Weighing up the risks of innovation

As we entered the recession in 2007 a new word of the moment emerged – efficiency. Retailers increasingly needed products quickly to meet demand and manufacturers simply had to respond or risk losing business. Today, efficiency continues to be a critical requirement of any production line, placing an increasing burden on weighing and bagging lines that are expected to operate at ever increasing speeds with no loss of quality. The classic scenario of having to do more with less – or in this case, at the least the same – requires factories to operate like well-oiled machines resulting in business owners looking for new ways to run their operations efficiently.

Increasing the processing speed of any operation can have a negative effect on quality and standards, with the risk of products being damaged or packaged incorrectly. With so many new products coming to market each year, UK food and drink manufacturers find themselves facing a series of challenges as they try to ensure operations continue to be flexible, efficient and produce goods quickly and to a high standard.

One such challenge facing manufacturers is the need to accurately weigh and sort products before being packaged. Perhaps one of the best ways to do this is by using multihead weighing technology.

Multihead weighers were first developed in the 1970s and have played a huge role in helping manufacturers increase the speed of their operations. Over the years, changing industry requirements have led to improvements in the technology and today their unrivalled speed and accuracy means they are used in almost every industry.

Multihead weighers work on a combination weighing principle, whereby a built-in computer calculates the weight of product in each individual weigh bucket and identifies which combination contains the amount closest to the target weight.

The machine opens all the weigh buckets of this combination and the product falls, via a discharge chute, into a bag or, alternatively, into a distribution system which places the product into trays or bottles.

I don’t think you’ll find any factory manager in the world who would argue with me when I say that multihead weighers have helped increase productivity and improve the supply chain process. However, like any new technology there have been some challenges along the way.

Take the potato industry, as an example. Increasing the speed of weighing and packing potatoes has traditionally resulted in higher levels of bruising, as the product receives more forceful blows during the weighing and packing process. According to the British Potato Council, excessive bruising is the single biggest cause of consumer complaint resulting in a potential loss of sales. By customising the weighing process and reducing the drop height and discharge chute length, manufacturers can minimise the damage caused and improve reputation by delivering a consistently high-quality product.

In addition, innovations in weighing and packaging have led to additional benefits on the production line from increasing output rates and reducing errors, wastage and the overall cost of production.

As retailers continue to seek new ways to improve efficiency, manufacturers must continue to push their suppliers and search for innovative technologies to improve all areas of production. By ensuring tailored solutions are available to all, we can guarantee an improvement in processing speeds, accuracy, quality and efficiency.