Canadian Packaging

Right Weigh Forward

By Andrew Snook   

Quebec ice-cream producer doubles down on product-inspection technologies to safeguard the company’s hard-earned reputation for immaculate product quality

You get what you pay for. This common expression is typically used when describing the purchase of a low-priced item that turns out not to be a very good investment.

However, this expression is also the law of the land when it comes to the food and drinks we purchase on retail shelves. We must have the right to assume that all packaging must have accurate weights displayed for the product inside.

As for the product itself? Again, consumers need to be able to trust that manufacturers are supplying a product inside the package that matches the labeling and is free of any potential hazards such as stones, glass, metals or other contaminants that could find their way into products.

To ensure that weights are accurate and product quality is maintained from start to finish, companies use a variety of technologies to keep their operations running safely and smoothly.

At Laiterie De Coaticook in Coaticook, Que., the popular long-time ice-cream and cheese maker recently invested in a new Bizerba CWE-DRY checkweigher and a new Bizerba X-ray machine for the second of its two ice-cream production lines.

A decade after Laiterie De Coaticook first installed a Bizerba checkweigher on one its first ice-cream production lines, the company has recently built another automated line to keep up with demand for its products and to cope with industry-wide labour shortages.

“We always have more demand, and we want to optimize the line because we have staff challenges,” explains Antoine Bergeron, technical director and project manager for Laiterie De Coaticook.

Laiterie De Coaticook was founded in 1940 by Arthur Bédard, Arthur St-Cyr and Henri Gérin, and specialized in pasteurized dairy products such as milk, chocolate milk and cream.

In 1942, Bédard bought out his partners and began producing ice cream and cheddar cheese. In 1976, Émile Provencher and Fernand Houle purchased the company, and over the years, the popularity of the dairy producer’s products grew.

By 2004, the company built a 56,000-square-foot production facility, which is currently owned by Jean Provencher, son of Émile Provencher.

The company’s most popular product is its two-liter vanilla ice cream containers that are still packaged in the old-fashioned round ice cream tub.

While it also produces a variety of cheeses, their frozen desserts account for approximately 75 per cent of their overall production, with its main customers including major retail grocery chains such as Sobeys and Loblaws.

Naturally, summertime is the busiest time of the year for the hard-working dairy producers, which employs up to 100 people during summer months to keep production moving.

To ensure that the production process runs smoothly and efficiently at all times, the company invested a significant amount of capital into the new automated line, which it equipped with the new checkweigher and X-ray machine to maintain optimal quality control for the packaged products.

“It’s all about quality and delivering value to the consumer and delivering it safely,” says Derek Wagget, sales director for industrial business at Bizerba Canada in Mississauga, Ont.

“When you purchase an item like ice cream, it’s sold to you in a declared weight, so that when you pick it up and take it home you’re getting exactly what you paid for.

“The checkweigher helps to guarantee to the consumer that you’re getting what you paid for as promised by the producer, so that you’re not getting ripped off by getting a tub that’s half-filled with air,” Wagget elaborates.

“There are laws in Canada that say: if you’re buying one kilogram, you’ve got to be getting pretty darn close to one kilogram worth of product.”

The checkweigher manufactured by Bizerba for Laiterie De Coaticook is an economical model designed for products in drier environments.

“You wouldn’t think of ice cream being a dry environment, but in the area of the final packaging stage where they’re doing the checkweighing, it’s a very dry and clean area,” Wagget says.

“We have checkweighers for that type of environment,” he notes, and we have checkweighers for harsh environments where you have to hose them down.

“But in this instance, they don’t have to do any of that.”

According to Wagget, the CWE checkweigher series comes in a variety of weighing ranges up to 15 kilograms.

“We can tailor the checkweigher to the weight of the product, the size of the product, and how much throughput the customer needs to get from us, like how many packs per minute are coming off that line,” Wagget states. “When you take a look at a checkweigher, you have to address all those things.”

The placement and positioning of the checkweigher on a production line is also extremely important, Wagget asserts, and therefore needs to be planned out appropriately.

“It’s weighing in motion and in reasonably low quantities —one kilogram, three kilograms, six kilograms… not very heavy items.

“To get the kind of precision you need, you have to take into consideration things like if there is any movement of air in the area, or if there are any vibrations,” Wagget explains.

