Inspection systems: your best practice guide
To compete well, quality is king in manufacturing. But unless you’re producing hand-crafted bespoke furniture, the demand for more products, more quickly means it’s just not feasible to rely on human inspection. As good as your staff are, they can’t inspect goods to the high standards that your customers and end consumers expect.
Enter automated inspection systems. They have your QC/QA under control, and also considerably decrease operational expenses.
But not all inspection systems are created equal. Tiny elements can have big impacts on efficiency. Here’s an expert guide to the inspection best practices every manufacturer should know.
You may have been interested to read before that inspection systems can also considerably decrease operational expenses. That’s because they optimise plant efficiency and give you valuable manufacturing intelligence that you can use to improve your processes and products — which will be music to the hears of those who are into “lean”. (For a host of information on lean, see here.)
So what do you need? A metal detector, checkweigher, scanner, X-ray or vision inspection? Once, you have found the right technology for your application, the next big step is to consider integrating it into your production line and getting the most out of your investment. Here are 10 points to guide you.
- Packaging line design. First up, design your packaging line so you can minimise the level of inspection needed. This means choosing the right equipment, maintaining the equipment, managing your processes, considering how product changeovers are managed, and more. And that’s all before you consider an inspection system.
- Task fit. Begin by considering whether the inspection system fits your needs. Does it include features that will pay back and give you the best possible return on investment (ROI)? Consider future requirements too, and think about whether the equipment is scalable — this will ensure it continues to meet your needs as the business grows. (You may find this piece interesting on how to calculate the ROI of your checkweigher.)
- Inspect close to the end. Inspection equipment can be used for process control and should be installed at appropriate check points on the production line. If resources are limited, then inspection should be the last process before the product leaves your premises for quality control (QC). So wherever possible, install your inspection system at the end of the line.
- Calibrate and train. Most inspection solutions need to be “taught” what they have to inspect and given clear tolerance limits. Make sure this is done for every SKU.
- Understand compliance requirements. One of the issues with coding simply comes down to putting it in the wrong place and not respecting the quiet zones. Vision cameras reading 1D and 2D barcodes are very accurate these days — but only if the code is large enough and in the right location. (See more on next generation 2D coding.) With weights, know the compliance requirements and reduce your give-away. Speak to your technology supplier for recommendations. (You can find more information on printing barcodes in our FAQs, while this blog looks further at 2D codes and this gives a good basic explanation about checkweighing and give-away.)
- Know the limitations. Different inspection systems require certain conditions to operate at their optimum. Metal detectors are very sensitive to metal, vibration, electrical noise, salt and moisture, so keep these factors in mind when implementing your system. For checkweighers, put scales in an enclosure, as even the smallest factor (such as blowing fans) can affect the results. Your inspection equipment supplier will provide expert advice on which system is right for you, and how to install it effectively in your line.
- Train your staff. Work with the supplier to ensure that your employees are trained to operate the system and get the most from it. The good news is modern inspection systems feature simplified operation and easy-to-use interfaces to reduce operator errors and time taken for staff training. Create detailed one-point lessons with problematic issues for your line inspections. Get operators to perform inspections a couple of times during their shift and ensure supervisors collect reports and verify that the correct action has been carried out.
- Clean the line. Dust, oil and residual materials can affect your inspection systems, so ensure the line is cleaned properly before and after operation. For example, make sure there is no dust and debris around your checkweigher scales. You might want to choose a system with modular construction and hygienically designed stainless steel equipment for quick and effective wash down.
- Go for local service. As with every part of your automated production line, you need to ensure you can get support when you need it. A system that does not need special service tools or equipment is more cost-effective to run in the long term. (Here are 5 tips for choosing the right provider when going local.)
- Get it right, take your time. Ultimately, the more time you spend getting the installation right up front, the better the inspection system will work for your business.
Inspection systems vary depending upon the business, the line, the products and the need, so there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to implementing an inspection system. That said, basing your investigation on the essential points above will see you benefit from the best results.
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