Inspector Gadgets


Inspection equipment can help ensure beverage quality and safety

Given the heightened awareness concerning product safety these days, packaging inspection equipment has never been more important. The proper equipment can reduce the chances of costly recalls and the untold costs of losing consumers’ trust.
According to inspection equipment experts, the growth in alternative packages, as well as an ever-increasing number of beverage SKUs have made automated inspection essential.
“As you look at the market worldwide, you see more and more companies getting away from glass and cans and going into some sort of flexible packaging — either plastic bottles or in some cases, pouches,” says Jim Kearbey at Teledyne TapTone, North Falmouth, Mass.
Kearbey says Teledyne TapTone has seen business shift during the past several years from a majority of clients investing in acoustic systems that inspect cans and glass bottles, to force and compression technologies for plastic packaging.
Small microleaks in flexible packaging could impact the integrity of a product, allowing bacterial contamination. To check for such leaks, Teledyne TapTone offers the TapTone 1000-PBI for plastic containers, stand-up pouches and tubes. The system uses dual sensor compression technology to apply pressure to the sidewall of the container, which compresses the headspace in the bottle. It then uses comparative measurements at the infeed and discharge to indicate whether a bottle is leaking. The system operates as fast as 200 feet per minute and incorporates rejection technology that ejects a container from the conveyor if it does not meet standards. The company also has force and compression systems that operate at up to 300 feet per minute.
In addition, the company offers x-ray technology to check for fill levels in containers. The x-ray technology allows plant operators to examine bottles and cans at high speeds to ensure accurate filling. When combined with x-ray technology, the TapTone 1000-PBI can detect low fills, overfills and closure defects, as well as leaks.
Also offering x-ray inspection systems is ThermoFisher Scientific, based in Minneapolis. The company offers the InScan system to detect fill levels in opaque containers such as cans, and the POWERx to inspect for potential contaminants.
The InScan system operates at speeds up to 2,400 containers per minute, and can simultaneously inspect fill level, net content, under and overfill levels, and missing or misaligned caps and crowns. The POWERx is available for both upright and horizontal applications, with the S and D models appropriate for upright bottles and jars. The D model is able to detect glass shards in glass containers with 100 percent probability, according to the company, while the S model has a single beam for less complex packages without hidden inspection areas. Both models easily can be added to an existing packaging line.
The company also offers the CrystalVision CO2 sensor, which measures carbon dioxide levels in carbonated products — another important measurement of product quality.
“To make sure you’ve got the right amount of carbonation in a beverage is a quality metric for many reasons,” says Rick Cash, product manager for CrystalVision. “The proper level of carbonation is important so it has the right drinkability.  When carbon dioxide dissolves in water, it forms carbonic acid. It changes the pH and ‘mouthfeel’ when you consume it.”
The CrystalVision technology directly measures the amount of carbonic acid in a product as opposed to more traditional methods, which determine the level of carbonation through a calculation of temperature and pressure. That is an important distinction, Cash says, because those calculations do not take into consideration alcohol levels or other factors that affect the ability of the CO2 to dissolve in the liquid. The CrystalVision only measures the amount of CO2 that is actually in the product.
The system can be installed quickly and does not contain membranes that could break and cause the system to shut down. Keeping the crystal in working order is accomplished through a standard clean-in-place system, which eliminates build-up on its surface.
“The best part is that this product doesn’t have any moving parts,” Cash says. “It’s a solid piece of stainless steel with a sapphire crystal at the end. That’s all that comes into contact with the beverage.”
Keeping an eye on things
When it comes to overseeing an entire packaging line, Monitoring Technology Corp., Fairfax, Va., has developed 20/20 Hindsight, a system designed to allow plant operators to monitor and record potential trouble areas.  
Hindsight cameras are small and have remote control capability from the user interface. Cameras can be placed in tight positions and the zoom, focus and aperture can be adjusted from the computer interface.
According to the company, the system helps with troubleshooting, increases line speeds by eliminating unnecessary “dwell” times and increases efficiency by pinpointing the root cause of jams. It also can be used to enhance training and documentation by using video clips, which can be used to train personnel onsite or e-mailed to other locations using similar equipment.
No matter what type of inspection equipment a plant installs, ThermoFisher Scientific’s Cash says to place the inspection as close to a potential trouble spot as possible. For example, if equipment is testing fill levels, it should be placed after the filler, before labels and other materials are added.
