Metal detectors and other inspection systems are an integral part of bakeries. They’re the cost of doing business, sometimes because a customer requires a certain level of inspection. However, it doesn’t provide instant gratification like new equipment that saves on labor costs or makes other operations improvements.

But the protections they offer are crucial to food safety.

“Metal detection is not generally something that provides you instant tangible payback. It’s more of an insurance policy,” said Eric Garr, regional sales manager for Fortress Technology. “You don’t feel like you’re getting something until you catch something. Then you say, ‘That could have been really bad.’ You can consider how much that saved you in lawsuits and lost business. Then you can realize the value.”

But how can bakers determine the type of metal detection or inspection system they need? What factors should be weighed to get the essential protection without spending money on unnecessary extras?

“It’s very important to look at the products together, to look at the characteristics they would like to improve and check, then designing the best system around their needs,” said Erica Vannini, sales and customer service, EyePro System.

Bakers first must assess their products, the types of contaminants they must safeguard against and the quality checks they want to run. Metal detectors and X-ray systems have different ways to screen for contaminants and vision systems provide quality checks and screen for contaminants on the surface of products.

“What type of foreign material is considered a potential risk?” asked Camilo Sanchez, metal detection product line manager at Mettler Toledo. “What type of packaging are they using — bulk prior to packaging, metalized film, plastic film. Depending on the answers to these and their budget, some manufacturers may elect to inspect with metal detectors or X-ray systems at different stages in their processes.”

The size of all the products running through the line and the point of inspection are also important considerations, said Todd Grube, product manager inspection systems at Heat and Control Inc.

“Sizing the equipment is primarily based on the maximum product dimensions to be inspected,” he said. “Metal detectors and X-ray systems both utilize an ‘aperture’ through which product must pass to be inspected.”

Equipment with apertures that are fitted closely to the products running through them work better.

Another key element involves integrating data gathered by inspection systems with customer databases and factory monitoring software. This allows bakeries to improve their processes by providing insight into what is happening on the line. These systems can identify problems and give bakers warnings, which allows them to adjust the equipment upstream.

“It gives you a lot of statistics about how your process is going, and you’re able to use that data to identify shortcomings in other equipment,” Mr. Garr said. “I’m generally speaking about all inspection equipment, and checkweighers fit in that slot as well.”

For instance, if bakers are getting a lot of false rejects, they should investigate the problem to see if the equipment needs adjusting. Or the inspection system may be telling them there’s a larger problem upstream they need to address. For instance, if a vision system determines that cookies are coming out of the ovens too dark or too light, the oven temperature can be adjusted automatically.

“The checkweigher can tell you how much product you are giving away so you can address that upstream,” Mr. Garr said. “That data can be fed back to some fillers and say, ‘Fill a little bit less cause we’re overfilling by this much.’”

Systems also gather data that can hone operations.

“We are trying more and more to help our customers understand how the data is very important to improve processes,” Ms. Vannini said.

This article is an excerpt from the June 2021 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on Metal Detection, click here.