Package lightweighting can be a major issue for many beverage manufacturers. In fact, it’s the No. 1 issue that many inspection equipment suppliers see beverage-makers facing. Therefore, they’re offering solutions to detect problems with these products.

Although many beverage manufacturers have been lightweighting their containers to be more ecologically friendly and to reduce costs, one of the problems lightweighting can cause is leaks, says Melissa Rossi, marketing manager for Teledyne TapTone, North Falmouth, Mass.

“A thinner container just lends itself more readily to leaking,” she says. “The smaller sized caps and lightweighted caps are part of the leakage problem as they are a little bit harder to fasten on correctly.”

The rigidity of the container is another issue.

“For a water bottle that’s been lightweighted, when there is no pressure in the container, [it is as if] there is nothing in the container,” Rossi explains. “If those containers are going to be vended and they don’t have the proper rigidity, they can jam the machine or not vend properly. Also, from a shipping standpoint, the containers that are very lightweighted can’t be stacked on pallets unless they have some sort of rigidity.”

Many beverage-makers dose liquid nitrogen into the containers, but inspection equipment is needed to monitor bottles so they are not over-dosed and the package doesn’t become distorted or under-dosed leading the containers to be unstable when stacked, Rossi says.

Teledyne TapTone offers the T4000-FS system that tests containers that are dosed with liquid nitrogen or are carbonated and have internal pressure. The system is used to check for leaks and can be combined with the company’s other inspection systems for cap inspection, fill level and tamper band inspection.

At Pack Expo in September, Teledyne TapTone will introduce the Total View vision system — an inspection system that is able to conduct more than one inspection at a time, Rossi says. “Potentially, you could do a cap inspection, a fill level inspection — providing that the container was see-through — and a label position inspection all in a single pass,” she explains.

In addition to the lightweighting of packages, continual changes to primary and secondary packaging materials are other areas where inspection equipment is helpful to detect problems, particularly for clear bottles, says Tim Kelley, vice president of business development and marketing at Tri-Tronics, Tampa, Fla. Tri-Tronics developed a retro-reflective sensor, which makes the sensor more sensitive so it can detect a clear bottle with clear liquid and a clear label, which is particularly applicable in the bottled water industry, he says. The RetroSmart retro-reflective sensor sends light through the beam path twice to make sure the marking of date codes is accurate and undistorted during the high speeds of production.

The migration of date code printing also is a problem RetroSmart can aid. “If I’m not triggering the bottle in the same place every time, then my inspection system has to allow for that intolerance,” Kelley says. “RetroSmart is also used for accuracy issues — not just that it doesn’t have false triggers in the middle of a clear bottle, but that it triggers in the same place every time.”

Tri-Tronics also assists glass makers by providing sensors to detect the integrity of a glass bottle and making sure each glass bottle’s pitch and thickness meets the manufacturer’s requirements.

To keep up with high coding speeds, Tri-Tronics developed SmartEye X-Mark, a registration mark sensor that has a 10 micro-second response time and 5 micro-second repeatability. The company also offers XP10 on interchangeable optical blocks designed to detect registration marks for features including different product sizes and transparencies along with other product requirements at a 10 micro-second response time and 5 micro-second repeatability, the company says. 

Tri-Tronics also offers a photo eye DIP switch control that takes the signal into the product inspection controller and lets the controller know whether the product is there and whether the product is correct. PIC Product Inspection Control Module’s product sensor is used to detect the arrival of the product, and the inspection sensor is used to inspect the product for the critical identifying feature, such as variations in color, pattern, position, orientation, size, opacity and surface reflectivity, the company says. The controller can be used to identify the correct variety of a can or whether a label is present, Kelley says.

Automated inspection

Another thing inspection systems can help manufacturers do is inspect materials before they are brought in for production. For example, Suwannee, Ga.-based FT System North America’s new QT700 can inspect a cap in line for any defects prior to the cap being used in the capper.

“By inspecting the materials before filling as well as after filling, we help the manufacturers improve efficiency in line and in product quality,” says Rick Reardon, FT System North America’s general manager.

Another new product FT System offers is IT720, a fully automated inspection system with up to three cameras to make sure the correct cap is properly applied.

In addition to inspecting the cap before and after it’s been on the container, FT System offers a non-destructive fully automated quality control station. The QCS120 conducts all of the tests that are done in a laboratory environment, but it does so automatically and synchronized with the filler valves and capper heads so that torque, fill volume, leak inspection, CO2 content and Brix can all be tested in line.

The system offers several benefits, Reardon says. “First, it’s certainly more repeatable to use a machine for inspection than it is for a human to inspect it,” he explains. “Then, because it’s non-destructible, it reduces product waste. But more importantly, it reduces the requirement to dispose of the samples. We had one customer [whose] line requirement was to test 12 bottles per hour — 12 2-liter bottles of carbonated soda per hour — which doesn’t sound like a lot, but they had two shifts a day. That translates to 50,000 bottles a year he is not destroying and throwing out. That’s 100,000 liters of product he saved. So by using these automated controls, we are able to reduce product waste, disposal issues and also improve quality.”

