When food products enter the processing phase, scale equipment and balances facilitate quality control and help to ensure freshness of the product up to and during packaging and labeling.
“Increased consumer awareness and demand has seen safety standards become increasingly rigorous,” she said. “It’s vital that companies manufacturing weighing equipment for the food industry ensure that the products they supply comply with best practices and meet strict legislative requirements—many of the innovations we’re seeing in the food industry relate to design developments, which ensure that equipment meet hygienic regulations and can withstand increasingly rigorous cleaning regimes and chemicals.”
The obvious reason that weighing equipment is used in this industry is to safeguard quality and profits, both for the consumer and manufacturer.
To ensure that quality/accuracy and repeatability—it’s important that scales are not affected by outside influences, such as condensation, shock loading or water ingress.
“There’s also an increasing prevalence towards harnessing data from scales,” Wilks said. “In recent years consumers have become more aware of food quality, safety, origin and traceability, which in turn puts more pressure on processors to keep track of every component in the manufacturing process.”
Technology Makes It Simple
Tom Storey, director of marketing for Adam Equipment, Danbury, Connecticut, notes businesses in the food industry are looking to cut costs by improving efficiency, and balances and scales provide them with the tools to do that.
Efficiency skyrockets when workers don’t have to waste valuable time manually inputting measurements and results into a computer. These connections also allow managers to easily compile and analyze data using spreadsheets, tables, charts or graphs.
Tim Norman, product development manager for Hardy Process Solutions, San Diego, California, says weighing instrumentation that is simple to set up, use and maintain is important. That, plus the smart phone displays, imbedded help wizards, and IoT connectivity with built-in Web server’s that allow access to instrument operations and diagnostics. These are all vital in today’s weighing as it relates to food processing.
For system integrators, Hardy produces weighing instruments that plug directly into the backplane of a PLC and integration software/PLC code that greatly simplifies the work.
“We embed an electronic calibration certificate in our sensors, so end-users don’t need to spend money having a scale technician calibrate their systems one to four times a year; they can calibrate and verify scale performance with the touch of a button,” Norman said.
Software innovations can also help to facilitate efficient documentation and management of key weight, commodity and scale data.
More Than One Winner
Just as the inner workings of a scale and its indicator on a food processing line need to be protected from food elements—the food itself needs to be protected as it travels through the process.
Moisture analyzers are critical in food processing for several reasons, the most important being safety and quality.
“The responsibility for that falls squarely on the shoulders of food production plants. That’s why we are careful to ensure our scales used in food processing are easy to clean,” Storey said. “Adam Equipment’s PMB moisture analyzer provides an ideal solution to verify the moisture content in food products. Food processing facilities must be able to ensure safety, quality, flavor and freshness without additives and preservatives, and they can do that by implementing improved methods of moisture analysis to keep moisture levels at the proper level.”
A good example of this is the Avery Weigh-Tronix ZQ375 static checkweigher; designed specifically to meet the stringent demands of the food industry.
“It features a durable, stainless steel, IP69K rated enclosure, making it ideal for use in high pressure and heavy washdown applications,” Wilks said. “It has a smooth pickled and polished surface finish, which helps to stop micro-organisms from growing on the surface of the scale. It also has curved corners with an easy-to-remove cover, making thorough cleaning simple, fast and effective, minimizing food trap areas where bacteria could thrive.”
The scale features a highly visible, low-power-draw display, with large, nine segment digits and colored multi-segmented under/over weight graph to give the operator a fast visual indication of weight. Multi-connectivity makes data transfer fast and efficient via Ethernet, USB and Wireless.
Adam Equipment recently introduced its line of high-capacity Nimbus precision balances, which offer a generously sized pan to accommodate bulky food samples.
“With numerous weighing units including a customizable unit, the Nimbus capably handles percentage weighing, density measurement for liquids or solids, and dynamic weighing,” Storey said. “Data collection and transmission are optimized with the Nimbus’ USB and RS-232 interfaces, while a third interface enables optional remote display.”
Adam also designed a WBW washdown scale to suit food production applications, as it is ideal for quality control in wet environments. Food processing companies find the WBW is excellent for use in production of single-serve packages of snacks and desserts, mixed-serving meals, or for reduced-calorie portions. A capacity tracker monitors weight when making batches or adding ingredients.
Red Lion Controls, York, Pennsylvania, works with food processors to provide them with things like panel meters (readouts for scales), large LED displays and their productivity station, which shows production levels and status.
Jeff Thornton, director of product management for the company, says its gauge panel meters are used for the weighing of ingredients during the mixing processes. For example, at one large peanut butter factory, they are used to make sure everything is mixed together correctly.
“Our meters are available in various sizes and capabilities including count, rate, time, voltage, current, process, strain gage and temperature inputs,” he said.
Understanding the Scales
There are a number of scales that are needed in food processing. Units can be single standalone, they can be manually controlled by a supervisor, or they can be controlled across the whole line and linked with software to capture key weight, commodity and scale data, all of which can be vital for traceability.
Here are the types of scales most often utilized:
Checkweighers: Arguably a scale that would be vital in every food processing environment, checkweighers can be used to spot-check raw materials or finished goods and to ensure adequate quality control. They provide visibility of weighing data and statistics which can help to maximize performance, profitability and quality.
Truck Scales: Managing inventory and billing in food processing environments depends upon documenting and weighing both inbound and outbound freight.
Bin, Hopper and Tank Weighers:
By adding a weight sensor to existing storage bins, food processors can keep a close eye on inventory or use with a sophisticated weight indicator and software to automate mixing of raw ingredients, batch and recipe control. Stainless steel, watertight and explosion-proof models make these ideal for use in a variety of food processing applications.
Forklift Scales: Forklift drivers can take raw ingredients directly to storage or dispatch while tracking the weight, origin and storage location during transport. This process results in real-time data acquisition which can be used for billing and inventory management. The ability to transport and weigh materials in one simple step results in tremendous time savings and a speedy return on investment.
Conveyor Scales: Conveyor systems offer the ability to improve processing speed by reducing lifting and increasing throughput. The scale operates while the conveyor is in motion.
Bench and Floor Scales: Used mainly when shipping or receiving or when sorting inventory.
Four Areas of Food Production
Most food production facilities use scales to weigh from dock to dock, and Hardy breaks the process down into four areas: Stock, Make, Pack and Ship. Norman explains:
Stock: Involves how much feedback is available for processing, typically tied to an ERP system
Make: A critical weighing processes that typically involve measuring and mixing precise amounts of feedstock to produce a product. Weighing also plays an important role in this area for Track and Trace, feeding into a quality control process
Pack: A critical weighing processes that typically involve measuring precise amounts of product into a package. Just one extra potato chip in a snack pack can cost larger manufacturers a million dollars a month in “give away” product.
Ship: This is the final inspection of the product leaving the factory. It is equally important to both ERP systems and QA/QC processes.
About the Author
Keith Loria is a seasoned writer who has written about everything from business to sports to logistics since achieving his Master’s Degree in Journalism from the University of Miami in 1993.