Keeping the Metal Out of Food

Metal detectors are the final defense as Quali Tech blends flavors for food processors.

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Quali Tech (www.qualitechco.com), a maker of flavor particulates, supplies food processing companies around the world. Bringing taste, color and texture to a variety of bakery, snack and dairy products requires the highest standards of product quality and food safety.

“Quality and safety are our primary objectives,” says Mike Hodgens, corporate vice president of operations at the Chaska, Minn.-based company. “Our products have an amplifying effect. One truckload of our product becomes many truckloads of our customers’ products. So, we’re very careful to deliver only the highest quality product.” 

A Safeline metal detector is the final quality check, just before packaging, in the process at Quali Tech.

Most of the company’s processes involve grinding and blending of ingredients from a number of sources. Although Quali Tech’s machinery is stainless steel, both ferrous and nonferrous metals can show up in the ingredients. So a key element of its quality and safety efforts are metal detectors. “They’re at the end of the line, the last quality check before our product goes into its container,” says Hodgens.

“Above everything else, we measure the success of our metal detectors based on the production of safe product. But there are other factors too, like maintenance and sanitation,” he adds.

Quali Tech produces hundreds of products on each of its production lines, which handle up to one ton of product per hour. To eliminate possible cross-contamination, workers disassemble and fully sanitize the metal detectors during product changeovers.

“We have purchased metal detectors from a number of different manufacturers over the years,” says Hodgens, and at least one is still in use. “We had issues with some of the designs, and the one required a lot more maintenance than we had expected.

“But we also had one from Safeline, purchased in 1995. It was like an island of sanity in all the chaos. Because it gave us no problems, it wasn’t top of mind. It took us a while to realize just how reliably it operated.”

So last year, Quali Tech installed its third metal detector from Metter-Toledo Safeline. The purchased Gravity FlowHD detects and rejects all tramp metal contamination from dry, free-flowing bulk product lines.

The unit features patented “Zero Metal Free Zone” (ZMFZ) technology, which reduces the length of the infeed pipe and allows the reject device to be positioned close to the detector without interference or false rejects.

The ZMFZ technology minimizes the overall height of the system while maximizing detection sensitivity. A “cowbell” style reject valve, which incorporates high-speed pneumatics with a cushioned cylinder, assures accurate removal of contamination while minimizing system leakage.

“The reject mechanism on the Safeline unit is very quiet and smooth. It’s a very good design,” explains Hodgens. “On most other systems, the reject device uses a lot of force to react quickly. That force translates to noise and vibration, which impacts the ability of the detector to remain stable over time. In contrast, the Safeline system is consistent and reliable.

“Everybody from maintenance to production to quality assurance knows they don’t need to worry about the Safeline metal detector.”

The ease and speed of the sanitation routine help maximize production throughput while maintaining the highest product quality. The Gravity FlowHD metal detectors they selected are rated to NEMA 4X to make the sanitation process easier.

Hodgens says he believes the Safeline units offer the best detection sensitivity, as well as maintenance-free reliability and easy sanitation. “Typically, there is a tradeoff between sensitivity and reliability but not with this equipment. The Safeline metal detectors are very unusual — we get a more durable unit that also performs more consistently at high levels.”

Quali Tech has been operating its first Safeline metal detector 24 hours a day, five days a week for 12 years. During that time, the company made only one service call request, and that was their own doing — a forklift operator ran into the keyboard. “It’s remarkable. I can’t think of another machine of that complexity with that level of reliability,” notes Hodgens.

The service that Quali Tech has gotten from Mettler-Toledo Safeline and their rep, Westlake Packaging, has been equally impressive. “Earlier this year, demand for our products was increasing faster than we expected and so we accelerated the time table for adding a new line. We needed a new metal detector quickly and couldn’t wait for one to be manufactured. We called our rep, Mark Luetmer. We were very specific about what we wanted. He dropped everything to make it happen and found a unit in stock. One week after that first phone call, we issued a purchase order, and three days later, we had the metal detector.”

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