Machine Vision Applications: Labeling and
NOVEMBER 28, 2009
(ASIA PACIFIC) - Recent economic recession has changed
consumer's behaviors where they are forced to reduce their
spending while trying to maintain pre-recession lifestyle. This
is apparent even while purchasing food & drink. In addition to
it, food safety awareness is increasing due to media reports on
recent food scandals. Three forces are acting towards food
labeling and coding. These are consumers, regulators and food
manufacturers, each protecting their own interest. The proposed
article will examine each of these forces and discuss some of
the available technologies that food manufacturers can utilize
to inspect labels and read codes in their product lines using
Machine Vision System.
Recent economic recession has changed consumer's behaviors. They
are forced to reduce their spending while trying to maintain
pre-recession lifestyle. This is apparent even while purchasing
food & drink. In addition to it, food safety awareness is
increasing due to recent food scandals on global level.
Government and industry regulators are acting to protect
consumer's interest. They are enforcing stricter regulations to
ensure food manufacturers provide appropriate labels and legible
manufacturing & expiry code on food packaging. Almost all the
food manufacturers that we have met so far understand their
responsibility to provide safe food to their customers, but find
it hard to balance among cost, quality & safety in a highly
competitive consumer market.
Food labeling in packaged food industry is important for several
reasons. Most importantly, a food label and date code provides
useful information to consumers about the product, its origin
and safety when designed according to the right rules and
Thus the three driving force to labeling and coding are (a)
consumers, (b) regulators, and (c) food manufactures. (See the
pic. 1). This article will gather some of the insights from
these driving forces. It will then discuss some of the
technologies that food manufacturers can adopt in their
Picture 1: Three driving force to labeling and coding
As per September 2008, “Consumers and Nutritional labeling”, a
global Nielsen report published on internet www.sg.nielsen.com.
Two-thirds of global consumers are reading nutritional panels
more than two years ago. Nielsen's survey has found that 25% of
Asia Pacific shoppers always check the nutritional information
on the package. “As obesity rates continue to rise globally and
with lifestyle-related heart disease the number one killer
worldwide today, there is increasing pressure on governments and
the food industry to play a greater role in educating people
about what they're eating. Shoppers, when surveyed, consistently
ask for more information about exactly what food labels mean.
They like to know how to make informed choices about healthier
eating from reading nutrition information and claims such as
‘low fat’ and ‘reduced salt’, What is in the ingredients list,
percentage labeling of the key ingredient and the country of
origin of that food. Next big question is how we ensure that
food is safe; this is about food recalls, storage requirements
Despite the growing proliferation of products claiming to help
manage weight gain, waistlines are growing to epic proportion
globally. In a bid to mitigate this impending crisis,
policy-makers across the globe have turned to labeling packaged
goods with nutritional information to help consumers become
savvier in managing their energy intake. Besides the weight
gain, another driving force for food labeling is the food safety
that includes allergy and contamination. FDA estimates that
approximately 2% of adults and about 5% of infants and young
children in the United States suffer from food allergies. Each
year, roughly 30,000 individuals require emergency room
treatment and 150 individuals die because of allergic reactions
to food. Eight major foods – milk, eggs, fish, Crustacean
shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans – amount for
90% of these food allergies.
In spite of having Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer
Protection Act of 2004, Incorrect Labeling is one of the top
reasons a product is detained in USA, explained Laura Dougherty,
Registrar Corp. in a recent workshop in Singapore on Key
Labeling Regulations Affecting Exports to the USA. The correct
label should include common name of the product, Net Weight,
Ingredient & Allergen, Name/Address of Manufacturer, Country of
Origin & Lot or Tracking Number. There are guidelines for fonts
and layout. More information on key labeling regulations for
food exports to USA can be found at www.registrarcorp.com.
Registrar Corp. assists with Food and Beverage, Medical Device,
Drug, and Cosmetics compliance for exports to the U.S.
Surprisingly FDA does not require bar code and lot numbers, but
several other countries do require. For example, Gulf
Cooperation Council that is covering Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain,
Qatar, Kuwait and Oman clearly specifies requirement for lot and
producing factory identification, production and expiry dates on
most products. (www.esma.ae). Closer to home, Food Regulations
under Agri-food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA)
requires pre-packed food products listed in the regulations to
bear a date-mark to indicate the food content's expiry date and
food label in English with essential information.
Imagine a formula milk powder container for baby is actually
carrying milk powder for adult. Unwary consumers will end up
feeding adult milk formula to their baby without suspecting.
