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Automating label inspection

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Senior Editor, Automation World
Schneider Electric introduces Label Assurance, a software and hardware combination that ensures the right product is in the right package.

There is a rise in demand for allergen-free products in the U.S., due to the increasing number of people with food allergies. According to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), there are 30,000 emergency room visits and 150 deaths each year, due to anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction.

It’s been determined that one of the main reasons people are consuming food that include ingredients they are allergic to is due to an error on the packaging label. This is the responsibility of the manufacturer, which leads to recalls—costing on average of about $10 million in direct costs per recall—as well as lost sales, lawsuits and damage to the brand.

 

It is often human error on the packaging line that results in mislabeled products. But it’s a problem that automation technology can solve.

In an effort to help food and beverage companies reduce the amount of mislabeled products hitting the market, last week at Schneider Electric’s Innovation Summit: Software Conference 2017 in San Antonio, Texas, the company introduced Label Assurance, a combination of software and hardware that scans and validates labels to confirm that the right product is in the right package.

The Schneider Electric software is tightly integrated with Cognex cameras on a packaging line, enabling the system to scan data matrix barcodes or batch/lot codes of the packaged product to validate that the printed label matches the intended SKU.

Once the system is configured on the line, it can sync up with the manufacturing execution system (MES) to obtain line, user and SKU information. The SKU is aligned to a barcode, and, during the line execution, when the order is keyed in, the scan starts.

Now, in running mode, the camera scans the labels on the products moving across the packaging line, and the system takes action based on certain conditions. If it is a “good read” the product continues down the line. If it is a “no read,” “illegible,” or “mismatch,” the software sends a “non-compliance” signal to the PLC, which either ejects the item or stops the line. The real-time data can then be sent back to the MES to capture the current status, and a report can be generated to understand operational performance and trends.

The value proposition for the Label Assurance solution is two-fold, said Wen Jian Lee, Schneider Electric’s Food & Beverage and Life Sciences Offer Manager, Industry Solutions. First and foremost, it eliminates the impact that comes with mislabeling a product. But, because the solution is identifying problems at first pass, it reduces the rework and waste associated with the mislabeled products.

“And there’s no need to set up a separate label scanning station,” Lee said. The automated inline quality check saves the company money and can save people’s lives. “Label Assurance ensures the right product is in the right package with one hundred percent product scanning and validation.”

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