or, at a minimum, once a day. Most good operation or maintenance manuals include preventative maintenance definitions and frequency recommendations.

Many potential problems can be detected very quickly, at a glance. Look at the optical surfaces – the windows that protect the cameras and lamps – to be sure they are clean. Inspect the background, which is the belt in the case of on-belt sorting, to be sure it is clean. The background inspection should include a visual check of the hardware and possibly the collection an image from the user interface, which can be examined it to be sure it is free of stains. If any of these surfaces are dirty, then spray or wipe them clean to dramatically improve the sorter’s performance.

The belt deserves a quick check to be sure it is tracking straight. Since a belt-tracking problem typically arises slowly over time and can result in unplanned downtime, taking care to inspect it and adjust it periodically can easily prevent problems.

Less frequently, perhaps once every day or two, the ejector valves should be checked. This is accomplished when the line isn’t running product, perhaps during a product changeover.

To quickly validate the sorter’s performance, look at the pass and reject streams to see whether the quality level looks reasonable. While this is a very subjective test, it is a useful check to perform. To more objectively verify the sorter’s performance, have Quality Control take samples of the pass and reject streams periodically. It is also useful to program the sorter to produce reports that quantify the occurrence of defects, by category, over time. If the defect rate has spiked up or down, it could be a problem with the sorter or with the product. Either way, it deserves investigation.

Many sorters possess the capability for their activity to be displayed remotely, for example, on a computer in a production office. Simple control chart use can provide an instant assessment of whether or not the sorter’s performance within expected boundaries.

The Bottom Line

As the proliferation of optical sorters expands and reliance on the equipment grows, processors taking the time and trouble to utilize the technology to its greatest capability will earn the greatest rewards. By operating at peak performance, a processor’s return on investment is maximized. But more importantly, product quality will be optimized and food safety assured, which will safeguard consumers, protect customer relationships and enhance the value of the brand.

**This white paper was originally published on Key.net


January 2017

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Product safety is one of the most important issues facing the food processing industry today. Food safety impacts consumer safety as well as product liability and brand protection. For manufacturers of processed fruits and vegetables, fresh-cut produce, snacks, confections, nuts, and potatoes, the elimination of foreign material is a critical piece of the food safety initiative.

To maximize the removal of foreign material, processors are rapidly replacing manual inspection with automated electronic sorters. Compared to manual inspection, which is inconsistent and subjective, electronic sorters are more effective in identifying and removing foreign material and product defects, while at the same time reducing labor costs and improving operating efficiencies.

Processors supplying ingredients to other food manufacturers are increasingly finding that their customers are adopting a zero tolerance policy on foreign material. Many vendor qualification processes are demanding the use of automated sorters and validation systems that verify all foreign material incidences are properly tracked. In fact, sorters can now provide the processor with a time and date stamped photograph of all foreign material incidents. Processes that trace foreign material removal are becoming necessary to participate in the markets around the world that require high product quality.

In this article, we will explore electronic sorting technologies. The objective is to help food processors understand how to maximize food safety by identifying the criteria they should consider when selecting the ideal sorter for their products and applications.

Sorting Basics

Some sorters rely on cameras, others on lasers, and some combine cameras and lasers to view product from the top only or both top and bottom. Some sorters inspect only an object’s color, others inspect an object’s color, size, and shape, and some sort based on the object’s structural properties, including differing levels of chlorophyll. The food processor’s products and business objectives determine the suitable sorter configuration.

Regardless of configuration, most sorters contain similar basic elements. The upstream material handling component presents a single layer of product to the sorter for optimal viewing, and can perform some preliminary mechanical sorting by virtue of a product attribute such as size. The sorter’s sensors capture data, which is analyzed by the sorter’s image-processing system. Foreign material and defective product are ejected by either mechanical paddles or air jets.

Although sorters are designed for continuous, 100 percent, in-line inspection at full production speeds, they can also be used in a batch-feed mode. Typical sorters handle from one to 25 metric tons of product per hour.

