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A Guide to X-ray Inspection for the Food and Beverage Industries

The Origin of X-Rays

In 1895, physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen noticed a strange glow: rays of light, coming from a chemically-coated screen that had been hit with a high-voltage charge.Potrait of Rontgen

He coined these rays “X-rays”, due to their mysterious nature. This discovery would prove to be one of the most significant scientific advancements to date.

By making the invisible visible, Röntgen created a means to improve the scientific process and to ultimately improve the human experience.  Today the same principles observed by Röntgen are critical elements in our modern life,  including airport security, medicine, and food and beverage safety.

Today, computers can automatically evaluate X-ray images; and the technology is dramatically improving with recent advancements in artificial intelligence (A.I.). 

Furthermore, X-ray images provide objective evidence that a product was properly inspected and can even be used for future re-inspection (using different settings than the original inspection).

Benefits of X-ray Inspection

X-ray inspection is an essential element of modern quality control. For any industry, quality control is crucial to garner trust between brand and consumer; make production more efficient; and minimize waste and cost.

Image of a x-ray inspection machine

The Peco-InspX ScanTrac Solo X-Ray Inspection Machine

In the food and beverage industry, foreign objects – like stone, plastic, or metal fragments – can make its way into the product during processing. Even with modern manufacturing, maintenance neglect can lead to contamination. These are risks to consumers’ health and costly to companies. To ensure that products are risk-free, X-ray inspection has become the foundation of quality control.

Benefits of X-ray inspection go beyond finding contaminants: it allows for increased accuracy. Fill level measurements; seal inspection; mass and weight determination; container deformities – these can all be marked to accurate and minute degrees, which further reduces risk and cost.

Required Capabilities of X-Ray Machines

The functionality of x-ray machines varies by manufacturer. Be sure to do a side by side comparison of the machine’s functionality; keep in mind that it should be able to conduct all inspection measures. Inspection machines should be able to do more than identify contaminants – they should be able to perform functions such as:

  • Fill level detection of containers with variations as small as 1.0 ml. Peco-Inspx can detect fill level to approximately 0.4 mm
  • Missing cap or crown detection
  • Finding glass container defects such as bird swings, etc.
  • Whole container image archiving (A method of saving every container image as objective proof of proper inspection)
  • Verifying product contents to detect missing objects

Which Foreign Materials Can X-ray Inspections Find in Food and Beverage Industries?

There’s a good rule of thumb for remembering what is X-ray detectable: things that float in a glass of water are generally not x-ray detectable; but things that sink generally are. This rule does have some exceptions and thus it is so important to have an application test done on your specific product to determine exactly what can be detected.

There are four main types of contaminants (foreign materials) that X-ray inspection can detect in food and beverage products:

bird swing glass bottle defect

An example of a “bird swing” defect in a glass bottle

 

  • Metal Fragments: shavings, wire, vent tubes, needles, buck shot
  • Glass Defects: shards, stones, container defects, bird swings
  • Animal Parts: beef, chicken, pork, and turkey bones, as well as frogs and mice 
  • Stones: rubble, stone fragments
  • Other Materials: hard plastics, Viton, rubber, silicone

Below is a chart that shows the varying visibility of objects based on their density (remember: anything more dense than water is more easily detected): 

x-ray inspection material density

Density chart on various materials (The more dense the material, the easier x-ray inspection is)

 

False Rejects in X-ray Inspection

The efficacy of any inspection process must be measured by what the process can detect and the projected “false reject” rate.  An inspection system that can find 100% of what you are looking for each time is of little use if the false reject rate is 1 out of every 10 inspected packages!

Identifying false rejects depends on the quality of the imaging process and the sophistication of the inspection software.  The best images are produced using what engineers call a “high signal-to-noise ratio”, which allows features of the image to be easily distinguished. Achieving a high signal-to-noise ratio requires a powerful X-ray tube that can operate at high current levels.  The signal-to-noise ratio can also be enhanced by moving the X-ray tube closer to the detector.

Inspection software plays a critical role in interpreting the X-ray image – the software must be capable of reliably differentiating contaminants from the product. X-ray vendors use a variety of highly tailored computation approaches to identify foreign material and it is critical that the approach work well for the inspection application.

x-ray inspection sample

A demonstration of x-ray for food and beverage

This animated GIF demonstrates how x-ray inspection works for food and beverage:

Radiation Safety

While radiation provides huge benefits to our modern life, it is natural that safety is often the first thing that comes to mind.  Fortunately, users of food X-ray inspection systems can be at ease: these systems operate at very low power compared to other X-ray machines, and their special design does not allow any harmful radiation to escape the machine.

