Sorter helps kettle chip manufacturers automate their inspection process

Nov. 19, 2008

Key Technology introduces Optyx sorters designed specifically for kettle-style potato chips. Featuring a camera and lighting configuration to sense opacity and subtle color differences, the Optyx sorters identify and remove objectionable clusters of chips stuck together as well as defects and foreign material. With Optyx, kettle chip manufacturers can now automate their inspection process to improve product quality and food safety while reducing labor costs.

Historically, kettle chip processors have had to rely on hand sorting because automated inspection systems could not detect problematic clusters, which are common to kettle chip production. To address this sorting challenge, Key modified its Optyx sorters with an off-belt scanning zone that measures opacity to detect and remove clusters of kettle chips in addition to standard on-belt scanning that identifies defects and foreign material.

Removing clusters of kettle chips from the production line enhances product quality and maximizes food safety. While two-chip clusters are acceptable to some customers, thicker clusters are usually not. More importantly, thick clusters tend to retain moisture, which can cause the entire contents of the package to spoil, creating a serious health risk to consumers and a liability concern to processors. 

Optyx for kettle chips features two scanning zones. An on-belt scan, identical to the inspection typically used by other potato chip manufacturers, uses a proprietary color camera to identify millions of subtle color differences to detect defects such as chips with green spots, bruises and overcooked black spots. An optional top-mounted laser can be added to maximize detection and removal of foreign material. An off-belt, in-air scan uses a bottom-mounted color camera, no foreground lighting and high-intensity background lighting to inspect product opacity. With opacity inspection, objectionable clusters of multiple chips stuck together are easily detected and ejected from the production line.

As product passes through the sorter, it is scanned while still on the belt. Product is then launched off the end of the Optyx belt for in-air viewing. Using Key’s proprietary image processing technology, the sorter quickly analyzes the images, comparing each object to previously defined accept/reject standards. When a cluster, defective product or foreign material is identified, the system activates the close-coupled high-speed ejector system, which is made up a series of air jets spaced six millimeters apart that span the width of the system. While the defective object is still air borne, the air jets pinpoint the object to reject and remove it from the acceptable product stream.

Optyx 3000 features a 24-inch (610-millimeter) scan width to handle up to 2750 pounds (1250 kilograms) of kettle chips per hour.  For higher volume processors, Key offers Optyx 6000. With a 48-inch (1220-millimeter) scan width, Optyx 6000 achieves production rates of up to 5500 pounds (2500 kilograms) of kettle chips per hour.

The icon-based graphical user interface (GUI) is easy to learn and use, reducing operator training and simplifying optimum operation. Product settings can be stored and retrieved for fast product changeover. The GUI can reside locally on the sorter and can be accessed remotely via network or Internet. Sophisticated real-time and on-demand diagnostics help avoid costly downtime.