Food & beverage companies invest heavily and consistently in solutions to optimize their manufacturing operations in order to avoid capital equipment investments to increase capacity. Slim profit margins compared to other industries, and increasing quality and variety demands from customers, retailers and regulatory agencies are typical reasons for taking this incremental improvement approach. Each investment gets scrutinized for its impact on ROI and only the strongest and most urgent projects get funded. Many packagers are lowering their waste thresholds in production and improving package quality using today’s more focused, more affordable machine vision solutions. These can deliver a boost in ROI and help fund more capital- intensive production upgrades. A goodwill by product from improved quality is improved retailer and customer confidence.
Packagers often believe there is no need to fix something that is not broken. For example, each manufacturer has a threshold point where the acceptable level of waste becomes a problem of waste. In every case, some sort of inspection—human or semi-automated —helps judge when waste turns into a problem. The inspection may take place in-line for work-in-process or at the final packing stage. Human inspectors provide reliable detection of multiple faults over a wide range of conditions. However, they can limit the number of inspections completed in a shift, effectively capping productivity at a low level. In many cases, machine vision systems dramatically increase the number of inspections; reduce human error, eyestrain or repetitive motion injuries; and allow an increase in production speed and accuracy. Here are the three most common waste prevention scenarios:
1. Use vision as a diagnostic tool to detect which problem(s) to repair on an expensive piece of machinery.
2. Use vision to limit waste in product, packaging and marking materials when fill level is too high or too low; when the label is crooked; or when an ink jet marking system produces blobs instead of characters.
3. Use vision to remove non-saleable product from the supply chain.
Even a slight downward readjustment of the waste threshold can generate sufficient savings to justify the cost of a vision inspection system and boost bottom line profitability.