Organic Food Manufacturer Installs Vision Inspection And Checkweigher For Reduced Packaging Risks
Staying on top of technology in a competitive market makes Crofter's Foods a leader in the organic and all natural food industries. Starting with a new facility in 2016, the company worked with METTLER TOLEDO to enable advanced label verification, as well as checkweighing for product accuracy. Using the METTLER TOLEDO systems, Crofters is able to monitor and verify every product package meets their specifications and offer their customers the advanced tracking information they desire.
Founder, Gerhard Latka, prides himself on this family-owned business that produces a variety of fruit spreads, conserves, jellies and jams made from all natural ingredients. "We were one of the very early organic producers of any sort of organic products around," Latka states. With this in mind, advanced label printing and label verification was developed to support consumer desire to learn more about the raw ingredients in their product.
Investing for The Future
In 2016, the company built the new Greenfield manufacturing plant in Seguin, Ontario, which included state of the art technologies and packaging systems to cement it's position as a market leader. "We now produce over 170 different SKUs at the new facility and our original smaller plant in downtown Parry Sound," Latka explains. The facility can package up to 150,000 jars of product per shift, depending on product and container sizes.
"We have invested a lot of money into top-quality, automated production and packaging equipment to optimize line efficiencies and to increase line speeds," says Latka. This enabled the company to triple its production, and provided the ability to process larger jars for new clients.
After adding in advanced facility upgrades, including a checkweigher and laser-based product coding, the team implemented a new enterprisewide SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) software system for real-time monitoring, gathering and processing of all the production data generated by the plant's operations.
Enabling Traceability and Label Verification
Latka took a further initiative to optimize the traceability system, to provide customers and consumers with unique product information encoded in the QR (quick retrieval) code which would be printed on every label in production. "We have very widespread distribution throughout North America," Latka relates, "and a lot of these retailers have very strict requirements for food safety and traceability.
"With traceability being key for us, we track every lot number of the product coming in and going through our processing system," says Latka, citing recent installation of a CI-Vision inspection vision system, supplied to the plant by product inspection specialists Mettler-Toledo Canada Inc.
"Anyone with a smartphone can scan the QR code and be directed straight to our web page to check out the status of the product, whether it's affected by any recall or not, while also provide additional product information, like where the apricots in their jar came from, for example. This is all pretty leading-edge stuff for the food industry right now," Latka points out. "At the moment, this level of product traceability can only be found in the pharmaceuticals and electronics industries."
"Each unique QR code serves as the name of the jar and provides consumers with the lot number for that jar, so that every consumer who wants more information can use the smartphone to scan it and find out exactly what batch this product was made in," Latka enthuses.
The METTLER TOLEDO CI-Vision system verifies the readability of the QR codes, plus inspects every label applied to ensure it matches the specified product label for the exact product. Installed on the plant's rotary 16-station inline labeler, the Vision Inspection System uses three cameras to execute various quality control checks on each and every passing label right after the QR code has been applied by the laser printer.
"The cameras used by the CIVision system are quite amazing," Latka explains. "It can show us a twisted label, a missing label, a damaged label, verify the UPC code, the shape of the jar, the color of the product, the cap code being properly applied in full… just about anything that we can teach the system to detect for us."
Preventing Label Mix-ups
With installation of this automated system, now the line operators can focus on more critical line efficiencies. Whereas previously the Canadian and US English-only labels were manually inspected – being very similar, but with different legal requirements made for a challenging manual inspection at such high production speeds.
"Our bilingual Canadian product labels look very similar to the U.S.- bound English-only labels in terms of decoration and graphics on the labels, which could easily result in labeling mix-ups. We simply can't have a Canadian-labeled jam ending up in California, which would definitely result in a costly recall," Latka says. "Now we just teach the cameras what a proper label should like and off they go – taking a shot of every label on every jar and comparing them against our selection."
