Escalating manufacturing costs are proving a challenge to food manufacturers across Europe. Rob Rogers, Senior Advisor Food Safety & Regulation of Mettler-Toledo outlines how product inspection technology can help to mitigate the impact of inflationary pressure.

European food manufacturers and packaging companies don’t have to look far to find bleak economic news. Inflation is rising across the continent, with September 2022 hitting 10%1, up from April’s record high of 7.4%2.

Nor do they have to look far to find major reasons for the upwards spiral. Russia’s war in Ukraine has caused massive disruption and soaring energy costs. Prices for raw materials such as grain and wheat have also escalated sharply due to the conflict.

Looking ahead, the EU’s Winter 2022 interim forecast3 predicts inflation will become more manageable in 2023, at 3.2% for the entire community (2.7% for the euro zone). Even so, amidst such uncertainty, rising input costs are likely to be a fact of life for food manufacturers in both the short and medium term.

Focusing on solutions

Given the situation, how can food manufacturers look to combat rising input costs? One way is to focus their minds upon efficiency, productivity and waste reduction, and in this quest, product inspection technology will be a valuable tool. Everyone appreciates the importance of product inspection systems such as checkweighing, metal detection and x-ray inspection for the purposes of complying with product quality and safety demands. There is another dimension to their purpose, though – one that is related to boosting productivity and controlling costs.

Accurate checkweighing, for example, can ensure tighter production tolerances and reduce waste, helping food manufacturers to get the maximum yield out of expensive ingredients and raw materials, improving cost performance. Checkweighing, with the correct controls, also helps food manufacturers to meet weights and measures legislation.

An ideal set-up would see a checkweigher equipped with highly accurate Electro-Magnetic Force Restoration (EMFR) load cells used in conjunction with feedback control and statistics software. This delivers precision weighing at high speeds and enables manufacturers to set precise fill levels for a pack to save raw material. Feedback control monitors the fill level and automatically communicates with the filling machine to ensure tight control. The statistics software records the fill level of each pack for audit purposes, so that the manufacturer has proof of compliance with relevant weighing regulations, such as the Measuring Instruments Directive (MID).

The potential savings from operating in this way are substantial. For example, using a Mettler-Toledo C-Series checkweighing system with FlashCell™ technology, a production line manufacturing one hundred 1kg packs of flour per minute across three eight-hour shifts per day could save almost 5kg of flour every day, if operating within strict MID regulations. If the manufacturer is not required to comply with MID regulations, the saving could be 1,170kg per day, based on a 10g per pack allowed underfill. In the course of a 300-day production year, this equates to more than 350,000kg of flour, costing more than €185,000 at a wholesale price of €0.53 per kg. The message is that on a fast-running production line, being able to set tight fill levels can equate to substantial raw material savings over the course of a production run.

Inspection technologies

Modern metal detection systems incorporate numerous features specifically developed to help users to reduce manufacturing costs. Among these are facilities such as Reduced Test Mode and Automatic Test Systems, which enhance productivity by requiring fewer or less labour-intensive production stops. This improves productivity, reduces downtime and reduces waste.

In addition, food manufacturers can use modern metal detection technology with product “clustering” software, which enables multiple different products to be inspected on a single setting, so there is less need for costly product changeovers and stoppages.

Gravity fall and pipeline metal detection systems are particularly useful at the raw ingredients stage of food manufacturing, inspecting bulk volumes of material such as granules and powders, or slurries and pastes respectively, at high speeds. These also incorporate high-speed reject devices that efficiently remove metal contaminated ingredients from the production line.

Similarly, x-ray inspection can also be used with bulk volumes of unpackaged product, removing contaminated ingredients before further value-adding processes are carried out to manufacture the product. This can save a great deal of waste and cost further along the line, reducing the numbers of manufactured products that need to be rejected, as well as the time and labour costs involved in dealing with such production interruptions.

Even with packaged products, x-ray inspection can also save costs, by inspecting and rejecting single contaminated products, instead of having to reject entire multi-packs when only part of the pack is contaminated. As well as the food waste here, there is packaging material waste too – another input cost that manufacturers need to keep control of.

Energy consumption and dtigitalisation

Two further aspects should be highlighted. The first of these is in the critical area of energy consumption. Investing in the latest product inspection machinery delivers an immediate and ongoing benefit for users, through these being highly energy efficient. For example, the latest generation of x-ray systems from Mettler-Toledo Safeline use as little as a fifth of the energy consumption rates of other solutions. We calculate that, based on a saving of 5 kWh per day and running 300 days a year, a manufacturer could save 1.5 MWh per year with a single x-ray machine, thereby reducing energy bills and enhancing the company’s environmental credentials.

The other factor to consider is the impact of automatic collection and storage of production line data using the latest product inspection systems. Manual, paper-based collection of this data requires an employee to spend time that could be used more profitably on other tasks. It is also prone to mistakes, and there is a danger of records being lost or misplaced.

Compare this to automatic data collection, which is always accessible, accurate and up-to-date, and can be trusted as a basis for standards compliance. It can also provide insight as to how and where efficiency and productivity can be further improved, with potential for time and cost savings.

While it is true that digitalisation is not without its own costs in terms of investment in new or upgraded systems, the potential efficiencies that can be gained from the latest technology result in a comparatively quick return on investment. Additionally, improved maintenance and support provision leads to reduced downtime and more hours of optimal machine performance.

In conclusion, the battle against rising costs is a constant one for food manufacturers, and this year it has certainly become even more pressing. Increasingly, they need to find smart solutions, and a renewed look at product inspection technology can certainly help them to mitigate spiralling manufacturing costs. 

Join us on a live webinar on the 17th November to discover how product inspection technology can help to combat rising food manufacturing costs. Register here:

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Editor: Kiran Grewal