Consumers are driving changes in packaging, whether based on their interest in more sustainable options, demand for different sizes and formats to fit their needs or other reasons. Looking ahead, one can expect additional disruptions in traditional product development and packaging, which will impact all facets of production, including the inspection of items for safety and quality purposes. Advanced x-ray systems are keeping up with, and in some cases ahead of such changes, with features reflecting current market trends and future directions.
A new decade is coming and with it, new ways of packaging products based on evolving consumer demands and preferences. As manufacturers look ahead to using different materials and formats while also adding to their product portfolios, they can deploy flexible, multi-functional x-ray systems to ensure that their products and packaging deliver on expectations for safety, integrity and quality
So, what’s the 2020 vision for packaging and accompanying x-ray applications? Here are some overarching trends expected to affect the marketplace and manufacturing processes:
In response to consumer demand for more choices, manufacturers will need to have versatile systems in place to produce different packages, with quick changeover. One example of a forward-thinking company with an emphasis on versatility is Edesia Nutrition, which was looking for a solution to inspect carton cases of individual foil pouches filled with their ready-to-use food. They wanted a single machine that could inspect several product types simultaneously and integrated the Eagle Pack 550 PRO at the end of their line. The system’s software reads each barcode so the machine can adapt to different package types.
As the pace of business picks up, manufacturers will continue to push throughput. Inspection systems can be used to maximize uptime and line efficiencies, and keep things moving without sacrificing accuracy and consistency. Advanced inspection machines can be set up to adjust to different products and line speeds to meet a company’s goals for each line. For example, the Iglo Group installed four Eagle Pack 430 systems on four different production lines to inspect a range of products that each require certain settings, including settings for accurate speeds. This example and other case studies show that at speed and safety don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
A tight labor market, combined with advanced technologies, has fueled the use of highly automated systems and, in some parts of the production process, robotics. Inline inspection systems can be integrated into semi and highly automated systems, checking for contaminants while also performing crucial quality checks like mass measurement, component count, product integrity and more. Automatic data collection and storage is available through software like Eagle’s SimulTask™ PRO x-ray image analysis software and TraceServer™ software that records production data and machine status information and stores it in a centralized database. A company that dramatically improved its production traceability and product quality control is Canadian bakery manufacturer Boulangerie St. Donut, which tracks every product that passes through the x-ray system through Eagle’s TraceServer software retains the product image and associated information.
Sixty-eight percent of consumers say it’s important for them to choose “responsibly packaged” foods or beverages. Responsible packaging encompasses various elements of packaging, including more sustainable materials and formats, as well as products packaged in a way that ensures quality, integrity and safety for the end-user. Accordingly, many companies have announced packaging changes as part of their overall drive toward responsibility, and are working with or pursuing new materials and forms, including packaging made from renewable materials or recyclable materials. Today’s x-ray systems are versatile enough to inspect a variety of package types, including flexible and rigid packaging and the many formats that fall under those categories.
Advanced inspection covers another facet of responsible food and beverage production and packaging: food safety and quality that can be traced and verified. X-ray systems driven by powerful software allow manufacturers to provide more information about the products and trace back packages to the point of inspection, with important production information and images. Eagle’s Pack 240 HC is one example of a system designed for versatility and traceability: the machine was recently updated to offer item-level traceability for better overall quality control.