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Busting the Myths About Customized Food Inspection/Conveying Systems

Image courtesy of Fortress Technology Ltd Image_2_FORTRESS.png
Fortress’ customized systems can be retrofitted to incorporate smart solutions.
In the world of food production, the concept of customization can feel like an extravagance.

In our daily lives as consumers, we have become accustomed to a high degree of customization. In fact, we expect it, with much of the success of companies such as Netflix and Amazon stemming from their ability to create tailored offerings for customers. However, in the world of food production, the concept of customization can still feel like an extravagance. In particular, smaller companies may fear that ordering a bespoke metal detection with a custom-built conveying system will be an expensive and complicated process, fraught with delays.

Thankfully, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Eric Garr, regional sales manager of Fortress Technology, explains why bespoke is often best – whatever the size of your business – and dispels six of the key myths surrounding customization.

Myth #1: Customized metal detection and conveyor systems are over-engineered and complicated.

Truth: North American food producers rightly demand extremely high levels of performance from their metal detector as it is essential that their products reach consumers free from contamination, both from a safety and brand integrity perspective. However, metal detectors are highly sensitive so their performance and can be affected by various outside influences, especially if the potential influences are not addressed in the design phase of the system.

Noise immunity technology can reduce many of these challenges and is built into some metal detectors as standard. However, the correct design and installation of the detector onto the conveying or reject system remains vital to ensuring reliable operation and avoiding false readings. In some instances, for example when the footprint is tight, a customized solution is the only way to ensure that metal detector performance is not compromised.

Aperture size is also critical to optimal operation. A metal detector’s performance is limited as the aperture size increases. If an aperture is too small, the product being inspected cannot pass through. Striking the right balance is essential for a system to function correctly and, at times, customizing the aperture around the product to be inspected is one way to ensure the metal detector will perform to its full capability.

Rather than being a sign of an over-engineered or complicated solution, these factors are essential design elements of any successful metal detection system. Purchasing a customized inspection with an integrated conveyor system, fully assembled and quality checked by a reputable metal detector manufacturer, is a failsafe way of ensuring that the metal detector will function at the required performance levels and meet food producers’ stringent sensitivity requirements.

Myth #2: Customized metal detector and conveyor systems are only required for very unusual applications.

Truth: At Fortress, “customized” refers to any combined system that does not fit within the framework of the company’s standardized Vector conveyor design. Demand for customized solutions is far more common than people realize, accounting for around 20% of conveyor orders. Even the Vector conveyors are somewhat customized to specifications that meet the end users’ needs.

Image courtesy of Fortress Technology LtdImage_3_FORTRESS.png


Fortress’ standardized Vector conveyor design (seen here on a Stealth metal detector)


Although effective, the Vector conveyor has certain design limitations. If a customer’s specification is outside its capabilities, Fortress will create a fully customized system to ensure the metal detector operates to its peak performance. Any number of reasons may apply, most of which are not considered particularly unusual.

The most common reasons for customization include:

Existing legacy equipment. Fortress is often tasked with installing a metal detector into an existing production line. This means it has to configure with legacy upstream or downstream equipment, occasionally limiting options. Vector may or may not be able to fit this bill.

Strict dimensions. Vectors are generally using common parts such as modular plastic belting that may at times limit some overall dimension. Alternatively installing a system into a tight footprint might result in the conveyor invade the detector’s metal-free zone and cause false readings.

Reject mechanisms. Due to line speed, belt width or product profile, a particular reject mechanism may be needed that is incompatible with the Vector, for instance sweep arm or retractable band rejects.

Increased hygiene requirements. Although the Vector frame is made of heavy-duty stainless steel, the conveyor has modular plastic chain belting and ultimately designed for food manufacturing applications.  Food plants with extremely high sanitation requirements, for example meat producers, may require options not available on Vector. They may prefer a customized molded option as it is impervious and easier to clean due to the lack of joins and crevices where product can become trapped. 

