By Jim Kearbey, CEO, FILTEC
A hallmark of modern American life is the astonishing explosion in consumer choice. Want that mayonnaise in a big glass jar or plastic squeeze bottle? Fat free or made with avocado oil? Plain or dressed up with garlic and flavors? The wide variation in standard products is one of the big factors in dramatic change occurring today on the factory floor.
Long runs of a single product on the production line are becoming a thing of the past. Today’s factories need to be nimble enough to shift from one SKU number to another – or to a different product altogether – every two to three hours. And they need to make the change in as little as 30 minutes with fewer employees than ever before.
The trick to achieving a successful production line today is a highly automated and integrated inspection system. Using multiple cameras, sensors, lasers and gamma rays, a modern inspection system can keep an eye on the production line from start to finish and send real-time analytics to an operator to flag problems at an early stage.
The modern inspection system must control all points of inspection, from the introduction of raw container materials through the filling process to labeling and packaging.
The key is a common interface – in human terms, the brains of the system – that scans the containers and analyzes the processes along a fast-moving conveyer belt.
Leading companies are making the transition from multiple, stand-alone inspection stations to fully integrated systems. In some cases, legacy inspection equipment can be linked with ethernet adaptations to a modern interface. Some companies are taking the opportunity to install completely new and modern inspection equipment designed with today’s needs in mind.
Take the beverage industry as an example of how change is coming to the factory floor. In the past half-decade, there has been extensive consolidation of the beer sector with significant acquisitions of large brands and micro-breweries by some industry leaders.
On the production line, frequent changes are required to accommodate Pilsners, light beers and the gamut of beer variations. Production time also needs to be set aside for seltzer waters and other distilled products that are part of the company portfolio.
Each change requires the introduction of separate sets of containers in multiple sizes and materials, and separate labels and packaging. Changes need to be accomplished quickly with as few as two employees on the line.
In the past, each change would require reconfiguration of multiple inspection points to accommodate a new product on the line. With a common interface and a central control, a single operator can make the switch from one product to the next. When time is money, the modern centralized system is like found profits.
Total production line inspection control through a common interface is part of Industry 4.0, or the change to “smart” factories in the fourth industrial revolution.
The future of factories is a system of sensors connected wirelessly to an analytical “brain” that can visualize, analyze and report back on the entire process. Smart factories can improve profit margins by finding and diagnosing problems far quicker than in the past.
In the beverage industry example, consider how much money can be lost by a single filling valve slightly over-filling cans whizzing by at 2,000 containers a minute. That one filling valve could give away enormous quantities of product for free before it was discovered under older inspection models. Quick corrective action is the way to achieve new operational efficiencies.
In the past 2-3 years, companies have been demanding better diagnostics and real-time analysis to flag acute problems and predict upcoming maintenance needs to contain loss and downtime.
As CEO of a company with 60 years in the inspection market, I am excited to be part of the revolution in modern inspection systems that will enable new and established industries to achieve higher levels of productivity and efficiencies.
“As CEO of a company with 60 years in the inspection market, I am excited to be part of the revolution in modern inspection systems that will enable new and established industries to achieve higher levels of productivity and efficiencies.” ~ Jim Kearbey, CEO, FILTEC