How Product Inspection Technologies Help Co-Packers Prepare for QA Audits
By Davor Djukic
For a contract packer, audits can come from many directions. Brand owners, retailers, food or packaging manufacturers and standards/certification bodies as well as regulators all have an interest in the robustness and integrity of your Quality Management System. For some of these parties, it is more than an interest – it is a stake.
Product Inspection equipment such as check-weighing, metal detection, x-ray and vision inspection is the friend of the contract packer when it comes to audit time. By inspecting products and identifying problems such as foreign body contaminants, it underpins the entire quality and safety management program. Through constant data collection, it also provides an audit trail of production, testing and maintenance activity – a treasure trove of information for auditors, customers and co-packers alike, especially in light of approaching digital supply chain and track and trace requirements.
But product inspection needs to be done right. In contract packing environments, where there can be multiple job changeovers, serving numerous customers and compliance frameworks, the added layers of complexity make this even more paramount. Doing it right involves these key steps in implementing product inspection, all of which will help you prepare for and pass audits:
Integrate advanced product inspection technologies
As a contract packer, you need to be flexible to accommodate different formats, sizes and types of products and packaging. The more agile and easily configured your product inspection equipment is, the better it will be able to meet the needs of retailers, manufacturers and brand owners. Advanced product inspection technologies generally make it possible for product setup and job changeover to be automated, saving valuable time, and ensuring that parameters for each setup support the compliance demands of that customer or regulatory framework. The equipment should also be capable of real-time monitoring and recording of all inspection activities, providing an audit trail of data to support compliance.
Data collection and connectivity
Data records used to be kept on paper in lever-arch files. More recently, they could be extracted from equipment using a USB stick. Neither situation is ideal for responding to an audit, especially if there has been little warning given to the co-packer. Connectivity makes responding to the demands of an auditor much quicker and simpler. Product inspection equipment gathers data during operation, and with data management software, such as Mettler-Toledo’s ProdX™, this wealth of information, including data from remote sites, can be sorted and arranged as needed.
Evidence of regular and effective testing will demonstrate to the auditor that your product inspection equipment has been fully functional and continuously optimized to do the job you bought it for. The more regularly a machine is tested, the more certain you can be that good products are leaving the factory. While testing has traditionally been a manual process, it can increasingly be carried out using automation, saving time and potential human error. Advanced product inspection solutions, such as Mettler-Toledo Safeline metal detection systems also have a Reduced Test Mode, in which an onboard monitoring system continuously checks the performance of the metal detector, reducing the frequency of routine performance test requirements.
Similar to regular testing, preventative maintenance keeps product inspection equipment running at optimum levels of performance and prevents breakdowns and production line delays. Co-packers can address the issue in two ways; Firstly, by having their own skilled technical department to deal with scheduled maintenance checks and repairs as needed. Secondly, by partnering with machinery suppliers that have reliable equipment and the scale of support, both engineers in the field and remotely, that is required to maximize uptime of highly sophisticated inspection systems. Consistent and reliable operation of production line machinery is good for business, and a head-start towards successful audit performance.
Davor Djukic is national sales manager for product inspection at Mettler Toledo Inc. in Mississauga, Ont.