Compact Inspection Systems Become the ‘New Normal’

The COVID-19 crisis is pushing space-optimized design and remote diagnostics to the fore when it comes to buying criteria for inspection equipment, in addition to commercial viability that will always make or break decisions.

Footprint has long been a consideration when choosing packaging and processing equipment – factory space is at a premium and the ever-increasing cost of real estate means each cubic meter has to be maximized.

In production and packaging facilities where every inch counts, establishing new practices that will enable factory personnel to work safely during the COVID-19 pandemic is a huge challenge. Preventing the spread of the virus within the workplace is all about creating distance and physical barriers between workers, but space is in short supply in most facilities.

Redesigning factory layouts is not an easy task, requiring considerable investment. Rather than reconfiguring production line layouts, companies are looking at how they can redeploy and organize operators in a safer way, for example, by altering shift patterns. So the focus is on moving people rather than machinery.

As factories adapt to these new ways of working, Phil Brown, managing director of Fortress Technology, expects equipment compactness to become even more important.

“From a factory floor perspective, adapting to COVID-19 is all about creating space. Smaller footprint equipment creates more space for people to move around without being restricted to certain pathways,” he says.

One of the ways in which companies can save line space is to opt for a combined checkweighing and metal detection system – mounting these systems on the same conveyor results in a far smaller footprint than stand-alone units would occupy.

Recently Fortress unveiled its first combi offering under the Raptor brand. Developed in collaboration with Sparc Systems, the integrated system delivers hygienic and user-friendly operation on a compact footprint.

The machine’s footprint has been minimized via several design features. Reconfiguration of the reject mechanisms, for example, means that they occupy 50% less space than a conventional design.

“You can’t get away from the fact you need separate rejects for weighing and metal as the rework required for rejected products is very different. However, we have designed the system with opposing rather than end to end rejects, reducing the length of the reject system from one meter to 50cm,” explains Brown.

“Fifty centimeters might not sound like a lot of space, but it can be the difference between a safe working space and one that doesn’t meet requirements. Also, if you equate it to the amount you are paying per sq ft, it translates to a tangible cost-saving,” he adds.

Another way in which the Raptor Combi system can offer space-saving advantages over other systems is through the flexibility this platform offers. While Fortress manufactures a standard Raptor system for customers wanting a short lead-time system for handling products up to 400mm in size and up to 8kg in weight, it will also manufacture custom systems for smaller products and space-restricted areas.

One scenario where space-optimized combi systems can make a difference is on labor-intensive ready meal lines, where multiple components are added manually, the company explains. Here, where individual working space can’t be maintained, factories have had to install physical screens to separate operators. Either solution increases the line space required to safely perform this operation, so downstream equipment space savings are needed to free up space.

As well as creating a further driver for more compact systems, the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the adoption of remote access functionality on inspection equipment.

“Most modern metal detectors and checkweighers have in-built remote diagnostics but until now this function has been under-utilized. However, recent months have seen it taking on increasing importance as companies seek to protect staff and reduce travel and face-to-face contact,” notes Brown.

In these circumstances, remote troubleshooting is the preferred solution, and even if the issue cannot be resolved remotely, it can serve as a first-line approach, arming engineers with valuable information so that site visits can be as brief as possible.

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