Cameras and Lasers and Wavelengths

The ideal sorter for any given application combines the lights, cameras, lasers, and image processing software that most effectively differentiate good product from foreign material and product defects. To maximize that differentiation, it is important to identify the wavelengths that produce unique “signatures” for each object of interest. The sorter manufacturer might use a spectrophotometer on the food processor’s products, foreign material, and defects to see how these objects respond to different wavelengths.

Cameras can be set to inspect within the visible range (red, green, and blue) or a combination of visible and Infrared (IR) or Ultraviolet (UV) spectrums. These cameras capture product information based primarily on material reflectance and, depending on the image processing software, can recognize foreign material and defects based on color, size, and shape.

Lasers are used primarily to inspect a material’s structural properties, which make them ideal for detecting a wide range of foreign material and some product defects. Like cameras, lasers can be designed to inspect only within the visible range or within the IR or UV spectrums too. Additionally, lasers have the ability to detect varying levels of chlorophyll of all individual pieces in a stream of product.

Size, Shape, and Color

All sorters, even the simplest systems that rely only on monochromic (black and white) cameras, can detect differences in color (if only on the gray scale) to distinguish good product from foreign material and defects. But most sorters are capable of much more. Sophisticated color cameras are capable of detecting millions of subtle color differences to better distinguish good from bad objects. And the resolution of cameras and lasers differ with the highest resolution sensors able to detect the smallest defects and foreign material, as small as 1mm or less.

“Object-based recognition” enables a sorter to analyze attributes such as size, shape, symmetry, length, width, and curvature. Some sorters even allow the user to define a defective product based on the total defective surface area of any given object or the location of the defect on the product, if desired. These object-based considerations put more power into the processor’s hands to produce optimal product quality.

Uses

The specific needs of each customer’s application dictate the design of the ideal sorter. For some products, single-side viewing is sufficient. For other products, two-sided viewing with top and bottom sensors is needed to achieve the desired results.

Defects associated with sun exposure, wind rub, insect damage, rot, disease, and fungus as well as over- and under-ripe products, can all be removed with color camera-based sorters. But much more is possible with color sorting. One processor that packs peach slices in glass jars learned that customers prefer the color of the slices to be consistent. Mix yellow and orange slices in one jar and customers perceived the yellow slices as unripe and left the jar on the shelf. This processor used color sorting to separate the slices by color. The technology allowed them to pack jars with only yellow slices and jars with only orange slices. All the jars sold well and their sales increased.

Shape sorting can be used to differentiate green beans from same-color stems and knuckles. Extend this shape-sorting capability further and consider using the technology to separate straight green beans from curved ones. Such a separation would enable the processor to package straight beans in single serve packs and price them at a high markup while diverting curved beans to bulk product, thus increasing the overall value of the green beans.

Processors of leafy greens such as iceberg, romaine, cabbage, spinach, spring mix, mâche, butter leaf, arugula, and oakleaf as well as many nuts, processed fruits and vegetables, and potato products including strips and potato chips often find sorting with a combination of cameras and lasers most effective. The cameras detect defects based on color while the lasers detect insects and animal parts as well as sticks, rocks, cardboard, plastic, metal, and glass, even if they are the same color as the good product, based on the object’s structural properties.

Fluorescence-sensing laser sorters are critical to processors whose products or defects contain chlorophyll. For example, cut corn kernels do not contain chlorophyll but the same-color husks and shanks do contain chlorophyll so fluorescencesensing laser sorting is effective while color sorting is not. Likewise, same-color foreign material such as frogs, snakes, and insects found in leafy greens and green beans can easily be identified by the objects’ differing levels (or absence) of chlorophyll, using a fluorescence-sensing laser sorter.

Sorting is now driving a paradigm shift in how iceberg and romaine lettuces are processed. Traditionally, these lettuces are manually cored, which causes excess product to be cut away to assure the core is fully removed. Yield is lost. By integrating a vibratory density separation shaker with a camera/laser sorter, manual coring can be eliminated. Instead, whole, uncored heads of lettuce are brought into the plant and cut using the same automated cutting technology that is traditionally used to cut cored heads. After cutting, the integrated system removes the pieces of core as well as foreign material and defects from the product stream.

