Quality is everything in manufacturing today. But the demand for more products and faster turnaround times means it’s no longer enough to rely on human inspection to achieve the high level of standards customers and consumers expect.
That’s where automated inspection systems come in. Metal detectors, checkweighers, scanners, X-ray and vision inspection … there’s a growing range of product inspection systems designed to check and ensure product quality. They help tick all the boxes for consumers and retailers, while also substantially decreasing operational expenses, optimising plant efficiency and providing valuable manufacturing intelligence that can be used to improve products and processes. In other words, a “lean nirvana”. (For a host of information on lean, see here.)
But not all product inspection systems are created equal. Even the smallest element of an inspection system can make a huge impact on its efficiency. Here’s an expert guide to the inspection best practices every manufacturer should know:
- Think about your packaging line design. Before you even consider an inspection system, design your packaging line so that you can minimise the level of inspection required. This means choosing the right equipment, maintaining the equipment, managing your processes, considering how product changeovers are managed, and more.
- Fit for the task. Start by considering whether the inspection system fits your requirements. Does it include features that will pay back and give you the best possible return on investment (ROI)? Think about future requirements as well, and consider if the equipment is scalable; this will ensure it continues to meet your needs as the business grows. (You may find this piece interesting on how to calculate the ROI of your checkweigher.)
- Install inspection machinery close to the end of the line. Inspection equipment can be used for process control and should be installed at appropriate check points on the production line. If resources are limited, then inspection should be the last process before the product leaves your premises for quality control (QC). So wherever possible, install your inspection system at the end of the line.
- Calibrate and train the solution. Most inspection solutions need to be “taught” what they have to inspect and given clear tolerance limits. Make sure this is done for every SKU.
- Understand compliance requirements. One of the issues with coding simply comes down to putting it in the wrong place and not respecting the quiet zones. Vision cameras reading 1D and 2D barcodes are very accurate these days — but only if the code is large enough and in the right location. (See more on next generation 2D coding.) With weights, know the compliance requirements and reduce your give-away. Speak to your technology supplier for recommendations. (You can find more information on printing barcodes in our FAQs, while this blog looks further at 2D codes and this gives a good basic explanation about checkweighing and give-away.)
- Know the limitations. Different inspection systems require certain conditions to operate at their optimum. Metal detectors are very sensitive to metal, vibration, electrical noise, salt and moisture, so keep these factors in mind when implementing your system. For checkweighers, put scales in an enclosure, as even the smallest factor (such as blowing fans) can affect the results. Your inspection equipment supplier will provide expert advice on which system is right for you, and how to install it effectively in your line.
- Train your staff. Work with the supplier to ensure that your employees are trained to operate the system and get the most from it. The good news is modern inspection systems feature simplified operation and easy-to-use interfaces to reduce operator errors and time taken for staff training. Create detailed one-point lessons with problematic issues for your line inspections. Get operators to perform inspections a couple of times during their shift and ensure supervisors collect reports and verify that the correct action has been carried out.
- Clean the line. Dust, oil and residual materials can affect your inspection systems, so ensure the line is cleaned properly before and after operation. For example, make sure there is no dust and debris around your checkweigher scales. You might want to choose a system with modular construction and hygienically designed stainless steel equipment for quick and effective wash down.
- Go for local service. As with every part of your automated production line, you need to ensure you can get support when you need it. A system that does not require special service tools or equipment is more cost-effective to run in the long term. (Here are 5 tips for choosing the right provider when going local.)
- Take time to get it right. Ultimately, the more time you spend getting the installation right up front, the better the inspection system will work for your business.
There’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to implementing an inspection system – every manufacturer’s products, packaging lines and requirements are different. However, if you take note of the essential points above, you will benefit from the best results.
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Image credit / totallyPic.com Kuo Chun Hung