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Brisbane meat works finds ideal vision solution

A leading Brisbane based meat works producing high volumes needed an inspection system that guaranteed speed, product integrity and accuracy. It turned to Omron, a global leader in automation solutions, for the answer.

When your business supplies fresh meat products to major supermarkets and consumers across Australia, you can’t afford to get it wrong.

Products displaying illegible date codes, damaged packaging or wrongly labelled products can be disastrous for suppliers.

Through its integration partner, Pac Technologies, the meat works commissioned Omron to install a vision inspection system that would minimize the risk of sending out any non-compliant products.

“All final packaged product lines were installed with Omron’s FQ2 vision inspection cameras for traceability of all shelf ready meat products,” said Omron’s Queensland State Manager, Paul Gibb.

“The main aim was to increase productivity, while maintaining consistent, high quality standards.”

The Brisbane meat works is unique. It is a globally recognized fully integrated facility that completes a full circle in beef production including slaughter, boning, value add, retail-ready and distribution.

According to its Production Manager the site processes some 1200 head of cattle per day.

Apart from bulk meats it also produces stir-fry and diced beef and veal, beef sausages, corned, marinated, glazed and coated beef and veal products, corned beef silverside and hamburger patties.

Stringent requirements

“We currently have an annual production of over 15 million kilos for national distribution to prominent retail and supermarket shelves,” the Product Manager said.

“Due to very stringent requirements demanded by our retail distribution partners, our entire packaged shelf ready product needs to be exactly as per what is ordered and labeled as.”

The biggest challenge for any meat works is traceability. Most facilities traditionally rely on casual labor in the final packaging and inspection process.

“We turned to Omron to assist us in greatly reducing the risk of sending out non-compliant product final packaged product,” the Production Manager said.

A challenge for this application was to check both 1D and 2D barcodes at varying focal lengths on the final production line. Also there was a requirement to check and verify the date code on each shelf ready product.

Vision solution

Kim Simonsen from Pac Technologies, in conjunction with Omron application engineers, created a vision solution using FQ2 machine vision cameras on each line. On some lines, two cameras were used at varying focal lengths to handle the varying heights of the target product.

The carton barcode is pre-checked to verify that the product is as expected before the individual packs are checked.

“We accessed some very powerful algorithms built in to the FQ2 camera to achieve what the customer needed to satisfy their date and barcode checks”, said Yang Qui, a senior application engineer form Omron Electronics, Brisbane. “OCR, or Objective Character Recognition was used to not only check for the presence of the date code, but actually read the text to ensure that the date code was correct and readable. The small sized 2D bar code was a challenge, and required us to employ the high resolution version of the FQ2 vision camera to obtain a reliable and accurate reading each and every time”.

Mr Gibb said Omron is also assisting other Queensland based meat works that produce down to shelf ready product as well as bulk packs.

Hundreds of different variants

“There are common issues emerging when talking to each company about checking integrity and accuracy of the final packaged product and its labelling and identification,” Mr Gibb said.

“Hundreds of different product and label variants, many types of barcodes and date codes, varying existing PLC architecture, high turnover of transient workforce, and a hostile operating environment all present a challenge to a solid and reliable vision solution.”

One of the main challenges was how to process the data once reliable and accurate judgements of the final product are obtained.

“In this instance we used our powerful and flexible NJ Machine controller with SQL connectivity and Ethernet IP to communicate directly to the customer’s database without the need for any software based middleware,”  Gibb said. “Since Omron’s NJ controller has the option of Ethernet IP communications, it communicated directly with the customer’s existing PLCs, creating a seamless network from camera to database.”

Gibb said Omron’s FQ2 vision cameras are rugged enough to be installed directly on the production line in a meat works hose down environment and they have enough capacity to store more than the customer’s total product lineup and label varieties.

Gibb said the main issues for Quality Assurance (QA) inspection in the meat industry are:

  • Hundreds of different products and labels
  • IP rating camera
  • Huge variety of codes, different types of bar code, different type of 2D Codes,
  • Complex production and device information like expiry date, batch number, lot number, stamp
  • Many workers lack technology, knowledge and training
  • Difficult to use traditional sensors or PLC’s to collect all of the information
  • Difficult to integrate PLC/Vision/Motion/Sensors all together
  • Difficult to manage QA inspection information
  • Image logging? Data logging?
  • How to integrate to existing Scada software

The Solution

Omron FQ2 supports up to nine types of barcodes. Whether it’s for verification or barcode character reading, the FQ2 can easily meet customer’s requirements.

The Australian meat industry uses GS1-databar code widely and FQ2 has been successfully used for product verification and production information inspection.

2D Code

FQ2 can read the main six types of 2D codes. There is no need to use more than one code reader – even for processing that combines different types of codes.

FQ not only forms a powerful and accurate vision inspection/data sharing network. It is the beginnings of a fully future proofed new single platform plant wide architecture, ready for upcoming robotics, RFID, safety and advanced sensing.

That platform is Sysmac – Omron’s new machine automation platform.

With Sysmac (System for Machine Automation Control) you have one control for the entire machine or production cell.

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