Davor Djukic, national sales manager for product inspection products at METTLER TOLEDO Canada Inc. in Mississauga, Ont., concurs. "The beauty of these vision systems is that there are virtually no speed limitations," Djukic says, "or the types of inspection tasks they can be taught to perform. It can inspect the position of the label, the readability of the barcode, the best-before date, print quality on the label or the cap, the integrity of the cap, the presence of the cap, etc.," Djukic explains.
"While the METTLER TOLEDO CI-Vision system here at Crofter's uses three cameras, it can be easily expanded to six. This provides 'future proofing' and the ability to add critical control points upstream and/or downstream on the line as requirements evolve – all managed from a single HMI (human-machine interface) terminal, which would provide full coverage for every jar from the top, bottom and each of the four sides."
METTLER TOLEDO Complete Solutions
"Moreover, these vision systems can be integrated with METTLER TOLEDO's own ProdX data collection system, so that the plant management can have realtime access to what is exactly happening on the line at any given moment." This extra data collection capability is an especially attractive feature for Latka, who says the company already makes good use of the "tremendous" amount of data generated by the METTLER TOLEDO inline checkweigher system installed on the new line about a year ago.
"The new METTLER TOLEDO checkweigher makes sure that every single unit going down the conveying line for shipment gets weighed to determine the exact fill weight that will meet both Canadian and U.S. guidelines for what constitutes proper fill weight," Latka says. "By checking every unit so thoroughly, the checkweigher also generates a tremendous amount of data that we can use to optimize our average fills upstream in the production process."
In addition to the METTLER TOLEDO checkweigher and vision systems, the Seguin plant also deploys a METTLER TOLEDO Safeline metal detection system to inspect the bulk product before it makes its way to the filling stations to ensure optimal food safety and quality control at that critical stage.
"We also have a METTLER TOLEDO metal detector at the original smaller facility, which has held up extremely well under very stressful high-speed, highmoisture conditions for many years to help us maintain our high product quality and protect our brand reputation. We buy our key raw ingredients worldwide so we have to be ready for anything," says Latka, explaining that all the data related to incoming product is also entered into the plant's product management system and, ultimately, transferred to final QR code appearing in the product label.
"We are really grateful to METTLER TOLEDO and Shawpak (METTLER TOLEDO's nationwide sales agent for product inspection equipment) for what was really a flawless execution. It's always difficult to integrate new equipment into an existing technology like the Langguth labeler, but METTLER TOLEDO engineers did a great job of integrating the vision systems right where it made the most sense to place them," says Latka, also extending credit to his own staff for making the perfectly fitting brackets to facilitate precise mounting of the cameras.
"It was a real joy to see our own people executing all the prep work so well, that when the METTLER TOLEDO technical staff arrived on-site, everything was all done and dusted in just one day," he beams. "As it happens, there are new nutrition labeling requirements to be introduced soon in both the U.S. and Canada that will make us design new labels for our products," Latka relates, "and as we do that we plan to have all of our Crofter's brands to carry our QR codes on the new labels."
Latka estimates the company produces about 60 of its current SKUs under its own flagship Crofter's Premium Spread, Crofter's Just Fruit Spread and Crofter's Superfruit Spread brands – each one carrying USDA organic and Non-GMO Project certifications validating the products' purity – and says he looks forward to converting the company's entire branded portfolio to the QR traceability system.
"We opted to do this on the Crofter's brand first in order to prove the benefits of this technology to our private-label customers and see if they would like to adopt it themselves," Latka says. "I believe that doing this underlines our company's commitment to seriously addressing the issues of food safety and traceability to satisfy the ever-growing requirements of our retail customers across North America," says Latka.
"Moreover, it also validates our company's corporate culture and philosophy built on continuous improvement," Latka concludes. "And because there is only so much continuous improvement we can achieve on our own, at some point further continuous improvement can only be attained by implementing new technology from our trusted technology partners like METTLER TOLEDO."