The Role of an Automated X-Ray System in the Food Industry

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chicken meat in plastic packaging on conveyor of automated x ray system

If you work in the food industry, you know how essential it is to ensure the food you serve is safe for consumption. You also know how common human and machine errors can be, which can compromise the food you produce and serve to customers. Automated x-ray systems provide an extra level of security and peace of mind by alerting you and your workers to the presence of unwanted contaminants.

Automated x-ray systems help ensure your food products are safe and edible by detecting contaminants. They can even help streamline operations by inspecting your food products as they pass by on the conveyor belt. But before you start looking at purchasing these high-end machines for your business, you need to do your research.

You have a lot of things to consider when looking at automated x-ray systems, so we created this guide to help you get started. Keep reading to learn the ins and outs of automated x-ray systems and how they can help maximize the quality of your production line.

What is an Automated X-Ray System?

Automated x-ray systems detect several types of objects by using electromagnetic radiation. What makes these systems unique is their high energy levels, which are greater than 5 keV. We consider anything above 5 keV “hard x-rays” as they can penetrate multiple types of surfaces.

The nature of this technology makes automated x-ray systems ideal for multiple applications, especially in the food industry, where speed and efficiency can sometimes get in the way of consistency. When you use an x-ray to inspect your food products, you can use the images it produces to identify contaminants or other unwanted substances in your product, allowing you to remove them before sending out the final product.

How Does an Automated X-Ray System Work?

During an automated x-ray inspection, the system uses electromagnetic radiation to send invisible beams, or x-rays, through certain objects. Doing so creates an image that shows you things you might not otherwise be able to see.

When you put an automated x-ray system on a production line, it scans the products that pass by on the conveyor belt without physically touching them. If it detects abnormalities, it can tell a computer-assisted packing tool to take the contaminated product off the line. You can even calibrate these systems to detect certain substances, depending on the type of products you produce.

Types of Contaminants Detected by Automated X-Ray Systems

assorted raw meat chicken beef and fish

Using an automated x-ray system as part of your production line makes detecting a wide range of contaminants possible.

Foreign Material

Regardless of how well you care for your factory or production facility, foreign material can still find its way into your food products. If you don’t find these materials before sending your products out, you can put the health of your customers at risk while jeopardizing your company’s reputation.

These x-ray systems can detect foreign materials, including glass, rubber, metal, and most plastic. When they detect a foreign material, the image will typically show the substance in question as a dark spot, so you can easily pinpoint it and address it accordingly.

Bone and Shell Fragments

When producing foods like fish and other meats, you must ensure your products don’t have any unwanted bones or shell fragments. Automated x-ray systems can find these in products, even in small amounts.

Inadequate Fill Levels

X-ray inspection equipment can help ensure your products have adequate fill levels, which is essential for things like canned fruits and vegetables.

Applications of Automated X-Ray Systems

Many industries use automated x-ray systems to scan items for quality control.

Medical Imaging

X-rays have been part of medical care and diagnostics for over 100 years. Since the early x-rays, automated x-ray systems for medical imaging have advanced to provide clear, high-definition images of bones, muscles, and ligaments.

In addition, many types of medical imaging equipment rely on printed circuit boards, which have become smaller, more complex, and difficult for humans to inspect to verify quality. Manufacturers use x-ray inspection systems when manufacturing medical x-ray machines.

Industrial Inspection

Industrial manufacturers that produce soldered or welded items can use automated x-ray systems to inspect the welds for imperfections, weak joins, or abnormal sizes. A human eye could miss these minute details, but the automated x-ray system scans through the metal to see the internal parts of the solder to assure stability and meet codes and regulations.

Food and Beverage Industry

Food and beverage manufacturers use automated x-ray systems to assess items as a final quality control check. These machines detect foreign objects like stones, bone fragments, plastic shards, and more within the packaging and food.

By scanning items on a conveyor belt and using AI-assisted software, manufacturers can identify anomalies and automatically remove defective items from the production line.

Advantages of an Automated X-Ray System in the Food Industry

stack of wooden cube with upward arrow sign

X-ray systems can help you meet food safety standards while providing additional benefits that help you strengthen relationships with customers and boost overall efficiency.

Detection of Foreign Objects

Foreign objects in food products don’t always refer to metal, rubber, or other inorganic substances.

Automated x-ray systems can detect organic foreign substances and physical contaminants like hair, fingernails, and pests.

Quality Control and Assurance

High-end inspection systems ensure proper quality control and assurance by removing foods that don’t meet quality standards. These systems can help you identify potential manufacturing errors if a certain line produces more rejected items than another.

Investing in your product’s quality shows customers that you care about what you serve them, which can greatly affect your reputation and bottom line.

Compliance With Food Safety Standards

The FDA has several strict food safety standards you must comply with to avoid legal penalties. Using x-ray systems to inspect your food helps ensure your company satisfies these standards while lifting some of the burden off your employees.

Increased Efficiency in Production

The advantages of automated x-rays go well beyond quality control and consumer safety. They can also help boost production efficiency by taking over the inspection process, allowing your employees to focus on other crucial tasks.

Challenges and Limitations in Implementing Automated X-Ray Systems

plus and minus icons on wooden cubes

As beneficial and innovative as these x-ray systems are, they aren’t perfect. Before investing in any equipment for your company, you should conduct extensive research into the potential drawbacks and limitations of x-ray systems.

Cost and ROI

High-end x-ray systems tend to come with higher price tags, which some budgets may not allow for. Additionally, they consume significant power, which can increase your daily operating costs. While you can purchase energy-efficient systems, it’s still important to do your due diligence and compare operations costs versus your expected earnings to determine whether these systems will deliver a positive return on investment.

Maintenance and Calibration

While these systems can detect an incredible range of contaminants across product types, you must calibrate them correctly and according to the products they inspect. They are also complex machines that require routine maintenance to remain operational and efficient. You will likely need to make time in your schedule to provide ongoing maintenance and calibration.

False Positives and Negatives

As useful as these systems are, they aren’t perfect.

False readings can lead to wasted products and contaminated food making their way to your customers. You might need to integrate additional accountability measures to reduce false readings and double-check food quality.

Operator Training

You must train your team on how to use these systems for successful operations. This often takes time, but a lack of training can lead to a lot of wasted time and money, as well as undetected contamination.

Overall, implementing an automated x-ray system into your business operations has the potential to deliver many significant benefits. Producing and selling foods that don’t meet strict FDA standards can lead to legal consequences and a diminished brand reputation, so you must have an effective inspection protocol.

X-ray systems can make things significantly easier by inspecting your products as they move through the production line and telling the computer to reject any that don’t meet quality standards.

To learn more about automated x-ray systems and discuss your needs, contact TDI Packsys at (877) 834-6750.

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