Manufactured snacks and confectionary products benefit from color sorting that removes color defects and intelligent shape sorting that removes broken and/or misshapen products. Laser sorting can be used to inspect wrapped confections and will remove candies with partial wraps or missing wrappers.

Sorter Selection Criteria

When searching for the perfect sorter for any given application, performance, capacity, flexibility, and economics should be considered along with the sorter manufacturer’s expertise and support.

When comparing systems, consider the resolution of the cameras and lasers because higher resolution allows the sorter to detect and remove smaller defects. Compare cameras and their ability to detect possibly millions of subtle color differences. Compare the illumination system (usually either fluorescent, LEDs, or HID), understanding that superior lighting leads to superior sorter performance. Of course, the effectiveness of the sorter relies on the software too – the algorithms – that manipulate raw data and categorize information based on the customer-defined accept/reject thresholds.

Sorters are sophisticated pieces of equipment based on technology that advances at a rapid rate. To continue to get the most from a sorter and maximize the return on investment, look for a modular sorter that is designed to be easily upgraded or reconfigured in the field.

Last but not least, it is important to consider the level of service a supplier can provide in a specific region – from engineering to after-sales support.

The Bottom Line

Not long ago, using automated sorting to maximize product quality was a point of differentiation that led to a competitive advantage. Today, automated sorting is quickly becoming a necessary component of many food processing operations because customers are increasingly demanding the use of this technology to assure consistent product quality and traceability of all foreign material incidents.

**This white paper was originally published on Key.net


January 2017

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Food processors around the world work hard to produce various types of fresh and processed products that are free of defects, foreign material (FM), extraneous vegetative matter (EVM), and Out-of-Specification (OOS) products to improve the quality and increase the value of their product. These quality objectives are easily achieved with today’s sophisticated range of digital sorting systems that recognize color, size, shape, structural properties, and/or chemical composition to detect the widest range of visible and invisible defects and FM.

The latest advances in sorting help processors achieve optimal quality standards while safeguarding yield through reduced false rejects, rework, and product degradation. With so many effective quality-improving tools now available, the challenge becomes identifying the optimal sorter configuration or combination of sorters to best achieve each processors’ objectives.

In this white paper, we will explore the various types of sorting systems that are available to food processors, including the latest state-of-the-art color sorters, smart laser sorters, and new hyperspectral technology. The goal is to help processors of various types of foods such as fresh cut, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables, potato products, nuts, snacks, and confections, select the perfect sorting solution for their specific application.

Laser and Laser/Camera Combo Sorters

Considered the “workhorse” in most food processing plants, laser and laser/camera combination sorters make effective multipurpose sorting solutions. Depending on the needs of each application, today’s most advanced laser sorters can be designed with up to five lasers operating at different wavelengths to detect and remove a wide variety of defects and FM, which is an important contributor to global food safety. When combined with high resolution cameras for superior shape, size, and color determination, the result is a high quality product.

Laser sorters inspect the distinctive structural properties of each object to reliably identify and remove FM such as plastics, glass, and stones and EVM such as shells, sticks, and membrane, even when the material is the same color as good product. A laser sorter is also capable of achieving color sorting, although advanced color cameras provide a more precise detection of very subtle distinctions in color shades.

If the sorter is equipped with a combination of lasers and advanced color cameras, fewer lasers can be used because color cameras take over the color sorting function from the lasers to enable a richer color contrast by recognizing millions of color differences. With the appropriate software and algorithms, laser/camera sorters can also sort by shape, if needed.

Shape Sorting

For nuts, green beans, and other select products, shape sorting can be an extremely important capability. With nuts, broken products sell for less money. With green beans, shape sorting differentiates beans from same-color stems. Advanced shape sorting can be accomplished with monochromatic or color cameras, coupled with powerful software algorithms. A sorter can be dedicated to shape sorting or configured to achieve shape sorting in addition to FM, EVM, and color sorting. Effective shape sorters must avoid shade effects while creating the images to maximize the contrast of the shape.

