What makes wine bottles difficult to inspect?
All wine bottles have large punts on the bottom, and the size varies depending on the glass production. On top of that, the walls are thick (imagine a champagne bottle). A lot of them have dark glass, especially the ones that house dark liquids, like red wines or ports. Vision-based or light-based technology still has trouble seeing through such dark glass.
Even if your glass production process is very good, the filling process makes contact with the top and side of the bottle. When that happens, small glass shards can enter.
As X-ray technology has evolved, however, it’s getting a lot easier to protect your product.
How does the high-resolution X-ray come into play?
(Watch our video to see examples of our high-resolution X-ray imaging!)
Moving away from vision-based and into high-resolution X-ray systems, inspectors can see through the bottles, no matter how dark or thick. Even looking through the punts (instead of a top-down approach), you can still see foreign materials or other issues. The quality of a high-resolution image is unmatched by standard systems.
As we do bottle inspection, we check:
- That the bottle has enough glass thickness so that you feel comfortable shipping it
- That there are no foreign contaminants, chips, or dents
- The cork quality
- The fill level and fill volume.
Our systems can find 3.5 mm glass pieces – even when looking through the front of the bottle, the back of the bottle, the front or back of the punt, that 3.5 mm sphere is still visible. Often customers have even more demanding applications than finding 3.5 mm. We have higher resolution systems that can improve the imaging all the way to almost 1 mm; something the human eye can barely see.
The extra neat thing: this technology is evolving so rapidly that when we did our interview with Jon Doidge at Pack Expo in 2019, we were still developing some of the high-resolution capabilities that result in some of these pictures. If you had told us at that meeting it was possible to see a 3.5 mm sphere through the entire bottle, we wouldn’t have believed it.
But this is due to the physics behind how X-ray inspection works. That little piece of glass is adding just enough extra density to the whole image of the bottle layers that it’s visible to the X-ray machine.
What does this all mean for the wine industry?
Normally when inspecting wine and spirit bottles, we look through the bottom because it’s slightly easier to image. Normally foreign contaminants will rest at the bottom of the bottle, and the inspection process has immense sensitivity to look at this area.
Let’s say you have a very expensive bottle of wine and you want to find a 1 mm chip of glass – that’s very possible to do. Even at normal line speeds, we can make this happen.
Note: If you want ultra-sensitivity, your bottle rate will be somewhere around 200 per minute; less sensitivity, we can run at 1,000 bottles per minute!
“State-of-the-art” advances rapidly. If you have wine bottles that are tough to inspect and you want to protect your brand – and your customers – it’s important that you have the latest.
What’s typically done to inspect wine bottles?
Traditionally, commercial capabilities weren’t very good. Most companies didn’t incorporate an X-ray on the inspection line.
What’s popular in the wine industry is an inspection process called “candling”. That’s when you shine a strong light through the bottle to illuminate any contaminants or chips. If you shake the bottle while doing this, it’s possible for the human eye to catch something that’s moving. It’s a vision-based system.
The problem: darker bottles are much harder to a candle. Even a strong light source can’t quite penetrate the darkest, thickest bottles, and it’s possible for those small shards to go unnoticed.
What are the risks of not inspecting?
The standard that the FDA – and society – applies to product safety advances as the capability to find problems evolves. So if 10 years ago, the best you could do was find a piece of glass the size of a finger, then it was reasonable for the FDA to ask you to find pieces that size.
The FDA has standards for what glass contaminants are acceptable as a choking hazard. But if your product is adulterated and it’s something that could have been prevented, your product could be recalled and destroyed. Without any real evidence about your inspection process, the window for a recall becomes wider.
If your product has to be recalled, another challenge is that remediating a recalled product is incredibly uncommon. So you don’t want to turn your expensive Cabernet into a cheaper Sherry because you had to sell it on the secondary market where it was filtered and improved.
There has been some large-scale wine recalls over glass contamination in the bottle. In the cases of sparkling wines, recalls have happened because walls were too thin and ran the risk of bottle explosion.
It’s something that can happen. There’s a real risk of economic loss if you’re not inspecting your product.
And the truth is: there’s absolutely no reason to not be inspecting. The technology is so good today, that every producer should be embracing the latest.
Don’t put the fate of your product in the hands of your glass supplier. Inspect the product and know that it’s absolutely fine so you can proudly add your name.
How difficult is it to add inspection technology to the production line?
The machines are designed to be an extension of your conveyor system. You place the machine onto the production line; transfer onto it; it does the inspection. They’re completely automated. They serialize the inspection process and save every image – that way, you have actual proof of a high-quality product going out the door.
If you find problems in your plant, you can remediate them, save the wine product, and reuse it. Generally, that’s done at the end of the line.
It’s as simple as putting an X-ray machine at the end of your line and letting it do its thing!
How many false rejects are there?
Simple answer: none. Instead, you’ll get a clear understanding of how good your product and wine bottling is.
To see for yourself how easy and important this process is, send us a bottle or case of your wine. (Feel free to fill them with water if you want to save your product for later.) The level of protection that we can give you against a glass issue is phenomenal.