The automated X-ray inspection systems used in the food and beverage applications are called “closed cabinet X-ray systems”.  The term closed cabinet is a regulatory designation that refers to the design characteristics of these systems to not emit any radiation. Regulations governing how much radiation closed cabinet systems can emit is determined by the country where the unit is operated. The most rigorous standards for radiation emissions are that the machine can emit no more than 1.0 micro Sieverts of radiation per hour (this is equivalent to emitting no radiation).  

All Peco InspX X-ray machines meet the most rigorous 1.0 micro Sievert standard. Infographic showing different radiation levels

X-ray inspection equipment is subject to extensive regulation, and modern X-ray technology is designed to provide a safe working environment.  Peco InspX recommends that customers have their X-ray inspection equipment certified at least annually to ensure that all safety features are in good working order and that the equipment is fully capable of meeting the assigned inspection specifications.

Why Use X-Ray Inspection for Food and Beverage?

There are a host of reasons for companies within food and beverage manufacturing to use x-ray inspection technology. The clear reason to embrace X-ray inspection technology is that it provides the most comprehensive quality control tool available today. X-ray systems protect against the widest range of foreign material contaminants; and are the only inspection tool on the market that can provide proof that the product was correctly inspected because of saved images that contain specific inspection parameters.

This feature is a stark contrast to other technologies, such as metal detection, that lack this type of objective evidence of correct inspection.

Best Practices in X-ray Inspection for Food and Beverage

When deciding to invest in X-ray inspection technology, your decision should be thought of as a partnership, instead of a one-time purchase. Here is a list of best practices for X-ray inspection for food and beverage:

Have the Right Partnershiptwo people discussing business

Partner with an experienced company that has extensive knowledge in your specific field of X-ray applications. Should any questions or complications arise, your partner will be able to quickly and confidently provide a solution.

X-ray machines must comply with local regulation. The company you choose to partner with should be knowledgeable of the details regarding local ordinances.

Leverage the Right Software

It is just as important to consider the software component of your X-ray technology investment as it is the hardware. As stated before, proper inspection software is crucial to finding “false rejects” and interpreting X-ray images. The right software should accurately differentiate contaminants from the product. It should also allow you to compare and measure images.

Leverage Customer Service for Real-Time Improvements

Partner with a company that takes customer service seriously and has the technical infrastructure and ability to make software fixes remotely. Partnering with a company capable of remotely updating and fixing software is a way to ensure your equipment is always up to date and will help to avoid having to wait for a technician to make repairs or updates on site.

A technician conducting maintenance on a Peco-Inspx.

A technician conducting maintenance on a Peco-Inspx.

 

Learn and Improve from Your Data

The company you partner with should offer detailed inspection data analysis. Being able to properly analyze inspection data provides the opportunity to optimize your manufacturing processes and also ensures you are getting the most out of your X-ray machines software and hardware. Proper analysis of inspection data will result in greater manufacturing efficiency and higher profits.

Use the Best Equipment

Not all X-ray machines are created equal. When investing in X-ray technologies, ensure the hardware of your machines is coming from a quality source, and that repairs are not overly complicated. A conversation with your potential X-ray technology partner will reveal their confidence in the hardware or lack thereof.

Peco-InspX Lineup of machines

Lineup of SHIELD Solo, Glissando, and Allegro x-ray machines.

Conduct All Inspection Measures

As stated before, the machine should be able to conduct all inspection measures – make sure to compare machine abilities before making a purchase, since they vary by manufacturer. Inspection machines should be able identify contaminants; detect fill levels and missing caps or crowns; glass defects; and container image archiving.

From Röntgen’s laboratory in 1895 to today’s wide-scale usage, “X-rays” have become an essential component of the food manufacturing industry. While this article does not cover everything there is to know about X-ray inspection, there is enough information to develop an understanding of the important place it has in the food and beverage industry. In fact, the X-ray inspection industry for food and beverage is growing over 100% year over year.

Watch this 30-second video to learn the importance of x-ray inspection for food and beverage.


If you’re interested in a demo of how Peco-Inspx can help your inspection process, watch our full product demo video and fill out the form on this page.