Three-Way Sorting

While most sorting challenges can be satisfied with two-way sorting (one accept stream and one reject stream), some applications benefit from sorters that feature two ejector systems and three outfeed streams that achieve three-way sorting. When a multipurpose laser/camera combination sorter is equipped with three-way sorting, higher quality is achieved in a single pass. Generally, three-way sorting separates the incoming stream into a FM and EVM reject stream, a lower grade product stream and a premium product stream. If the incoming defect load is high, the lower grade product stream may also be a rework stream that is either resorted via a return loop back to the sorter infeed, buffered and sorted later, or fed to another sorter.

Compared to running product through a two-way sorter multiple times, a three-way sorter achieves similar results while cutting the number of passes in half, which doubles throughput, reduces labor, and minimizes product degradation. Compared to leveraging two-way sorters in tandem, a single three-way sorter can achieve similar results while reducing capital equipment requirements.

Hyperspectral Imaging

The newest sorting technology currently commercialized, primarily for nut and potato processing, uses hyperspectral imaging rather than lasers or traditional cameras. Hyperspectral imaging systems divide light into hundreds of narrow bands over a continuous range of wavelengths that cover a vast portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Compared to the three data points collected by an RGB camera and the single data point from each laser sensor, a hyperspectral camera collects hundreds of data points.

Advanced software on hyperspectral systems convert the data to create unique biological fingerprints for each object to enable detection based on chemical composition. The challenges of the technology are the speed required to process the enormous amount of data and the resolution of the images, which affects the size of the defects that can be detected. Currently, this technology is used on specialized sorters where it achieves unparalleled performance removing FM and EVM, even under high incoming defect loads, and detects invisible defects.

The effectiveness of chute-fed hyperspectral sorters is field-proven to maximize the removal of shells, membranes, husks, hulls, and other FM or EVM from walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, peanuts, and other nuts. The technology increases FM and/or EVM removal, often achieving more than 99.5 percent efficiency with very low false reject rates. For nut processors that can afford multiple sorters, a sorter based on hyperspectral technology that is focused on removing FM is often the first sorting step, followed by a high-end laser/camera sorter. Hyperspectral sorters are also perfectly suited for a dedicated rework line that receives material rejected by mechanical equipment and other sorters to be reclaimed because it can handle high defect loads effectively.

For potato processors, hyperspectral technology can detect sugar end potatoes and zebra chips prior to frying where the conditions are invisible to traditional camera and laser sorters. This is especially important to potato strip processors because these defects are not visible until after frying, which is usually done by the processor’s customer at the foodservice level, when the defects turn dark brown and reflect poorly on the supplier.

Reverse Sorting

Reverse sorting is a software-driven capability included on select laser, laser/camera, and hyperspectral sorters that enables the user to quickly switch the definitions of what is accepted and what is rejected. It is ideal for rework and when incoming defect loads are higher than 50 percent. Typically, sorters are programmed to reject FM and/or EVM but when running in reverse-sort mode, they are programmed to target good product. This approach uses less compressed air and, more importantly, it improves the results with a cleaner end-product when defect loads are high.

Many sorter suppliers claim a reverse sort capability but often, the adjustment requires a labor intensive recalibration, which may take more time than it is worth. On select sorters, the switch from a forward sort to a reverse sort is achieved in seconds via the touchscreen control panel, with no recalibration or mechanical adjustments required.

X-ray for Embedded Defects

Not as common as camera and lasers, x-ray technology can also be used for bulk sorting. While color, laser, and hyperspectral sorters currently focus on surface related defects, x-ray has the capability to “look” inside the product by focusing on density. In the food processing industry, this technology can detect FM such as metal, glass, and stones because these objects have a higher density than the food products. X-ray detection is typically found at the end of a processing line as the last quality check to remove any remaining FM. To ensure all FM is removed, some systems employ a push-rod ejection system that either opens a gate or pushes a scraper to remove the FM along with a significant amount of good product. Air ejection is also used, but requires very aggressive duration settings to ensure all FM is removed at this final step.

