A breakthrough non-ionising food defect detection system that identifies the presence of materials in foodstuffs that are normally transparent to X-rays is reliable, fast and versatile, said the UK company behind the development.
Inspection Technologies said its patented near infrared (NIR) equipment can reveal the presence of a range of radiolucent foreign objects such as fruit pits and stones, plastics, paper and wood. It even detects minute chicken bones that X-ray machines can miss.
Designed for use in the soft fruit, confectionery, biscuit, dairy and meat sectors, the system also realises cost benefits in terms of energy usage and manpower, said the firm.
“The energy consumption of the NIR machine is very low - perhaps one per cent of that needed for X-ray equipment as it does not need a high-voltage supply,” company managing director Dr Geoff Diamond told FoodProductionDaily.com. “It uses as much power as an electric razor and can even run off a car battery if portability is an issue. It also eliminates the need for monitor screens, and therefore human operators, as the mechanism works on an automatic machine-vision principle."
The absence of radiation – such as X-rays or gamma rays – means there are no exposure issues and no need to purchase shielding equipment. The technology uses materials and techniques which have all been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said the firm.
The system is configured to produce very rapid in-line 'detect and reject' responses for high speed conveyor belt operations – at up to 60 metres minute. As soon as the system detects a foreign object, an actuator is triggered to reject the product. The company said its own trials confirm a detection rate of 99.9 per cent for fruit and 98.9 per cent for meat.
“It is ideally suited for machine-vision systems that can be set up for very high-speed Boolean ‘detect and reject’ responses and maximises the sheer detectivity of the system,” Dr Diamond added.
The system is adaptable and can be used in tandem as a de-bottlenecking tool on production lines. The company analysed existing processing line needs and then designed a machine to meet those demands.
“We believe the NIR system is competitive in terms of price and performance compared to X-ray equipment. We also believe it is more versatile,” said Dr Diamond. “Our system can pick up foreign objects such as rubber or paper buried deep within materials such as cheeses or pieces of the polycarbonate moulds used in chocolate production.”
The company said it is looking to commercialise its system and would welcome contact from potential commercial partners.