Improve Inspection Accuracy with Automated Vision Systems

April 29, 2024
Automating your quality control efforts using vision-based inspection systems, especially in heavily regulated industries, can dramatically improve your operations and reduce the chance of recalls.

Whether you’re producing pet food or pharmaceuticals or packaging any type of consumer goods, you know that quality is paramount. While implementing manual quality control (QC) procedures throughout your production is a good step, incorporating automation into these processes can take the consistency, accuracy and speed of your QC measures to a new level. 

For manufacturers in the consumer packaged goods (CPG) industries, reducing the risk of introducing potential quality issues by incorporating multiple inspection points throughout the production process is essential. From checking the raw materials going into the production system for contaminants to thoroughly examining both individually finished and packaged goods for defects, these inspection tasks must be performed rapidly and reliably. 

To remove the risks associated with manual inspections and provide the opportunity to boost production, many required quality checks throughout the production process can be automated with vision-based systems. These systems offer the ability to “see” details the human eye is incapable of seeing and process data at speeds the human brain could never comprehend. This helps you get more—and better—products out the door faster. Automated vision systems also offer the added benefit of enabling you to redistribute your valuable human resources to focus on other critical parts of your production processes that cannot be automated.    

Achieving peak product quality

Vision-based inspection systems can be trained to rapidly perform a range of quality checks such as detecting foreign objects or identifying inconsistencies by looking for deviations in color, shape or size of the product. Inspections can be taken to the next level using advanced vision tools such as multispectral and hyperspectral cameras, near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy, or X-ray equipment that can identify characteristics that cannot be seen when performing a visual inspection. You can also implement algorithms designed to extract trends from your data to fine tune inspections, maximize efficiency and further improve quality. 

Using some of these advanced techniques, we worked with a pet food processor to take their QC efforts to the next level. By incorporating imaging systems that isolate parts of the color spectrum to detect even slight variations in the shades of brown in their kibble, they can ensure their product’s flavor is optimized. Additionally, using NIR spectroscopy, they can quickly monitor moisture levels in their kibble to prevent issues such as mold once the kibble is packaged. These types of automated inspections are now key to guaranteeing quality, decreasing waste and greatly reducing the risk of a costly recall.

Rapid packaging quality checks

Just because your products have passed rigorous QC checks doesn’t mean your inspections are complete. All aspects of your product packaging and labeling must be accurate. Just imagine how detrimental it would be if you produced a batch of standard dog food, yet it was labeled as your allergen-free blend. To avoid issues like this, vision systems can be used to rapidly perform label verification before products are palletized. 

If you’re producing a food, beverage or pet food product, you likely include a date code on the package either because it is required by a regulatory body or expected by consumers. Vision systems can rapidly verify the accuracy of these codes by inspecting more than a thousand cans per minute for proper serialization

By removing manual inspection processes and automating QC efforts with vision-based inspection systems, manufacturers—especially those working in heavily regulated industries—can significantly improve inspection accuracy, speed and consistency. This will lead to better product quality, a reduced chance of a product recall, and less waste all while boosting production efficiency. If you are performing inspection tasks manually or struggling with quality issues, let’s discuss the opportunities for automating these tasks with vision-based inspection systems.  

Bruce Bennett is senior applications engineer and Andy Thompson is manager of application engineering at Gray Solutions, a member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Gray Solutions, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange

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