Machine vision inspection in the food industry


Stephen Hayes, managing director of automation technology specialist Beckhoff UK, discusses the benefits of using machine vision systems for quality control in food manufacturing.

The need to manufacture products reliably and without faults is more important in the food and beverage industry than anywhere else. Manufacturers face continuous pressure to deliver products to a very high quality and ensure safe and accurate packaging. In recent years, machine vision inspection has become increasingly popular to meet these exacting quality requirements.

From farm to the shelf, complete traceability is essential in the food industry. A human decision in identifying quality factors is usually faulty, inconsistent and slow. Machine vision systems don’t just scan the food, but they ensure products meet the high standards of food associations by tireless automatic monitoring.


Quality control

In today’s society, packaging is crucial. It has to look attractive for a product to catch the customer’s eye. From the colouring of the product to the packaging’s looks, vision-based quality control can make sure products look uniform and attractive.

Machine vision systems are also valuable for analysing the quality of bulk items. They can catch defects in real-time and remove those items that do not conform, thus reducing waste and increasing efficiency.

Not only that, but machine vision systems can aid with portioning items equally. For example, in the case of a pack of biscuits, the machine can make sure there is an equal number of biscuits in each pack and that there are no unusual gaps between them.


Label verification

Incorrectly labelled or printed products can cause issues at the end of the supply chain. Such products might have to be recalled, which causes financial loss for manufacturers and damages brand integrity. For food products, the danger arises from mislabelling allergens, which can cause serious health issues for customers.

An Australian study conducted over the period between 2009 and 2018 discovered that most recalls happened because of undeclared allergens and incorrectly labelling of products.

Machine vision systems are the easiest and most efficient method for preventing recalls by properly labelling products at the manufacturing stage.

For any machine vision system, camera quality is essential. Beckhoff’s TwinCAT 3 Vision uses the globally widespread and accepted GigE-Vision standard, which can solve even demanding image analyses with high performance. TwinCAT Vision is divided into products for camera integration and a comprehensive library with a wide variety of image processing algorithms. The product is fully integrated in the TwinCAT universal automation platform, ensuring that vision software can be fully controlled and configured from within a familiar PLC environment.

High precision systems equipped with a quality camera ensure even hard-to-inspect products can be tested with absolute reliability. Machine vision systems are essential for absolute traceability, quality control and greater automation in the food industry.


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