When weighing such its items at robust speeds, it’s important to do so on a solid foundation, and to account for any disturbances that might be in the area that may affect the weighing results.

“A checkweigher is a great tool for verifying in high production speeds in environments where you’re producing continuously, and you’ve got to keep things moving,” Wagget says.

After the ice-cream tubs are filled at the Laiterie De Coaticook plant, they are conveyed down the production line to the packaging area for weighing.

Prior to being inspected at the checkweigher, however, the tubs need to be spaced out appropriately.

“They have to be spaced right, so we have to provide [conveyor] belts that make sure that the product is properly spaced,” Wagget explains.

“And then we have to be able to detect the product and make sure we only have one on the scale at a time, because when you’re weighing something, you should just be weighing one unit of something,” Wagget says.

“And of course, you also want to set up a tolerance system that says if this product is not meeting the expected weight, it has to be rejected,” he continues. “So, you can add rejection systems to these types of checkweighers.

“You can also integrate metal detectors to checkweighers, so that they have a rejection system both for weight and a separate one for metal detection,” says Wagget. “Inserting a metal detector right in the middle of that checkweigher is also a feasible option.

“In case of Laiterie De Coaticook, they chose to insert an X-ray machine over a metal detector, which will detect metals as well as other types of potential contaminants such as plastics, glass, wood, or anything else that shouldn’t be inside the product.”

Because the Coaticook plant uses a great deal of fruit in its ice cream production, the X-ray machine can pick up many tiny contaminants not removed earlier on during the earlier fruit washing and processing stages.

“The X-ray machines work more on density than anything else,” Wagget explains.

“You start by training the known product, and then when the X-ray looks through it, it understands the densities in a perfect product.

“When it looks through it and identifies contaminant, that contaminant will most likely have a different density than the rest of product does,” he says. “That’s how it locates it.”

Wagget says it is critical that both the X-ray machine and the checkweigher need to be programmed for each of the various products they will need to inspect.

Once the product profiles are properly pre-programmed into the machines, they can communicate with each other, Wagget explains.

“So, you can go to the checkweigher machine and call up the product, and the checkweigher will send the information about what product you’re working on now to the X-ray machine,” Wagget explains.

Once a contaminant is detected, the inspected product needs to be removed quickly off the line.

While there are different options for rejecting contaminated products, Wagget recommends an automated rejection system to keep production lines moving efficiently.

This is especially important when dealing with continuous production lines like the one at the Laiterie De Coaticook facility.

“You can also do things like stop-on-demand,” Wagget states.

“But stopping on demand is not very successful when you have a continuous row of products coming,” he points out.

“Because if you stop, you’re going to back up products right down the line.”

As Wagget relates, Bizerba and Laiterie De Coaticook have a long history of doing business together.

Based at Bizerba’s regional office in Boucherville, Que., Cesary Lewicki has been with Bizerba for 35 years, and he fondly recalls working with Laiterie De Coaticook during his first years with the company.

“They were one of my first customers,” Lewicki states. “We started doing business together around 35 years ago, and the very first machine they bought from us was a vacuum packing machine.”

As Laiterie De Coaticook grew over that time, it purchased many other products from Bizerba including small scales, metal detectors, checkweighers and X-ray machines.

“After so many years, they have always been happy with our service and our products,” Lewicki relates. “Whenever they have had some problems, we would always solve them very quickly.

“So they trust us,” he says, “and they like us.”

For Coaticook’s Bergeron, the company’s close working relationship with Bizerba is underpinned by two key factors.

“Their service is very good, and so is the quality of their machines,” says Bergeron, adding the company is considering adding a third ice cream production line in the near future, which could produce an additional 10 to 15 million litres of ice cream per year.

Having the proper inspection system in place will naturally be a key consideration during the design and commissioning stages, Bergeron adds.

“Inspection systems are very important in the quality of what a manufacturer delivers to their customer,” Wagget says.

“They’re checking the weight in the case of a checkweigher. In the case of a metal detector or an X-ray system, they’re checking that there are no contaminants that may be harmful to the end user.

“This is a big deal for the quality department,” he concludes.

“If you start getting known for having contaminants in your products, your products are not going to get a very good name.”


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