Allergen management is playing an increasingly important role in the packaged foods industry. Manufacturers are taking better care to avoid labeling mix-ups that sometimes lead to expensive recalls and potential liability concerns. In order to address these matters, Kraft Foods Canada scans each label after it has been affixed on the packaging line to ensure that it matches the package contents.
The barbeque sauce product line at the Saint-Laurent, Québec, plant produces 30 different stock keeping units (SKUs) at a rate of up to 265 bottles per minute. When the line is changed over to produce a different SKU number, the proper labels are manually loaded into the filling machine.
The possibility exists, however, that the machine operator might load the wrong labels or that a few wrong labels might be accidentally mixed in. To address this concern, Kraft deployed laser-based barcode scanners to read the 1-D barcode on each label and send the results to the programmable logic controller (PLC) that runs the machine.
The problem with the laser-based scanners is that they are only capable of reading codes located within a small field of view. When the labels are changed to a new SKU, the code may be in a different position depending on the label design. This required that the laser scanners be adjusted whenever the product line changed, taking a considerable amount of the technical team’s time. They were repeatedly called out to make adjustments to the laser scanners and often struggled to determine why they generated no read failures.
“I suggested to Kraft that they consider image-based code reading technology,” said Mike Palmieri, Senior Technical Sales Representative for Cadence Automation, a Cognex integrator. The basic idea behind image-based technology is that the reader uses a series of algorithms to process a captured image to make it easier to read the codes no matter the orientation or print quality. Palmieri recommended the Cognex DataMan 300 ID reader because its 800 by 600 pixel image resolution was able to see the entire label and easily read the code regardless of its position. “The DataMan 300 also provides built-in Ethernet which makes it easy to communicate with a PLC,” Palmieri said.
The DataMan 300 uses a new 1DMax+™ algorithm, which incorporates Hotbars™ technology designed to handle difficult linear barcode-reading applications on high speed lines. The DataMan 300 series also offers the flexibility of integrated and controllable modular lighting and optics.
Kraft started by replacing one laser scanner with a DataMan 300 reader on the barbeque sauce line. From the moment it was installed, the image-based reader virtually eliminated read failures, providing 99.9%+ read rates. Kraft replaced the three other ID readers on the line spurs and has since also replaced the scanners on three additional lines. No adjustment is required so the technical staff has been freed from managing the product changeovers.
“DataMan 300 ID readers have significantly improved the efficiency of our packaging lines,” said Dave Fortin, Technician for Kraft Foods Canada. “In the past, our technical team had to spend a considerable amount of time adjusting laser scanners and had to deal with the many bottles with good labels that the laser scanners were not able to read. The new image-based ID readers have solved these problems by providing near-perfect read rates. They are also economical to purchase and easy to install and maintain.”