Combi systems provide space savings as firms operate in ‘new normal’

Companies can save line space by choosing a combined checkweighing and metal detection system

THE Covid-19 crisis has helped drive compact inspection systems to become the ‘new normal’, according to Fortress Technology.

The machinery specialist revealed the pandemic is pushing demand for space-optimised design and remote diagnostics.

In production and packaging facilities, establishing new practices to allow for distance and physical barriers between employees has been a huge challenge – especially in sites where space is at a premium.

Fortress explained that rather than reconfiguring production line layouts, which can be hugely expensive, companies have been adopting measures such as altering shift patterns to help keep workers safe.

As factories adapt to these new ways of working, Phil Brown, MD of Fortress Technology, said he expects equipment compactness to become even more important.

“From a factory floor perspective, adapting to Covid-19 is all about creating space,” he explained. 

“Smaller footprint equipment creates more space for people to move around without being restricted to certain pathways.”

One way companies can save line space is to opt for a combined checkweighing and metal detection system – mounting these systems on the same conveyor to achieve a smaller footprint. 

Combi metal detector/checkweighers are not a new concept but following the initial Covid-19 outbreak, Fortress unveiled its first ever offering in the space under the Raptor marque. Developed in collaboration with Sparc Systems, the integrated system is described as delivering ‘hygienic and user-friendly’ operation on a compact footprint. 

Fortress said the machine’s footprint has been minimised via several design features including ‘clever configuration’ of the reject mechanisms, which means they occupy 50% less space than a conventional design.  

“You can’t get away from the fact you need separate rejects for weighing and metal as the rework required for rejected products is very different,” Brown added. “However, we have designed the system with opposing rather than end to end rejects, reducing the length of the reject system from one metre to 500mm. 500mm might not sound like a lot of space, but it can be the difference between a safe working space and one that doesn’t meet requirements. Also, if you equate it to the amount you are paying per sq ft, it translates to a tangible cost saving.” 

Another way in which the Raptor Combi system is said to offer space-saving advantages is through the flexibility this platform offers. Whilst Fortress manufactures a standard Raptor system for customers wanting a short lead-time system for handling products up to 400mm in size and up to 8kg in weight, it will also manufacture custom systems for smaller products and space-restricted areas.

“A lot of our competitors will just produce a standard system that can accommodate any product up to 500mm,” Brown explained. “However, if you are running a 250mm product, you don’t need such a long system. In that situation, we can engineer the system down to 1.2m instead of supplying a standard system that is 2m in length.” 

One scenario where space-optimised combi systems can excel is on ready meal lines, where multiple components are added manually. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has also accelerated adoption of remote access functionality on equipment – something Brown stated had previously been “under-utilised”.

With consumer shopping habits changing, some areas of the food industry have faced increased demand. Issues with equipment have had to be resolved ASAP, with minimal disruption and person-to-person contact. 

In these circumstances, Fortress explained that remote troubleshooting is the ideal solution. Even if an issue cannot be resolved remotely, it can provide engineers with valuable information so that site visits are shorter. 

Now that companies have started to realise the benefits of remote assistance, Brown believes it is unlikely the industry will revert to a more traditional approach. Likewise, the food industry will continue to demand inspection systems with ever more compact dimensions.