Sorting Platforms

In addition to the various types of sensors (laser sensors, traditional cameras, and new hyperspectral based technologies) and the proprietary algorithms that process and analyze the data to make accept/reject decisions, food sorters also differ in their mechanical embodiment. Waterfall, chute-fed, and belt-fed sorters are all capable of inspecting product in-air and are each suitable for specific products and applications, with varying degrees of success.

Waterfall sorters inspect product in-air during the free-fall. Chutefed sorters stabilize product on the chute prior to in-air inspection. Belt sorters stabilize product on a belt, inspecting the product from the top while on the belt and then feeding the product off the end of the belt for optional inspection from the bottom, followed by in-air rejection. Stabilizing the product is critical to the sorter’s efficiency because it improves the predictability of the product trajectory in the air through the inspection and ejection zones. This enables the sorter to better focus on objects to identify small FM and defects and improves the accuracy of the ejection system, both of which help maximize the sorter’s yield and defect removal performance.

The major advantages of chute-fed sorters, compared to belt sorters, are the smaller footprint and the absence of moving parts, which contributes to low maintenance requirements. The major advantages of belt sorters are high throughput and the improved ability to achieve an effective three-way sort. Regardless of the platform, food processors should look for sorters with low-impact infeed and discharge chutes that have been designed to minimize bounce and breakage for the gentlest product handling, so value isn’t lost through product degradation.

Conclusion

With so many high performance sorting systems on the market and technology advancing at such a rapid pace, it can be difficult for food processors to identify the ideal solution for their application.

Working with a supplier that offers the widest variety of food sorting systems makes it easier to compare solutions and consider options. If the supplier offers mechanical grading systems in addition to digital sorting solutions, both aspects should be considered together to create the optimal combination. The supplier’s food processing expertise should not be undervalued – it contributes to the design of superior sorting systems, helps guide the processor’s selection process, and can be tapped into long after installation and start-up in the processor’s quest to continuously improve operations and final product quality.

**This white paper was originally published on Key.net


January 2017

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

As potato processors around the world search for new ways to solve outstanding product quality and production challenges, they often look to new technology for the answer. One machine in particular – the digital sorter – deserves regular scrutiny because rapid advances in data processing power enable more intelligent software to be developed, which adds to the sorter’s capabilities.

In this article, we will highlight one of the most important new software-driven capabilities recently developed for potato strip processors – it’s called Sort-to-Grade and it’s changing the way some strip sorters and whole potato sorters make many of their decisions.

The Old “Sieve” Approach to Sorting

Traditional sorters make sort decisions by comparing the size and color of every defect to predetermined, userdefined thresholds. Those accept/reject decisions are made sequentially for individual items, regardless of final aggregate, in-the-bag, quality results. Since final product specifications usually allow a certain amount of minor and major defects, the operator has to adjust the accept/reject thresholds in an effort to make grade given the inevitable fluctuations in the quality of incoming product. These subjective adjustments typically result in too many defects being ejected and yield is lost. However, if incoming defects spike, this traditional “sieve” approach to sorting often causes too few defects to be removed, and final quality specifications are missed.

The New Sort-to-Grade Concept

Sort-to-Grade (STG) is a powerful new software-driven capability that can be adopted on select strip sorters, automatic defect removal systems and whole potato sorters. It enables the system to control the quality of output to a specific, predetermined grade, defined by the user.

Like traditional sorters, those equipped with a Sort-to-Grade capability consider the size and color of every object, and target all critical defects and foreign material (FM) for removal. Minor and major defects are considered differently – Sort-to-Grade makes accept/reject decisions on each minor and major defect based on how potentially passing each defect will affect the overall final product quality. By evaluating whole potatoes or strips with minor and major defects against the current grade count, the sorter can allow some to pass and still maintain grade. It objectively sorts these defects by count in real-time.

All of the sorter’s parameters and tolerances are defined by the user, including the final product specifications used to sort to grade. Of course, the specifications for each grade can be stored in the sorter’s memory for fast and accurate recall during product changeovers, with different parameters and tolerances for different customers, if appropriate.

