Reducing product recalls in the food industry through automation
Reducing product recalls in the food industry through automation.
As food product recalls increase, Omron Automation’s Robert Brook considers how effective and integrated plant automation can play a leading role in reducing the cost and damaged reputations. Although most recalls are triggered by unlisted ingredients or contamination with bacteria, metal and other foreign bodies was also responsible for many cases.
Manufacturers need to be aware of the impact on labelling and pack accuracy of current production trends. Shorter runs of multiple variants, reformulated versions of established products and redesigned packaging can all lead to mistakes being made. A basic requirement is that both pre-printed and variable data (including best-before dates) must correlate correctly with the product inside the pack.
There are many production-level checks which can be integrated into control and information systems. Taken together, they can dramatically and reliably reduce the risk of recalls.
Multiple points of failure
A common type of production line includes primary packaging (robotic pick-and-place and tray sealing), secondary packaging (top-load cartoning), and tertiary packaging (case-packing and palletising). There are several points at which faults can occur, with the potential to trigger a recall.
These functions can be managed and monitored from a single control system. Vision systems for verifying packaging, product and codes, temperature control, sensors and robot controls can all sit on a single machine control platform with direct two-way, real-time connectivity with factory or enterprise-level databases.
Vision systems will verify codes, graphics (reconciling each pack with the product on the line), pack components, label presence, print legibility, shape, colour and optical character recognition (OCR) at even the highest line speeds.
Database connectivity means that quality inspection and production data can be gathered, and traceability and regulatory compliance can be ensured. It allows data to be analysed for adverse trends and to trigger predictive or preventative maintenance.
There is no reason why the food industry could not follow the example of the pharmaceuticals sector in embracing automation at this high level, for reasons of efficiency and flexibility but also – increasingly – to minimise the risk of product recalls.
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