It almost goes without saying that we expect the food we eat and the drugs we take to be entirely safe. Indeed, when something does contaminate the food or pharmaceutical supply, it makes headlines because it is such a rare and shocking occurrence that anything is ever found less than completely safe for consumption. Indeed, according to the Center for Disease Control, “the food supply in the United States is one of the safest in the world.” One company that helps ensure the highest quality of purity and quality standards in the food and pharmaceutical industries is Mettler-Toledo Safeline, a manufacturer of metal detection and X-ray equipment based in Tampa, Fla.
The company is part of the Product Inspection Division within Mettler-Toledo, a global leader in precision measurement instruments used in laboratory, retail and industrial applications. Mettler-Toledo Safeline focuses exclusively on quality assurance solutions for the food and pharmaceutical industries.
These days, when you think X-ray and metal detection, what usually comes to mind is airport security. However, these are different devices from equipment that makes sure there’s nothing unusual in your bag of frozen food or bottle of aspirin.
“Our metal detection and X-ray equipment are much lower wattage than what is used in an airport,” Oscar Jeter, national sales manager, points out. “You need something high powered to see through the eight to 10-inch walls of a suitcase or a trunk. Our customers deal in much smaller packaging which can be inspected at much lower power levels.”
There are several advantages to lower power. “One, you get better contrast. The types of things you’re looking for in food and pharmaceutical processing are small, sometimes granular in size. The guy in the airport is looking for large items; fine detail isn’t all that important,” Jeter explains. “Second, it’s safer, and that’s important for our customers for obvious reasons. Third, the machines last longer. A 10-watt light bulb has a longer life span than a 500-watt bulb because it consumes considerably less energy. Same principle applies to our metal detection and X-ray equipment, which is why they have such a long life expectancy. We’ve got machines in the field that are 15 years old and still running as effectively as the day they were installed.”
All metal detection units feature advanced, microprocessor technology with digital signal processing to maximize detection sensitivity while minimizing false rejects. They can also be networked. The company’s latest metal detector is the PowerPhasePRO, which can detect metal contaminants up to 40 percent smaller than other metal detectors, which Safeline claims as a new industry standard in contaminant detectability and overall product safety.
According to a company press release, “The PowerPhasePRO is available in two- and three-frequency models to make product changeover a snap and offers one pass automatic product set up to get line up and running quickly. The unit’s full color, operator-intuitive LCD touch screen greatly simplifies training and operation while Ethernet connectivity allows remote monitoring, operation, and data collection. The PowerPhasePRO is available in an IP69K washdown stainless steel case or in a white painted case for non-washdown applications. It is available as a stand-alone metal detector head or as a fully-integrated package that includes a precision-engineered heavy duty conveyor and a variety of automatic reject mechanism options.”
Jeter notes that all Safeline products have 24/7 telephone support and that after sales service is provided with field engineers strategically located within driving distance of most customers. Products are sold through manufacturer representatives who specialize in the food and pharmaceutical industries.
Best in Class
“While we do periodically provide upgrades to existing equipment, we don’t obsolete equipment just to try to sell something new,” Jeter points out. “In fact, we still service the first machine we ever made. Our commitment to quality and service is our competitive differentiator. Customers don’t buy our equipment because it is necessarily the least expensive, they buy it because it’s the best there is for what they need to do.”
Metal detectors and X-rays use different technologies and are used for different purposes. Obviously, metal detectors
are looking for metal contaminants – including ferrous, non-ferrous, and stainless steel contaminants – whereas X-rays will
pick up on not only metals, but stone, calcified bone, glass and dense plastics. Most X-ray equipment can also detect defects, identify missing or misshapen parts, and verify the correct amount of product in individual compartments of a ulti-compartment package.
“Basically, you can do more with X-rays, particularly if your application requires shape recognition,” Jeter says. “However, if your main concern is you want to be sure bits of blades or other processing instruments made out of metal haven’t gotten
into a food container, then you might be more interested in a metal detector.”
If the application requires only the detection of any type of metal, a metal detector rather than an X-ray may still be suitable. One recently introduced product, the GravityFlowHD metal detector, distinguishes non-ferrous and stainless steel materials as well as ferrous, used in high volume dry processing of bulk powdered products. According to a company press release, “Constructed of stainless steel with a user-friendly, washdown-rated control panel, this detector enables simplified operation and maintains a stringent inspection standard. The system also offers simple in-line testing and performance validation…Due to the GravityFlowHD’s compact design, it fits easily into most line configurations. Safeline’s patented ‘Zero Metal Free Zone’ (ZMFZ) technology allows both a reduction in the length of the infeed pipe and the reject mechanism to be positioned close to the metal detector without metallic interference or false rejects. Safeline’s unique Sealed-Tite ‘cowbell’ style diverter reject incorporates high-speed pneumatics with a cushioned cylinder. This highly efficient reject style minimizes system height and prevents leakage through the reject port when inspecting dusty product such as flour. It also enables large granular items to be inspected without danger of blockage or wear. The complete mechanism can be quickly dismantled without tools for inspection and cleaning.”
Both types of equipment are built in the United Kingdom; metal detectors in Manchester and X-ray machines in Royston. An assembly plant in Tampa then adds a transport system, such as a conveyer belt, on which the product to be examined passes.
There has been some recent news about food contamination, and the concern for safety is in the forefront of consumers’ minds. Now more than ever, food and pharmaceutical companies must look for ways to improve their quality control systems to protect their brand. Safeline’s customers rely on Safeline’s state-of-the-art equipment to assure that their products are safe and of the highest quality – offering them brand protection and ultimately keeping consumers safe.