Achieving a quality seam on a beverage can after it is filled with product is another priority for many beverage manufacturers. Conducting seam inspections accurately, safely and quickly can be a challenge, as well as avoiding unscheduled downtime due to unforeseen equipment adjustments and maintenance, says Maura Marcks, marketing coordinator for CMC-Kuhnke Inc., Albany, N.Y. 

“A quality control lab can run smoothly and efficiently if it is using correctly installed and calibrated double-seam inspection equipment in addition to SPC software,” she says. “Inspecting the seams on cans regularly and recording that data reveals trends, which can determine if machinery parts are wearing or getting off registration, and adjustments and maintenance can be scheduled accordingly.”

CMC-Kuhnke now offers the new SEAMscan XTS, which provides automatic measurement for double-seam inspection. The operator-independent SEAMscan XTS is non-destructive and therefore safer than conventional cross-section or teardown methods, Marcks says. Featuring automatic can rotation and measurement, the SEAMscan XTS uses CMC-Kuhnke X-ray Seam Imaging Technology to measure seam height, body hook, cover hook, overlap, seam gap, percent butting and percent overlap. The SEAMscan XTS system works automatically with a complete range of can diameters, the company says.

“CMC-Kuhnke X-ray Seam Imaging Technology uses low power, radial X-rays to allow high-magnification measurement,” Marcks says. “This method eliminates imaging faults and clearly shows the bands of metal within the seam. Measurements are taken at the true cross section of the seam, which is directly comparable to the FDA-accepted traditional visual double-seam measurement.”

The X-ray image shows density levels corresponding to the seam layers, allowing the layers to be identified by an intensity profile, the company says. All measurement information is sent directly to CMC-Kuhnke’s Visionary QC or other data acquisition software. 

The SEAMscan XTS is designed to be used in conjunction with an external seam inspection solution for measurement of seam thickness and countersink depth, such as the CSG-Series Combination Seam Gauge. In doing so, this provides a complete double-seam inspection station measuring all critical parameter measurements at a competitive price, Marcks says.

Monitoring Technology Corp., Fairfax, Va., offers the 20/20 Hindsight camera system to help beverage manufacturers detect the cause of off-quality and line jams.

“The lines run so fast that no human eye could ever see what is causing these different issues,” says Jill Miller, 20/20 Hindsight’s regional sales manager. “Our system works in conjunction with machine vision systems that focus on detecting a bad unit. We accept this ‘bad unit trigger’ and then show high-speed video of what actually happened to cause the defect.”

The company’s latest technology, Hindsight 2020CAM, is waterproof and records from 2,000 images a second to 6,000 images a second with a circular recording buffer of four hours. In addition, it is networkable and wireless. 

“This means a manufacturer can quickly move the 2020CAM unit to a problem location,” Miller explains. “After the next issue — jam or off-quality event —  they can scroll back in the video and replay the event in super slow motion.”

While line speeds are fast, Hindsight cameras are ultra fast, she says. 

“A line running at 1,800 cans per minute is the same as 30 cans per second,” Miller explains. “We take at least 2,000 images per second with the 2020CAM, so we are seeing at least 66 images of each can going by.”

Easy to use

With all the capabilities inspection equipment is required to provide, it also has to be easy for plant operators to use.

“Ease of use is one of the primary factors that drive our new technologies,” says Bryan Hall, a sales representative for CMC-Kuhnke. “By eliminating the destructive methods used in the current seam-inspection practices, manufacturers can greatly reduce the labor resources required for maintaining packaging quality control.”

If the equipment isn’t easy to use, the operators are either not going to use it often, shut it off or they will use it incorrectly, FT System’s Reardon says.

“When I say, ‘easy to operate,’ they literally have to be plug and play,” he says. “So when the system is installed, you plug it in, set it up, turn it on and that is it.”

Ease of use is critical to high-speed video systems as well. “Systems have to be quick to setup, rugged for the environment and have long, continuous recording memories,” Monitoring Technology’s Miller says.

In addition, video systems will get faster and networking links will grow, she says. As the growth of video systems continues, high-speed cameras and machine vision sensors will be connected with PLCs and other plant networks so information can be correlated and instantly available to plant and corporate personnel, Miller says.

Manufacturing plants also have very few people actually on the line monitoring the system, Teledyne TapTone’s Rossi says.

“The user interfaces, where people are actually down in the line monitoring the system, need to be intuitive and easy for people to use and that just facilitates proper operation on the line when there are fewer people actually working the line,” she says.

Inspection systems need a certain level of sophistication as well.

“Manufacturers are looking for more and more information about what’s happening on their line, so that information also needs to be available to the company,” Rossi says.

The caveat to inspection equipment is that beverage-makers are always changing their packaging, which keeps inspection equipment continually developing.

“That’s really how our inspection systems tend to evolve is by the design of the packaging that the packaging industry is coming up with,” Rossi says.

With continued lightweighting and packaging innovations, inspection systems that previously haven’t been used in the beverage industry might be necessary as well. “Thermal sensors, lasers, mass stack equipment — a lot of these sciences we’re going to see integrated into inspection systems in the future,” Reardon says. BI