An egg packer was having its products rejected by retailers because of poor quality control. The solution, a vision inspection system supplied by Matthews Australasia, not only solved the problem but also won the company the PACE Zenith Award for Manufacturing Control.
Packing eggs has several challenges: the fresh produce is both fragile and perishable, thus has a limited shelf-life. This means it is imperative that eggs are handled correctly the first time, without extra processes and time in re-work due to incorrect packing or labelling.
In its fast-paced environment with 18 different production lanes, an Australian egg packer was packing more than 30 SKUs for several customers. Every individual consumer-unit egg carton (or “inner”) is packed into a specific shipper outer for transportation, after which the 18 production lanes finally merge into one.
The packer had two main issues. Firstly, its outdated, unreliable coding equipment was causing downtime and, secondly, a lack of quality control meant the incorrect consumer-unit egg cartons were sometimes packed into shippers. This was resulting in an increasing number of retailer rejections, which was wasting resources and had the potential to waste produce and damage the brands
The business wanted to eliminate date coder-related downtime, ensure the correct consumer units were packed into shippers, and verify the date-code format printed onto the outer carton matched the SKUs it contained and change this QC check from manual to automatic.
Having worked with Matthews in other areas of its business over several years, the egg packer asked the product identification and inspection specialist for guidance. Matthews recommended a date coder that allows flexibility in code styles and formats, and an integrated inspection solution to verify the correct SKUs are packed into shippers.
The date coder’s capability has given the egg packer more versatility, allowing it to print both different dates and formats on different products going down the same conveyor line. This means each of the 18 production lanes can run a different brand and egg size simultaneously. It also allows the business to run any one of the 30-plus SKUs in any production lane, without the need for dedicated lanes for certain SKUs. Additionally, the packer can get counts of cartons for each SKU in real time, giving highly accurate production output data that it did not previously have.
The camera-based vision inspection solution looks into the shippers before they are closed, checking that the barcode on the inner units matches the barcode on the shipper, thus verifying that the correct consumer-unit egg cartons are in the right shipping boxes. As well as verifying the date code is correct, this automated process also checks the legally required date code is present to begin with.
To make the solution even more cost effective for the egg packer, Matthews implemented it after the production lines merged. This meant the packer only needed one system in total, instead of one for each of its 18 production lanes.
Initially, this made the application itself more challenging because any one of the multiple SKUs could come down the line, and the inspection solution needed to verify if the shipper matched the inner. A second challenge was the fact that the barcode for the inner has to be read after it’s stacked inside the shipper; this is not a common practice.
However, using the latest vision technologies, Matthews designed a highly reliable, repeatable solution that gives peace of mind with its accuracy. Retail rejections due to incorrect date coding and product mismatching is now virtually zero, giving significant brand confidence.
This solution has also brought other issues to light that the egg packer wasn’t aware of, having the bonus outcome of allowing it to address overall business efficiency.