“My advice to beverage plants is that, if you’re going to put an inspection system in, put the inspection as close to the process line area that could cause the problem you’re inspecting. Inspect and measure before you add extra value to [the product] where you’re going to scrap that extra value if there’s a problem.”
He describes automated inspection as a way to help “bulletproof” a manufacturing system. “The more you can bulletproof that process by having automation aids that do work for you, the more peace of mind that production manager is going to have when he goes to bed at night,” he says. BI
Off-the-line inspection
When things are going well, plant operators are the only people concerned with inspection systems. But recent reports of contaminated pet food ingredients, counterfeit toothpaste and other products have made it clear just how important it is to protect a brand’s integrity before and after it hits the packaging line.
To help avoid the use of faulty ingredients, ThermoFisher Scientific offers the Spectra-Quad Online Moisture and Constituent Analyzer and the Antares FT-NIR which allow plant operators to examine ingredients.
“Let’s say that you were getting sugar to put into a carbonated drink,” says ThermoFisher’s Rick Cash. “You’re worried that maybe at the bottom of that bag of sugar there could be salt. That would be bad. Yet salt is cheaper than sugar so people might pad that sugar with salt. A near infrared constituent analyzer can actually look at that sugar before you put it in the tank.”
The Spectra-Quad system is able to measure fat, protein, oil and coat weight in addition to moisture levels, and can measure both dry and liquid products.
“Products like our Spectra-Quad can provide quality assurance, not to replace a lab test, but to complement a lab test,” Cash says.
To detect counterfeited product, the Value Engineering Alliance, Cambridge, Mass., has developed the AVIA Private Eye, an integrated PC-based software and hardware system that can examine authentic and suspect packages. The machine detects differences in text and graphics and generates a list of all the differences. It offers report preparation tools such as true-color image export with optional image annotation.
Heineken in slim cans
Heineken USA, White Plains, N.Y., has launched Heineken Premium Light in a new 12-ounce slim can, which it says, “delivers imagery consistent with the elegance and unique design of its bottle counterpart.” The 12-ounce cans are available in both a 12-pack Fridge Pack and a 24-pack suitcase. The company says the slimmer and taller can structure continues visual elements from the Heineken Premium Light bottle, with vertical logo treatment on the label.
New shrink label
Seal-It supplied a new full-sleeve shrink label for Hilo Gold Noni Juice from the Stratis Group. The heat shrink PET-G label is rotogravure printed in seven colors, and the package includes a neckband made of clear PVC for tamper-evidence. The characteristics of PET-G allow it to shrink to the contours of the bottle, and the high-gloss film enhances the graphics’ intensity.
Bartender-friendly bottle
American Beverage Corp., Pittsburgh, launched Daily’s cocktail mixers in a new 1-liter pour spout package. The proprietary new pour spout includes a quick-flip hinge that keeps the re-sealable cap open to prevent the cap from dangling into the pouring area.
“We conducted extensive research with bartenders across the country and developed the optimal pour spout closure to meet their needs,” said Tim Barr, marketing director for Daily’s. “As a result we have a sleeker, more ergonomic design that outperforms the competition and allows for consistent, precision pours and accurate measuring. It’s a win for professional bartenders and in-home mixologists.”
The new bottle is available in two designs: large orifice for high-volume or high-viscosity products; and small orifice for lower-volume products that require a more precise pour. It will launch at retail in August.
Green vodka
McCormick Distilling Company Inc., Weston, Mo., will roll out 360 Vodka through its new division, Earth Friendly Distilling Company. The company calls the product the “first eco-friendly premium spirit.” 360 Vodka will be packaged in a crystal-like bottle that is made from 85 percent recycled glass. The label and all marketing materials also are produced using the most ecologically friendly materials, methods and procedures, the company says.
NOS wins packaging award
Fuze Beverages LLC, Englewood, Cliffs, N.J., has received the 2007 Silver National Association of Container Distributors (N.A.C.D.) award for its 22-ounce NOS Energy Drink bottle. The bottle is designed to resemble Holley Performance Products’ Nitrous Oxide Systems and includes a novelty cap that mimics the bottle top on the Holley automotive performance product.
The N.A.C.D. judges eight categories: Food & Beverage, Pharmaceutical, Cosmetic & Toiletry, Industrial, Household, Chemical & Automotive, Pet & Veterinarian, and Novelty. Packaging is judged on graphics, decoration, shape, closure, texture, ease-of-use, consumer appeal and technical merit.