Recently, Fortress installed a customized twin-lane inspection/conveyor system for a pizza crust manufacturer. Although the line speed wasn’t particularly fast, and the product wasn’t especially difficult to handle, this project still required a customized solution. Mainly because the detection system needed to precisely align with existing upstream and downstream legacy equipment.

Image courtesy of Fortress Technology LtdImage_1_FORTRESS.png


Fortress installed a customized twin-lane inspection/conveyor system for a pizza crust manufacturer to precisely align with existing legacy equipment

In this instance, the only viable option was a customized S-curve conveyor. The reject mechanism also proved challenging. Air blast wasn’t suitable because of the belt width. A kicker proved incompatible because of the pizzas’ low profile. And there was insufficient space to accommodate a flap style reject. Fortress engineered a retracting reject mechanism. The system is now accurately inspecting pizzas and removing reject products with no impact on the customer’s existing production line. 

Myth #3: Customized metal detector and conveyor systems are expensive.

Truth: Contrary to popular belief, custom-designed systems are only marginally more expensive than a standard Vector design. If a metal detection system is poorly designed or installed, the risk of a contaminated product entering the food chain greatly increases. As well as the impact to human health, the long-term cost implications for a food business dealing with a contamination scandal are stratospheric.

The average cost of a recall according to a joint industry study by the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association is $10M in direct costs, in addition to brand damage and lost sales. Cutting corners here can be a false economy.

Myth #4: Customized metal detector and conveyor systems require a long lead time.

Truth: There is not a huge amount of difference between the average lead time for a Vector system and a fully customized system: 8-10 weeks versus 10-12. Most of this is due to the extra design work required to ensure that any customized system meets the exact application requirements.

Fortress always starts with a thorough application survey, complete with photos and videos, to fully understand the product handling requirement and any dimensional restrictions around the planned installation location. The engineering team then creates a concept design to meet all the requirements and considers all complications. This is reviewed with the customer to ensure they are happy with the proposal, or determine what changes are required, before we create the final approved design that then goes into production.

Getting the right solution for the customer is what matters most – while this may take a few weeks longer, the end result is a reliable, longer-lasting metal detection system.

Myth #5: Customized metal detector and conveyor systems are difficult to operate.

Truth: A fundamental principal at Fortress is to design machines that are easy to use but employ advanced processing power – simple on the surface but sophisticated under the hood. As digitally ‘smart’ as Fortress systems are, all – including those that are customized –remain simple to operate, featuring user-friendly controls, automated single-pass learning, and speedy calibration to deliver accurate system set-up within seconds. In general, customers aren’t concerned with how many megabytes per second the processor inside is capable of handling; they want a detection system that will consistently run as intended, accurately rejecting contaminated product without incurring high levels of false rejects.

Myth #6: Customized metal detector and conveyor systems are at greater risk of obsolescence.

Truth: While it’s true that most of today’s electronics and industrial machines are not designed to last forever, Fortress offers a “Never Obsolete” guarantee on all inspection systems, including customized.

If clients require simple additions--such as buzzers and alarms--or want to equip their systems with the latest smart digital technology, almost anything is possible. Standard data capture and reporting technologies – Contact and Contact Manager – provide traceable and auditable QA information, ensuring compliance with food safety standards.

For even more sophisticated operations, Fortress offers Industry 4.0 options, including OPC-UA Adapter and Ethernet/IP Adaptor. These facilitate smart information exchange between systems on a line, yet also offer a seamless, automated method of collecting traceable and auditable QA information, as well as real-time process and performance improvement data.

As a result of its stable technology platforms, Fortress customized systems can be retrofitted to incorporate smart solutions. A robust build quality coupled with a modular approach and the use of interchangeable parts provides the added future proofing value.

Eric Garr is regional sales manager, Fortress Technology. For more information, call 416-752-2898 www.fortresstechnology.com.

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