Confectioner looks to vision to improve automated processes

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Fazer Confectionery has installed a vision system at its factory in Vantaa, Finland to improve efficiency of automated cleaning of crates used for storing chocolate confectionary products.

The Fazer Confectionery factory produces millions of kilos of chocolate every year. The company introduced two Imprint Verifier machine vision systems from Orbis, which uses the In-Sight smart camera from Cognex, to inspect grey crates used for wrapping chocolate.

Even though the crates are washed after use, some chocolate stains may persist. Washed crates used to be inspected with a camera that, on detecting a stained crate, returned the entire pallet back to the wash. With the Imprint Verifier, stained crates can be singled out from the line and washed.

'The number of crates returning to wash has reduced significantly. We wash roughly 10 per cent of what we used to, now that we have been able to eliminate unnecessary washing,' said production manager Eino Määttä from Fazer Confectionery. Washing is now much more efficient and the saved time can be allocated to other tasks. Unnecessary washing was an environmental load and targeted washing with fewer chemicals also saves costs.

At the core of Imprint Verifier is the In-Sight vision system, a smart camera from Cognex. The system is custom made for the food industry, programmed with application specific parameters and equipped with the necessary casing, electronics, touch screen, cables and sensors.

In addition to crate inspection, the Imprint Verifier is used to provide quality checks on the product. Round Pätkis bars, for instance, are an awkward shape and prone to falling over on the line, in which case it ends up between the seaming chisels in the Flowpack packaging machine. As the result, the package is either left open or some chocolate gets caught in the seam. In a fast line with around 320 bars per minute, a human eye is not sharp enough to spot faulty seams.

The Imprint Verifier images each wrapped bar against a backlight. Each image is then measured, and excessive thickness of the wrapper ends reveals faulty seams. 'The greatest challenge has been adjusting the communications between the Imprint I/O and the mechanical conveyor to the high line speed,' said Jari Koskinen, account manager at Orbis.

Fazer Confectionery has several applications for machine vision, but thanks to the flexible software and accurate lighting design, all of them can be realized with a single system. Moreover, Imprint Verifier configuration is developing continuously. The latest improvement is embedding the touch screen into the door of the casing that protects the electronic components, which enhances usability substantially at the production line.