We’ve been building vision systems for food production for quite some time.
Our first ‘mass flow’ system in the UK was for a machine that inspected a high volume of flatbreads – tortillas, pizza bases, etc. These kinds of products are for the fast food market in the UK and some of the factories produce these breads on behalf of the big five supermarkets to sell as their own branded product. It is therefore very big business and economies of scale mean the product is made at a low cost – not that you are I benefit; it’s an area where the big chains can improve their margins on fast moving goods.
In the case of the flatbread tortilla, this seems to be an ever-increasing business. Perhaps it mirrors the growth in our population. Or perhaps it is a sign of our changing habits where once upon a time we looked forward to fish and chips on a Friday but that has given way to a weekly chicken fajita fest. If nearly 70 million people are living in the UK, that is a lot of flatbreads from just a few factories.
So more flatbreads are consumed, so more machines are required to feed the demand. But not just more machines, faster machines. The throughput of the original inspection machine was up to 40,000 per hour. Now we are talking about 55,000 per hour.
The purpose of this article is not to brag about how fast our machines are but to highlight a point that can be overlooked. The Evolution of the Food Production Vision System.
A Food Production Vision System?
There are a couple of pointers as to why something should be classified as a ‘food production vision system’ – or ‘food safe vision system’. When you’re in the business of making systems for the food production industry, you have to consider what is often a very harsh environment. Where waste food stuffs can collect, a lot of cleaning has to take place, often with high pressure water jets and disinfectants.
Not ideal for a fragile computerised camera system.
We’ve been working with Tordivel, our parent company (who recently won an Innovators Award) to refine what we do for the food production industry for they also work in the harshest of harsh food production environments, otherwise known as the salmon industry, with all its inherent challenges such as a saline atmosphere, where the tiniest ingress could cause havoc.
It’s taken years of experience (and not a little pain) to get where we are today. This is a completely stand alone system, with multiple cameras connected by a series of interconnecting conduits. All the clever technology developed over the past decade wrapped up in food grade stainless steel enclosures, with fully integrated synchronisation of encoder feeds and light sources to ensure the acquisition of the best possible images for machine processing.
The result is a highly capable inspection system that can be installed in a dirty and wet environment that meets the required legislation for producing food. A system that can measure, sort, recognise, pass or fail, classify, categorise or record. There is also longevity built into the design as we anticipate these systems working for a decade or more.