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Automating Food and Beverage Traceability, Inspections and Quality with Zebra – Tri-Phase Automation

Automating Food and Beverage Traceability, Inspections and Quality with Zebra

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Automating Food and Beverage Quality Inspections

In an increasingly regulated and competitive industry, food and beverage companies are facing unprecedented pressure to keep up with growing demand while ensuring the highest product quality and safety. After all, a high-quality product helps grow sales and build customer loyalty, but a food recall or an outbreak of foodborne illness can easily wipe out a lot of the goodwill and business you’ve built up.

This is why more and more food and beverage companies are turning to automation technologies to help them streamline their product manufacturing and packaging, as well as automate their traceability and quality inspections.

In this article, we’ll take a look at an exciting new portfolio of machine vision and fixed industrial scanning technologies that is helping automate many of these processes—from product tracking and traceability to counting, routing, sorting, visual inspections, packaging checks and robotic palletization.

Zebra’s Breakthrough Technologies for Automation and Inspection

A few years ago, Zebra Technologies, a leader in data capture, scanning, RFID and mobile computing solutions, began working with leading companies across different industries to come up with a new and improved way to automate key production and packaging processes as well as quality control.

The end result was a new portfolio of advanced machine vision and fixed scanning devices that helps automate a huge list of potential manufacturing, processing and packaging tasks. Zebra’s devices do it with hardware and software that’s incredibly simple to use and connects seamlessly with industrial networks and systems.

For example, with Zebra fixed industrial scanners, you can automatically scan and trace food and beverage products throughout your manufacturing, packaging and inspections. Digital and automated traceability have become increasingly crucial as regulatory rules and requirements have expanded in the interest of protecting customers from foodborne illness, but it’s also a great strategy for improved quality control and for avoiding potentially damaging and costly recalls.

Track Tace and Verify Products and Packaging

By being able to automatically track, trace and verify every correct ingredient, product and package that’s moving through your operations, you can ensure the right products of the right quality are getting into the right packages and eventually to your customers. You can also be instantly alerted to a potential issue before it moves downstream and creates a negative impact, and before it gets to customers. It also helps you maintain digital records of every item at every stage, in the event you need to track down or investigate a problem.

Fixed scanners, for example, can be installed at key points on high-speed conveyor lines to verify that the correct products are moving down the line, in the correct packaging and with the right labels applied.

Ultimately, if your items have a 1D or 2D barcode, Zebra’s fixed industrial scanners can capture it and use it to help automate and streamline virtually any process. Potential food and beverage applications include the following:

  • Correct product checks
  • Date and lot code checks
  • Seasonal or time-sensitive packaging checks
  • Automated counting, routing and sorting
  • End-to-end production and packaging traceability

Intelligent Visual Inspection

Zebra’s fixed scanners do this at high speeds with advanced imaging and lensing, optics, and lighting to help capture barcodes reliably in virtually any environment, even in low light or with barcodes against busy backgrounds or with low contrast. But Zebra’s technology isn’t just able to scan barcodes. Each device is also a sophisticated machine vision sensor, and with a simple software license upgrade, you can unlock a world of added capabilities for intelligent visual inspections:

  • Presence/absence checks
  • Bottle cap skew checks
  • Seal inspection
  • Tamper band inspection
  • Fill level checks
  • Color, shape or non-uniformity issues
  • Foreign material or defect detection
  • Product dimension measurements
  • Label or packaging print quality verification
  • Verification of print/label position and orientation

Machine Vision Software

Zebra’s fixed scanning and machine vision sensors come with Zebra’s Aurora Focus software, which offers a wide array of powerful tools to set up these and many other jobs, and automatically perform highly sophisticated visual analysis. The Aurora Focus software toolset includes these key capabilities:

  • Object location
  • Illumination
  • Lensing and optics
  • Filters
  • Focus and exposure
  • Pattern recognition
  • Edge detection
  • Blob analysis and pixel counts

All of these capabilities allow Zebra’s devices to automatically perform precise visual inspections that are far beyond the abilities of the human eye and most other technologies. It also means your production workers don’t have to handle the laborious and tiresome task of looking for products or packaging issues manually. They can focus on other value-added tasks while Zebra’s devices instantly capture and analyze barcodes and images to determine pass/fail results, maintain digital records of every tracking or inspection event, transmit it to your systems, and issue instant and automated alerts in the event of a failure or problem.

Massively Simplified Job Setup with One Hardware and Software

A key advantage to Zebra’s solutions is that they provide both fixed scanning and machine vision through a single hardware and software platform. In the past, when food and beverage manufacturers wanted to implement machine vision or fixed scanning, you often had to combine different hardware and software solutions from different providers, and often their technologies and software were clunky, difficult to learn, and a hassle to get up and running.

When moving into the industrial automation space, Zebra listened closely to the feedback and frustration from the plant personnel and IT teams that had to deal with these headaches. As a result, Zebra invented a massively simplified way to do it all.

Now you can install a small but rugged sensor, virtually anywhere on your production lines, and get it powered up, connected and configured with plug-and-play simplicity and a single hardware and software platform that makes everything as easy as using a few sliders and buttons in your software to configure each job.

Zebra’s intelligent sensors and its software and algorithms do the rest, providing many automated tools and adjustments that help you start capturing and analyzing the right barcodes or images quickly and easily, with little to no learning curve. There are even built-in videos and tutorials to walk you through the process, so you can learn as you go..

How to Learn More About Zebra Machine Vision and Fixed Scanning

If you’re not already using machine vision or fixed industrial scanners in your food and beverage operations, or you’re using outdated, clunky or limited solutions that are making it harder to get the results you need, it’s a good idea to check out Zebra’s offering in more detail and schedule a consultation with our team to find out more about this new platform and whether it’s the right fit for you.

You can start by visiting our Zebra industrial automation page, to learn more or contacting our industrial automation experts at Tri-Phase to schedule an online discovery call at your convenience.