Packaging encompasses many different industries and typically has several stages in its process. Each industry uses packaging to accomplish specific tasks, well beyond just acting as a container for a product. The pharmaceutical industry for example, typically uses its packaging as a means of dispensing as well as containing. The food and beverage industry uses packaging as a means of preventing contamination and creating differentiation from similar products. Consumer goods typically require unique product containment methods and have a need for “eye-catching” differentiation.
The packaging process typically has several stages. For example, you have primary packaging where the product is first placed in a package, whether that is form-fill-seal bagging or bottle fill and capping. Then secondary packaging that the consumer may see on the shelf, like cereal boxes or display containers, and finally tertiary packaging or transport packaging where the primary or secondary packaging is put into shipping form. Each of these stages require verification or inspection to ensure the process is running properly, and products are properly packaged.
Discrete vs. Vision-Based Error Proofing
With the use of machine vision technology, greater flexibility and more reliable operation of the packaging process can be achieved. Typically, in the past and still today, discrete sensors have been used to look for errors and manage product change-over detection. But with these simple discrete sensing solutions come limitations in flexibility, time consuming fixture change-overs and more potential for errors, costing thousands of dollars in lost product and production time. This can translate to more expensive and less competitively priced products on the store selves.
There are two ways implementing machine vision can have a benefit toward improving the scheduled line time. The first is reducing planned downtime by reducing product change over and fixturing change time. The other is to decrease unplanned downtime by catching errors right away and dynamically rejecting them or bringing attention to line issues requiring correction and preventing waste. The greatest benefit vision can have for production line time is in reducing the planned downtime for things like product changeovers. This is a repeatable benefit that can dramatically reduce operating costs and increase the planned runtime. The opportunities for vision to reduce unplanned downtime could include the elimination of line jams due to incorrectly fed packaging materials, misaligned packages or undetected open flaps on cartons. Others include improperly capped bottles causing jams or spills and improper adjustments or low ink causing illegible labeling and barcodes.
Cost and reliability of any technology that improves the packaging process should always be proportional to the benefit it provides. Vision technologies today, like smart cameras, offer the advantages of lower costs and simpler operation, especially compared to the older, more expensive and typically purpose-built vision system counterparts. These new vision technologies can also replace entire sensor arrays, and, in many cases, most of the fixturing at or even below the same costs, while providing significantly greater flexibility. They can greatly reduce or eliminate manual labor costs for inspection and enable automated changeovers. This reduces planned and unplanned downtime, providing longer actual runtime production with less waste during scheduled operation for greater product throughput.
Solve Today’s Packaging Challenges
Using machine vision in any stage of the packaging process can provide the flexibility to dramatically reduce planned downtime with a repeatable decrease in product changeover time, while also providing reliable and flexible error proofing that can significantly reduce unplanned downtime and waste with examples like in-line detection and rejection to eliminate jams and prevent product loss. This technology can also help reduce or eliminate product or shipment rejection by customers at delivery. In today’s competitive market with constant pressure to reduce operating costs, increase quality and minimize waste, look at your process today and see if machine vision can make that difference for your packaging process.