Your mission: To detect any foreign contaminants in your product before they have a chance to leave your processing plant. But which will help you achieve your goal: metal detection or X-ray systems?
Metal detection and X-ray inspection have long been the first line of defence for food and beverage processors, but vast improvements in engineering and software mean it’s not immediately obvious which will provide the best performance.
There are a number of boxes any inspection system must tick. For food and beverage applications, both metal detectors and X-ray systems must be extremely sensitive, easy-to-use, fast, fully automatic, robust, reliable and cost effective. After all, the system often needs to be able to pick up the smallest contaminants from thousands of products in challenging processing environments.
So which inspection technology should food and beverage processors invest in to ensure the safety and quality of their products — metal detection or X-ray?
To help you make your decision, consider the following questions:
How is performance measured?
The performance of a foreign-object detection system is determined in three ways:
- Detectable contaminant types: There are lots of contaminant types, including glass, rocks, bones, plastic, pieces of metal and so on. Often, the real challenge isn’t finding the contaminant, but ignoring the packaging, product and environment. False detections can quickly add up both in terms of time and costs.
- Minimum contaminant size: This depends on the system design and technology as well as the “product effect”. This is the degree to which the food looks like a contaminant to the detection system.
- Probability of detection: What is the chance of the system missing a contaminant in real production, with real products running at real speeds? As a general rule, the larger the contaminant, the higher the probability of detection. However, you also need to build in a margin for error, with periodic audits and preventative maintenance.
What contaminants do you want to detect?
Traditionally, metal detection systems were used to detect metal (including aluminium and wires), while X-ray inspection detects all metals, as well as many other solid contaminants (think glass, stones and bones). However, today’s technology means metal detection systems, such as Matthews’ systems by Bizerba, can also detect non-ferrous metals. (This NFP packing organisation is a good example of how and where metal detection can be used, choosing it after gaining a new contract for packing baby food. This looks at what technology and solution they went with and why.)
Typically, X-ray inspection systems can find smaller contaminants than metal detectors and can check a wider range of materials, including large packaged products, cases, cans and bottles.
However, there are challenges for both systems. Typically, metal detection systems find it difficult to ignore wet and salty products, as they are conductive. While X-ray inspection systems have limited success when it comes to dense products with lots of texture. That said, there are examples of advanced systems that can overcome both these issues.
What is the packaging type?
In the food and beverage industry, many brand owners are switching to metallised film or foil-based packaging to enhance products’ appearance or shelf life. This often rules out metal detectors, because they can’t get past the packaging to see any contaminants inside. X-ray inspection systems however, can see right through into foil-based packaging to detect extremely small foreign objects. Make sure you take into account how you might change your packaging down the track, as this will determine the best investment for your inspection processes.
What’s the optimum detection point?
The optimum detection point is the stage in your processing line that has the most chance of finding contaminants. This influences which technology should be employed for the best performance.
Metal detectors can be installed almost anywhere along the line, but their design means they work best for products in small packages and bulk conveyed products. By contrast, X-ray systems have greater sensitivity in a wider range of products. In both cases, processors and packers can often derive the best value by placing the unit at the end of the line, examining finished (i.e. packaged) products.
What’s the speed of application?
X-ray systems’ need a constant, known speed to construct images, so don’t work in gravity-flow applications. But metal detection can be used almost anywhere. Multiple products can be run through an X-ray at a time, while it is ideal to run one product at a time in a metal detector.
What else can the technology do?
When investing in any technology, it’s worth thinking about how you can get the most value for your business. In this case, you want to look at what the systems can perform in addition to detecting contaminants. For example, X-ray inspection systems can see inside a container to detect missing products in a pack — something that’s not possible with a metal detector. X-ray systems can also inspect a product by measuring the shape, counting objects or using the density of the image to estimate weight. Each of these processes helps to ensure that only the highest quality products are leaving your factory doors.
What’s the total cost of ownership (TCO)?
As with all processing equipment, it’s worth weighing up the upfront cost against the total cost of ownership (or TCO) over its lifetime. This includes training, maintenance, repair, parts and so on. In general, X-ray systems are more expensive up front than metal detection systems. Metal detectors also last up to five times longer. So if you only need to examine small, dry products the extra functions of an X-ray system won’t add any value to your business, so opt for a metal detector. But if you need to go beyond the basics, the X-ray system could prove a worthy investment over the long term.
You may find these articles explaining TCO and how reducing TCO can help improve your bottom line interesting.
So what’s the answer for metal detection vs X-ray inspection? Well, the bottom line is, one solution doesn’t fit all. Because there are so many different factors that affect performance, the best way to choose your ideal inspection system is to look at your exact application, product and industry needs. Speak to the experts at Matthews for information about the different systems on offer and how they can be configured to meet your requirements.
Of course, by implementing a system to detect any foreign contaminants in your product before they leave your doors, you will greatly reduce your risk of product recall due to contaminants. To access our free white paper on avoiding recalls, click on the link below. You can find our other whitepapers here.