Volume 18 | Number 1 | Spring 2006 | Automation Issue

page 1
Automated Package Inspection System Undergoes On-line Field Tests

page 2
Researchers Make Strides in the Development of an Automated System to Hang Live Birds

page 3
Project Update:
Researchers Focus on Automating Chiller Rehanging Process

page 4
New Robot Donation to Enhance Food Processing Technology Research

page 5
The Development of Washdown Robots

page 6
Technology Q&A:
Transitioning Technology Across Application Fronts

 

<< ATRP Publications Page

 

Automated Package Inspection System
Undergoes On-line Field Tests

Colin Usher, research scientist and project director, feeds a tray pack package to Georgia Tech’s automatic inspection system as co-op student Parker McGee looks on. The system is currently undergoing a field trial at Fieldale Farms’ processing plant in Cornelia, Ga. Installed beside a conveyor that handles the output of packages from several sealing machines, the system is being evaluated for its accuracy in identifying defects, such as film tears, in the seals of packages.

Georgia Tech’s innovative automated package inspection system is currently undergoing a field trial at Fieldale Farms’ processing plant in Cornelia, Ga. The field trial is the culmination of a two-year effort to automate the package inspection process. Researchers worked with Cryovac, Inc., a leading manufacturer of film and packaging material for the food industry, to design the system that takes into account the properties of packaging materials and combines them with imaging and other sensing systems. The result is an integrated system that automatically inspects the seals of over-wrap tray pack packages as they exit a heat-sealing machine.

According to Colin Usher, research scientist and project director, the primary goal of the field trial is to determine the detection accuracy of the vision algorithms in identifying seal integrity and label registration. The research team will also focus on determining the commercial viability of the prototype system by operating it in the plant and establishing its maintenance requirements. In addition, the team will determine the range of defects common to this application and the commonality of each defect type with one another.

In laboratory trials, the system demonstrated a 100 percent success rate in identifying defects, such as film tears, in package seals with no false positives or negatives. Shown above from left to right: an overview of the prototype system, a close-up view of packages as they pass under the imaging system, and an example of a defective seal detected by the system.

At the test plant, the system is installed beside a conveyor that handles the output of packages from several sealing machines. Two types of tests are underway. The first involves screening product with artificial defect generation where one of the packaging machines is modified to create a variety of defective packages that are introduced to the vision system to study detection accuracy. The second test can be described as regular production monitoring in which the system is operated under normal processing conditions to record its performance and build a large database of information with which to determine defect rates and properties.

Usher says laboratory trials have shown the system to have a 100 percent success rate in identifying defects, such as film tears, in package seals with no false positives or negatives. The field trial will confirm if the system can maintain a perfect or near perfect accuracy rate. If so, it will give the industry a “tireless” system to guard against poorly sealed seams.

“Also, an automated inspection system such as this removes some of the roadblocks that have kept plants from installing automated casepacking robots. With automated inspection and casepacking, the entire post-wrapping process can be fully automated,” adds Usher.

From the poultry industry’s perspective, Jerry Franklin, plant manager at Fieldale’s processing plant in Cornelia, Ga., says “Benefits would come from our fine tuners and mechanics making adjustments to our “OSSID” wrapping machines. I see this type of equipment as a portable device to move around in a department to check a wrapping machine for integrity of seal.”

Two U.S. patents are pending, one on the inspection system and another on the special treatment developed for the packaging material. Funding for the field trial is being provided through a grant from Georgia’s Traditional Industries Program for Food Processing.

How the System Works

The system is currently capable of inspecting packages that are as small as 6 inches by 8 inches in size and as large as 10 inches by 12 inches in size (a design that can inspect packages up to 24 inches in length is under development). The viewing area includes both the top and bottom of a conveyor belt, creating an inspection tunnel. As packaged product passes through the tunnel, three cameras capture images of both sides, the entire bottom, and the top of each package. These images are then processed, and special vision algorithms identify defects, such as film tears, in the package seals. The camera located above the packages also looks for proper label placement. Packages with defective seals or improperly placed labels will be automatically rejected via a reject mechanism that will be added later. Once rejected, a package will be dumped into a rework bin where it can be repackaged.

 

PoultryTech is published by the Agricultural Technology Resarch Program (ATRP), Food Processing Technology Division (FPTD) of the Georgia Tech Research Institute. ATRP is conducted in cooperation with the Georgia Poutry Federation with funding from the Georgia Legislature.