Quality Assurance For Beverage Manufacturers (Part 1)
The cost of defective products can be high: a recall is expensive, and the damage to brand integrity can be catastrophic. In the competitive beverage market, consistent product presentation keeps customers from abandoning the brand. As production speeds increase, the accuracy of manual inspection decreases; meanwhile, the cost of manual inspection continues to increase. As a result, beverage and bottling manufacturers are increasingly turning to vision inspection systems in order to monitor the quality and security of their products.
The global beverage manufacturing and bottling industry is one of the largest and most efficient manufacturing processes in the world. Advances in production technology have allowed the rate of production in the beverage industry to expand rapidly, driving manufacturers to keep pace with demand. This in turn has made the beverage market more competitive. Beverage manufacturers in some market categories are forced to fight for a smaller market, while manufacturers in other categories scramble to claim as many new customers as they can before the new category becomes saturated.
In a tightly-contested market, keeping customers becomes, for some market categories, a larger priority than attracting new ones. The key to retaining customers is consistency consumers will not continue to buy products if the fill levels vary from bottle to bottle, or the labels are sloppily applied. Realizing this, beverage manufacturers have tightened their quality control requirements. In order to meet these new standards while still maintaining rapid production speeds, many beverage manufacturers are turning to machine vision inspection as the best method to maintain package quality.
In addition to the competitive benefits that a vision inspection system can bring, a vision inspection system will also help beverage manufacturers remain compliant to industry and government safety standards. A true turnkey vision inspection solution will not just inspect cosmetic features such as label position and expiration date, it will also perform inspections for chipped tops, debris in the bottle prior to filling, improperly applied caps and fill levels all defects that if discovered on retailer shelves can lead to product recalls, fines and government sanctions
- Today’s Beverage Market
Many segments of the beverage market have experienced little or no growth in recent years. While some segments premium beverages and energy drinks in particular have experienced growth, others have seen a shrinking market. A reduction in sales volume for soft drinks and juices (Especially Orange Juice) has sent manufacturers scrambling to find ways to maintain their market share, developing new offerings to attempt to attract new customers while holding on to the customers they already have. In these stagnant market categories, maintaining the current customer base is more immediately important than luring other companies’ business away.
In this situation, consistency is the key: consumers want to be reassured that their beverages are not going to contain any surprises. If a consumer sees a row of beverages on the shelf, and each one has a different level of liquid, they will view those beverages as being of a lower quality than a row of beverages with consistent fill levels. Retailers may not even bother to stock products that have obvious defects such as under-filled bottles or the wrong label and any loss of shelf space increases the odds that a consumer may fail to find the product they were initially looking for, give up, and switch brands for the time being and that temporary change in brand losing shelf space means losing customers that may never return. Product recalls are nightmare scenarios for manufacturers; the resulting loss of shelf space makes it that much easier for a competitor to capture consumers left looking for their beverage of choice.
Manufacturers hoping to maintain their market share have two important goals in mind: make a product that looks better than their competitors and keep defective products from reaching retailer shelves. Ensuring that a product’s label is applied properly, text is readable and caps are properly applied is the difference between maintaining the current customer base and a potential loss of shelf space to a competitor. Implementing a quality assurance program, however, can be expensive. Manual inspection methods are cost-prohibitive, especially in Asian markets where the cost of labor has increased dramatically in the last year.* Even worse, a manual product inspection program will have trouble keeping up with ever-increasing production speeds, meaning that the benefits of implementing such a program would be minimal. The risk of defective products slipping by inspectors is too high to make manual inspection worthwhile.
As a result, beverage manufacturers are turning toward automated vision inspection programs for their quality assurance needs. Automated vision inspection systems can perform high-speed, accurate inspections of beverage containers for a fraction of the cost of maintaining a manual inspection program.
*India, Indonesia and Vietnam all saw salaries increase by 10% or more across the board. China also came close to 10% with a growth rate of 8.7% (Statistics Courtesy of the Hay Group)
- Implementing Vision Inspection
Beverage manufacturers who choose to install a vision inspection system on their production line have three options when implementing the system:
- The Do-it-yourself Method
- Systems Integrator
- Vision Inspection Solution Provider
Do it Yourself
Manufacturers who have a skilled engineering staff may decide to design and implement their own vision inspectionsystem. Parts are purchased from various vendors and assembled by in-house technicians into a functioning system at a fraction of the cost of hiring outside help. The drawback to this approach is that while buying parts directly costs less, the cost in time spent researching components, designing the system and fine-tuning the final product quickly makes this method more expensive. According to the Automated Imaging Association the technology will only be as good as the people installing it. A team with little or no experience in putting together a vision inspection system will produce poor results. An experienced vision inspection provider, on the other hand, will design and implement a system that meets manufacturer expectations without diverting company resources—and a good vision inspection provider will create a system that exceeds expectations.
Work with a Systems Integrator
Working with a systems integrator is an easier and in the long run more cost-effective, method. A systems integrator will design, build and install a vision inspection system from the ground up, leaving manufacturers free to focus on production schedules rather than diverting resources. Once the system is installed, however, any problems must be handled by the manufacturer. If components go bad, manufacturers must effect repairs on their own, which can be an issue if an experienced service department does not already exist. Ideally, a manufacturer who chooses to use a systems integrator will have at least one expert in vision technology on staff to deal with any problems that may arise during the life of the system. The cost of keeping an expert on staff must be factored into the total cost of implementing the vision inspection program.
Work with a Vision Inspection Solution Provider
Partnering with a vision inspection solution provider is the best method: instead of a customized solution that takes extra time to design and implement, a vision inspection solution provider will have standardized inspection systems which can be quickly assembled and sent out to meet the needs of manufacturers. Along with a pre-designed system and a thorough set of user documentation, vision inspection solution providers will also have the knowledge and experience required to design a complete vision inspection program, ensuring manufacturers will get the most out of their vision system. Additionally, vision solution providers possess an experienced service staff to train new users on the system and provide support to manufacturers regarding any unforeseen issues arising after installation. With a dedicated service staff, vision solution providers are able to quickly replace faulty components, and offer service plans to help keep manufacturers’ vision inspection systems running at peak efficiency. An experienced vision inspection solution provider allows manufacturers to implement a comprehensive vision inspection program that will meet or exceed their quality assurance goals.