This can happen if the maker for milk powder has products
ranging from baby to adult, and wrong label is applied
accidentally due to human error. This is not an imagination to
scare you but rather a real case. A quick check on internet can
reveal that several food & beverage manufacturers, including top
brands have history of recalled products. The four common causes
Labeling defect whereby allergen
is not declared on a product label. For example, bottles of
Honey Dijon Peppercorn dressing mistakenly have the back label
for French dressing. The peppercorn product contains eggs, which
is not declared as an ingredient on the French dressing label.
People who have allergies to egg run the risk of serious
allergic reaction if they consume this product.
Labeling detect whereby
manufacturers forget to declare allergen. For example, chocolate
Foreign matter in packaging.
Example, rubber pieces in a can of soup or glass shards in juice
Contamination of product by
microbial, salmonella, melamine etc.
The effects of above defects are obviously very expensive for
most manufacturers. It includes immediate devaluation of share
price for listed companies, unaccounted expenses to execute
recalls such as announcement in media, replacement and
compensation. The long term damages are loss of trust by
consumers and damage to brand reputation.
Technologies & Solutions
Today most of the food manufacturers have wide range of product
lines to satisfy consumer's diverse need. Due to wide range,
small batch production line, it is not uncommon to see human and
machine working together. This is a serious challenge for people
working at the production line. One of the famous saying in
Japan is “Machines can go wrong, while human can make mistake”.
Anyone who spends a day in a busy production floor can realize
that several things can go wrong, leading to label mix ups and
wrong printings. However, some of the leading companies in the
industry are not taking any chance. They are leveraging on
sensing technologies to ensure safety and quality of their food.
Sensing Technologies or typically knows as sensors are like a
third eye verifying correctness of products and processes.
One of the leading dairy product brands in Asia is exporting its
products to several countries, including Middle East & Japan.
The company had to undergo a painful exercise of massive product
recall a few months back. It was yet another case of packaging
defect leading to contamination. After this incident, the
company looked into the issue seriously and invested into ZFX
Vision System. ZFX is a color camera based intuitive machine vision
system. It is easy to use due to touch screen display and “auto”
function. Having machine vision on its line has helped the
company to win confidence of its customers, besides limiting the
risk of product recall if at all happens.
Machine Vision System inspects date code like a human eye
Another leading company in Japan does not want to take any
chance. The company is a leader in beverage market. Its product
variety ranges in hundreds. It was looking for a solution that
ensures correct labels are applied on each of its product before
shipment. Besides mixing up of label, it is also highly concern
about its appearance. The top management in this company is
strong believers in technology. One of the scenarios that they
considered during risk assessment was – “what if, wrong label is
applied due to human error; it goes undetected and exported to
overseas market?” The answer is obvious. It would be hard to win
the confidence of overseas clients and regulators. Immediately
after that the top management approved budget for having
suitable machine vision system in their production line. The
System with multiple cameras are inspecting and verifying if
correct labels are applied and are not defective.
Machine Vision System Confirming Correctness of Label
What is a Machine Vision
What It Can Do?
Machine Vision Systems like Omron's ZFX uses CCD color camera to capture
image label, date code. At first, OK object is taught to the
controller. The controller divides the entire model into several
small models automatically (Pic. 4) and memorizes them.
Picture 4: ZFX
Machine Vision System memorizing OK object
During production run, camera captures each label and processor
compares it against the pre-registered OK model. If there is any
difference (Pic. 5), such as missing print, wrong print then NG
outputs are send to activate an alarm to alert or a
corresponding rejection mechanism.
Picture 5 : ZFX
Machine Vision System capturing NG parts
Recent Innovation in Sensing Technology
So far food manufacturers had to use different process steps,
one for code reading using a bar code or a 2D code reader and
second for Machine Vision Systems for label inspections or date code
inspection. But, Omron has combined barcode/2D code and powerful
inspection items into ZFX-CD to create two-in-one process. It is
easy; it saves time, money and reduces complexity for mechanical
Picture 6: ZFX-CD inspects code and label at the same time
But, just detecting wrong label or date code is not enough. The
most important point is to retrieve saves images to investigate
cause of the production defects. This is a big advantage of
using a two-in-one Vision Sensor plus code reader build on
sensing technology. Machine Vision Systems have capability to save past
NG images that can be recalled and analyzed. The result of this
analysis helps to understand cause of the defect.
Picture 7: ZFX-CD sending inspection data to external PC for SPC
Finally, whatever may be the driving force the awareness and
importance for food safety and labeling will keep on increase.
Each involved party i.e. Regulators, Consumers and Manufacturers
have an important role to play because it matters to all of us.
For more information, please
Robust Light Curtain Sensor with Rugged Design