Case Study: Metal Detector Helps Producing Safe Snacks

Fortress Technology reveals why its top-selling Vertex Metal Detector is a piece of efficient equipment for different types of snacks, providing a highly-required technology for on the rising market. 

With more than 60% of consumers adding snacks into their weekly grocery baskets, 30% buying on-demand and 66% trying healthier alternatives such as popped, rice-based and baked alternatives, snack processing and packaging lines look set to get busier as many add new flavor innovations. 

Designed specifically to inspect free-falling snacks and ingredients, more than 700 new Vertex metal detection units from Fortress Technology were installed by snack manufacturers globally in 2019. Buyers ranged from some of the largest international food brands to fast-expanding niche snack factories, the producer said.  

The technology supports fast product changeovers, from pretzels to cereals and more; when fitted with Halo, the Vertex unit reduces the time food factories dedicate to performing frequent routine checks. As many snack manufacturers have discovered, they swiftly realize major labor cost savings. 

Fitting into restricted production spaces where other detectors can’t, the inline system is designed to integrate with Vertical Form Fill Seal (VFFS) pouch-packing solutions. With a case that can be as small as 125mm (191mm including flanges) and a circular aperture, the Vertex easily fits into existing VFFS packaging and weighing turnkey lines to enhance quality and consumer confidence. 

The only known food metal detector of its kind that incorporates an advanced automatic testing program, the compact throat unit also increases production capacity and addresses staff shortages. 

With snacks becoming such a mainstream mode of eating, several manufacturers in the snack space are swiftly adding more packing and inspection lines, observes Fortress Technology’s European managing director Phil Brown. He notes that it’s not unusual to see up to 200+ turnkey weighing, metal detectors and VFFS packing lines side-by-side in large snack factories. 

Brown explains: “The addition of new ingredients, flavors, own-label, sub-brands, pack sizes and nutritional concepts means that a snack company’s average portfolio can easily comprise 100+ Stock Keeping Units (SKUs).”

Vertex, with the addition of Halo, is an off-the-shelf metal detector, enabling snack manufacturers to rapidly introduce new lines and speed up their time to market. Similarly, the aperture sizes tend to be quite standard. “Small enough in diameter to ensure metal detection sensitivity is not compromised, yet wide enough to ensure there’s no product choke-off,” adds Brown. 

Despite its slim stature, the Vertex meets, and in many instances exceeds, the sensitivities of comparable snack metal detection systems. Utilizing the very latest Digital Signal Processing technology, each unit inspects freefalling products at high speeds, detecting and rejecting the smallest metal contaminants including pieces of wire, shavings and swarf. 

Rather than adding a side reject system, which would be too bulky for most snack packing lines, when the Vertex identifies a metal contaminant, a signal is sent to the PLC, or the downstream bagging equipment. Typically, the reject output is connected to the bagger, which then either stops the line or inhibits the cutting of bags. This means the contaminant is trapped and sealed in an extra-long bag that is easily spotted and removed by personnel, or more typically by a downstream checkweigher, which will reject it as overweight. 

The Vertex can also be utilized to avoid issues that may arise when inspecting sealed products in metalized polybags. It is also possible to inspect for metal in a metalized bag. Brown explains: “The achievable sensitivity will mostly depend on the characteristics of the bag, which product tests performed free of charge by Fortress can determine.”  

Naturally, snack manufacturers may worry when metal contaminants are detected. But equally, they may be concerned if their metal detector hasn’t picked anything up for a while. It’s why performance checks are conducted at regular intervals, typically hourly, on inspection machinery.

Due to the scale of their automated weighing, inspection and packing operations, automatic testing is widely adopted by the snack industry. As well as reducing the cost associated with performing these checks manually, automatic testing improves the repeatability of routinely monitoring a metal detector’s performance. 

Halo is Fortress’ version of automatic testing. It works by repeatedly and accurately simulating testing with all metal types (ferrous, non-ferrous and stainless-steel) by mimicking the signal disturbance of particles of a calibrated size. Each Halo, which is a separate kit of electronics from the search head, is calibrated to simulate the presence of a metal contaminant falling at the speed of the application being inspected. 

Brown comments: “Turnkey vertical packing lines are compact and make access even more challenging for performing good quality checks. To test the worst-case scenario, metal test pieces would need to pass through the exact center of the Vertex aperture tube. It is always good practice to challenge the metal detector in a way that simulates the speed in which product is passing through the machine and the hardest to detect scenarios, which manual checks don’t do consistently. The result may be a false sense of security that the metal detector is reliably detecting to the desired performance level.”

Multiple machines can be networked to generate a site performance due diligence report. “We are not aware of any other technology in the food inspection market that can test all sizes and metal types so reliably, precisely and at such a fast speed,” states Brown. 

The impact Halo can have on the cost of ownership is easy to see, the company explains. Most large snack processing lines performing manual tests have two people dedicated just to this task, one to insert and another to remove, document and report the test. 

This solution is a relatively inexpensive metal detector, performing a critical task.  “The quality and brand stakes in snacks are high. Vertex equipped with Halo offers snack manufacturers a fast return on investment in a rapidly evolving market where product costs and production speeds continue to rise.”

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