12 Jul 2024

Maximising space on food production lines

Fortress created the multi-lane, multi-aperture configuration to help food processors save line space and reduce waste.

In the article below, Jodie Curry, Commercial Manager at Fortress Technology Europe, highlights the benefits of optimising food production facilities using space-saving, smaller-footprint inspection solutions. Factory real estate prices are on the rise, ingredient and overhead costs are escalating, and food safety regulations are becoming stricter

In the 2023 UK Food & Drink Federation State of the Industry report, changes in underlying production costs meant that over 60% of processors said they cancelled or put investments on pause. With innovation being cited as key to future competitiveness, 52% of those surveyed said developing new manufacturing processes was a top priority1.

Given that rental for commercial prime real estate in the UK increased by another 4.3% in 20222, every centimetre of floor and vertical space in food processing facilities carries economic worth. Alongside adhering to stringent food safety Codes of Practice, manufacturers are having to deliver products faster. Utilising the entire factory footprint and adopting high-speed, compact and multi-lane inspection systems can be crucial to maximising space while optimising food safety and quality.

Despite the potential for cost savings, inefficient plant layouts are often cited by logistics experts as the most overlooked method to increase production capacity and boost profits. In the food manufacturing industry, each square foot can be categorised into value-adding, value-supporting and wasted space.

Machinery is value-adding, generating revenue by transforming raw materials into finished products. Space dedicated to maintenance of machinery and maximising uptime is value supporting. However, inefficient production workflows and under-utilising space is considered wasted profit potential. This can often be attributed to piecemeal rather than considered machinery investments.

By maximising every unit of floorspace, processors can increase production capacity and add growth value. These investments in space-saving, efficient inspection units also support expansion without having to increase physical footprints or employ more workers to oversee production.

For snack and food-to-go producers, high-speed packing, weight, and fill systems are essential to generating more products to meet consumer demands. However, given the fast-paced nature of these processing lines, inspection systems need to match upstream and inline speeds to avoid production accumulations, machine stoppages, and potentially higher waste.

Additionally, packing and processing lines must also accommodate multiple products in a growing assortment of sizes, packaging, private label, and branded products.

One of the ways in which companies can save line space is to opt for a combination checkweighing and metal detection or X-ray system. Mounting these systems on the same conveyor offers in a far smaller footprint than combining two stand-alone systems would occupy.

Avoidable inefficiencies are where food processors can make the biggest difference. For example, using automated calibration of machinery helps to minimise repeat stoppages and reduce start up waste. Processors can also utilise communications devices. Connecting upstream and end of line systems in particular can limit bottlenecks from occurring and good food being diverted into waste.

Another way to save footprint is to channel multiple lanes through a single metal detector. However, larger apertures mean sensitivity may be sacrificed. Any reject system will remove an entire line of product across all of the lanes being checked, which creates unnecessary waste. Positioning individual metal detectors over each lane results in more systems to maintain.

Conversely, a multi-aperture design has multiple lanes travelling through a single detector body with multiple aperture openings, inspecting and independently rejecting contaminated packs. Each aperture is much smaller, with less overall product effect and more consistent product presentation. This results in better performance and substantial reduction in waste for every contamination event. Consolidating this multi-aperture technology into one unit can also reduce the equipment footprint by over 50% and minimise overall installation costs. It also helps to optimise TCO, as maintenance and demand for replacement parts can be significantly lower.

Borgesuis Bakery was one of the earliest companies to install a space-saving, multi-lane, Fortress twin-aperture metal detector. From the start, the system gave the bakery the capacity to quality check approximately 3,600 loaves per hour. To keep pace with their growing number of orders, minimal floorspace prohibited the industrial bakery from running two conveyors close together.

Similarly, a large North American dairy plant specified a dual-lane, combination metal detection and checkweighing unit to inspect cheese products tightly spaced together. Due to lack of factory floorspace, these two companies both required a more efficient, smaller-footprint machine.

The lanes, metal detector apertures, checkweighers and reject devices are programmed to run independently. For both manufacturers, this enables two different product lines, pack sizes, and SKUs to run simultaneously on the adjacent conveyors. Rejected products are separated to reduce waste and prevent false rejects. Most importantly, the compact inspection systems were installed alongside existing processing equipment without having to completely restructure the plant layout.

Compared to installing separate machines, these innovative inspection solutions typically double a processors’ inspection throughput in a machine footprint that is usually 50% smaller. If one lane drops offline for any reason, the remaining lanes can continue to run independently. Fortress has engineered these systems in 2, 3, 4 and 5 lane configurations.

Curry concludes “Multi-lane, multi-aperture and combination inspection systems are proven to save space and reduce waste. Employing this technology ensures a streamlined production flow with comprehensive quality control. For food manufacturers facing factory footprint challenges, multi-lane systems offer multiple cost and value-adding benefits, without compromising on any performance criteria, space and inspection sensitivity.

1 https://www.fdf.org.uk/globalassets/business-insights-and-economics/fdf-state-of-industry-survey/si-q1-2023.pdf

2 CBRE Prime Rent & Yield Monitor