How to Find the Right End of Line Inspection System
X-ray Systems Optimize Inspection of Glass and Plastic Bottles
By Steve Nering, Vice President of Quality and Chuck Sprague, Vice President of Operations at Wellington Foods with Jonathon Vanderhorst of Pacific Packaging and Inspection
Dietary supplement manufacturing and packaging involves a very high level of regulatory compliance – with extremely strict criteria for product safety that’s driven by government agencies, third-party certifications, customer requirements and manufacturers’ own high standards.
As a dietary supplement contract manufacturer with domestic and international distribution, Wellington Foods produces liquid dietary supplements including multivitamins, mineral products and joint health products, as well as powdered supplements like plant-based proteins.
Whether products are packaged in glass, metal or dense plastic, it is essential to have product inspection systems that consistently operate at peak performance levels to find anything that’s out of place – even if it rarely happens. In our industry, product inspection isn’t just about quality control, and we require excellent detection sensitivity to protect consumer safety.
Identify the most effective solution
When investing in a new world-class product inspection system, it’s important to start by identifying the best system for your particular application. For example, we package products in both glass and plastic bottles and need to detect foreign material down to virtually microscopic traces. We also need to perform product integrity checks such as confirming fill level and making sure caps are applied correctly.
Because we package products in powder and liquid form, sanitation is especially important, and there’s always the potential for spills and sticky surfaces that need to be cleaned. Due to the types of products we handle, we needed equipment rated IP65, which is the Ingress Protection Rating for equipment that is sealed to prevent accidental contact with dust, and water in a full washdown environment.
Our production process already uses multiple layers of protective measures to prevent the risk of foreign material and ensure product quality, so quality events are extremely rare. However, to ensure the highest level of safety, we decided we needed an X-ray system because metal detectors cannot inspect for non-metal foreign material such as glass. Plus, many of our packages include a foil seal, which metal detectors cannot inspect.
Select the right equipment and supplier
After deciding an X-ray inspection system would be the most effective solution for our application, we evaluated the overall cost of systems, equipment reliability and suppliers’ expertise and customer service capabilities.
During our equipment search, Mettler-Toledo was the only X-ray supplier we talked to that wasn’t afraid to inspect for glass foreign material inside of glass bottles. I’ve personally worked with the company for over 25 years, so I also know firsthand that they make great equipment.
We also needed to install the X-ray system at the end of the packaging line, over our existing conveyor, to conserve floorspace. The best fit for our specific inspection requirements was the Mettler-Toledo Safeline X37. It is a highly versatile X-ray system, available with a low-, medium- or high-powered generator as well as a choice of either a 0.4 millimeter or 0.8 millimeter detector. It’s capable of inspecting up to 1,200 packages per minute, depending on the application, while maintaining the highest accuracy.
Integrate equipment into the existing packaging line
Handling up to 200 bottles per minute, Wellington’s line throughput is well within the Safeline X37’s max capacity, so Mettler-Toledo equipped it with a low-powered generator to improve energy efficiency and reduce operating costs.
‘Good’ products flow downstream to the cartoner and case packer, while any out-of-tolerance products are removed with a Mettler-Toledo pneumatic pusher reject device into a lockable bin that safely stores ejected packages until they can be removed by a worker, tested to identify the issue and ultimately destroyed.
It is also the easiest system to change over on our packaging line. Since it is recipe based, we’ve programmed it to understand what a ‘good’ package looks like, and it will reject anything out of the ordinary. When we need to changeover, we simply switch to a new recipe on the touchscreen and then send a couple of bottles and testing rods through to verify the setup is correct. It’s very fast and requires no adjustments.
Ensure inspection systems operate at peak performance
We inspect liquid dietary supplements in a variety of bottles, ranging in size from two ounces to one liter, that are made of either glass or plastic such as HDPE or PVC. We also use our inspection system to monitor for cap skew and fill level. That’s a huge help, because liquid products will spill if not properly closed.
To be sure our X-ray system consistently operates at peak performance, we check it every 30 minutes during production with testing rods provided by Mettler-Toledo. The X37 has is extremely accurate. Even at our high level of sensitivity, we’ve had zero false rejects.
Ensure inspection systems are user friendly and reliable
Final product inspection is absolutely non-negotiable for both compliance and our peace of mind. One of our favorite features is the individual sign-in capability. This gives each worker a unique passcode with a specific level of access and makes the X-ray much more user-friendly – no one is overwhelmed with too many buttons and pages. Plus, it eliminates the chance that a worker might accidentally change a setting.
Customer service is also a key consideration. Every year, Mettler-Toledo comes out for our annual calibration, and the technicians tell us that it looks just like the day it left the factory. Thanks to its reliability and high level of performance, this system gives us confidence that every product we’re sending to consumers is safe.
About the Authors
Steve Nering is Vice President of Quality and Chuck Sprague is Vice President of Operations at Wellington Foods, and Jonathan Vanderhorst is their sales representative with Pacific Packaging and Inspection. Founded in 1974, Wellington is inspired by the idea that proper nutrition is important for people of all ages, and has grown to become a major nutraceuticals player with more than 200,000 square feet of space across two state-of-the-art facilities in Corona, California.