Why Sort to Grade?

Sort-to-Grade is a dynamic production tool that collects product data in real-time from the continuous product flow and analyses the data in real-time to improve the sorter’s decision making. It enables the processor to establish a target grade and match it. The system automatically adjusts to stay on grade despite changes in incoming product quality. It eases use by eliminating subjective adjustments and dramatically reduces operator intervention, freeing personnel to focus on other tasks. It helps maximize sorting performance because the ideal adjustments are automatically made in real-time without delay, which improves the consistency of final product. In-field tests show that Sort-to-Grade increases yields by one to three percent while achieving the desired final product quality.

Whole Potato Sorting with STG

By equipping a whole potato sorter with Sort-to-Grade, the processor removes the ideal amount of out-of-tolerance potatoes prior to investing resources to process them. The sorter targets all major defects and FM for removal, while the Sort-to-Grade function considers minor and major defects such as scabs, bruises, rot, green and black defects and remaining peel if sorting peeled potatoes, and permits an allowable amount to pass. Sort-to-Grade can also consider the length, width or shape of the whole potato. It can be programmed to allow the ideal amount of small potatoes to pass, while the balance of small potatoes are ejected and diverted to a line producing a different quality standard, depending on the user-defined criteria for the grade.

Strip Sorting with STG

Sort-to-Grade can be adopted on select wet strip sorters and frozen strip sorters where it manages product quality by ejecting the ideal amount of minor and major defects to make grade while maximizing yields. At each step, the processor has a target grade and Sort-to-Grade achieves it.

A wet strip sorter with STG is typically programmed to focus on color defects including black, brown and green spots, the presence of peel and bruises. The processor defines what constitutes a minor, major and critical defect in relation to each defect type, with the size of the defect determining its classification by the sorter, given the user-defined thresholds. Here, the objective is to remove all critical defects and the ideal amount of minor and major defects prior to processing the product.

A frozen strip sorter located immediately prior to packaging is the “last line of defense,” where it becomes imperative to remove all major defects and foreign material and the right amount of minor and/or major defects to make grade. Equipped with Sort-to-Grade, a frozen strip sorter can be programmed to sort by strip length while sorting defects and FM. Removing enough short strips to make grade while passing enough short strips to maximize yields is a common objective here as is removing undesirably long strips that could cause problems during packaging. Using a frozen strip sorter with STG to length grade offers all of the same production advantages as other STGenabled sorters and more. Using this sorter to length-grade eliminates the need for a separate mechanical length grading system that can actually cause product damage and be a source of microbial contamination.

Information Analytics

Sort-to-Grade is one example of intelligent software being developed for today’s powerful digital sorters to help processors improve product quality, increase yields and solve a variety of production challenges. It is a live, online “information analytics” tool that collects product data from the continuous product flow and analyses it in real time to improve the sorter’s decision making. The sorter can be programmed to send an immediate alert if a particular event occurs, such as detecting glass in the product stream, or if the sorter cannot maintain the desired grade given the quality of the incoming product.

The data collected by a STG-equipped sorter, including dimensional information and defects, can also be categorized and downloaded to a database for use offline, to identify patterns and trends that help manage a range of upstream or downstream processes. On a whole potato sorter, the data allows a potato processor to derive information about incoming product quality. For example, analyzing product quality data that varies by storage location could help improve storage conditions in the future. A whole potato sorter located after the peeler can collect data about peel coverage that can be used to improve control of the peelers upstream, and a wet strip sorter can collect data to improve control of the water knives.

Data can be analyzed by shift, by day or in relation to a specific source of incoming product to observe trends and draw conclusions. The user defines what data is captured and how it is used.

Conclusion

As the power of data processing systems grows, so do the capabilities of the systems that rely on them. Today, digital sorters are able to make more sophisticated sort decisions than ever before, and they are able to deliver more product information to help control other processes online and offline. Ultimately, this trend toward more powerful sorters and more intelligent software helps potato processors improve product quality, increase yields and enhance their operations.

**This white paper was originally published on Key.net


January 2017
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