Automated COP technology transforms food traceability

Sparc Systems in collaboration with Fortress Technology has developed the only known paperless audit software featuring unlimited preprogrammed Codes of Practice (COP)

Available on Sparc’s full range of checkweighing, X-ray and combination inspection systems, this innovative software provides food factories with automated equipment performance testing, capturing all the data required to guarantee absolute traceability.

Forming an important part of manufacturing due diligence, food safety inspection systems should be regularly tested and verified to ensure they are operating in compliance with specified standards.

If quality assurance is to be maintained, failsafe and routine checks are mandatory. With all the major supermarkets and food shops issuing their own COPs, staying on top of the latest releases and selecting the right performance checks for each application can be challenging. Those that fail to act can put their supply contracts in jeopardy.

For checkweighing, X-ray, metal detection and combi systems, Sparc’s latest release automates the entire testing process while providing due diligence reports, removing the need for human intervention. In particular, the solution is useful for high care production environments in which COP compliance and food safety assurance are integral to productivity.

The benefits of automatic testing

COP checks are typically conducted at the start and finish of a daily production shift, following production batch and machine setting changes and after downtime for repairs or maintenance. Depending on the criteria set out by each retailer, tests are also typically scheduled throughout the day at hourly intervals to confirm the inspection system is working as it should be.

In food production settings where COP checks are still conducted manually on paper, the time spent running and documenting these tests on every line where an inspection machine is installed can cost a manufacturer more than several thousand pounds a month per line in downtime and human resources. For larger factories with multiple lines and inspection units, the monthly expenditure can run into tens of thousands of pounds.

Rather than relying on operatives to schedule, perform, document and submit inspection checks, Sparc’s failsafe software automates the timely aspects of the process, allowing food manufacturers to tackle this drain on resources.

Given most food businesses supply multiple retailers, every test is preconfigured by retailer and product being inspected. A visual reminder occurs five minutes before every test is due; if not achieved by the deadline, the inspection system either stops operating or sends an alert to the factory’s QA or technical manager.

“By using automation to follow the test principles, it’s impossible to bypass a step in the test process, significantly reducing labour time and increasing the productivity and transparency of machine performance audits,” emphasises Sparc’s European Sales Manager, Charlie Graham.

No room for error

Besides complying with industry standards and saving valuable time, reducing the frequency of manual tests also helps to eliminate the risk of human error and maintain workplace well-being at critical control points on a manufacturing line. Sparc’s solution incorporates an easy-to-use, single swipe touchscreen, permitting users to bring to the foreground the most relevant parameters to their operation.

No matter where the panel is positioned, all of the inspection data and test parameters are stored and made accessible from one place. Charlie explains: “This is an exciting development as it gives food manufacturers an element of flexible customisation. Rather than burying valuable statistical information away in a menu, users simply select and drop the parameters that they regard as most important.”

As all of the COP parameters are preprogrammed, the operative simply selects from the list of retailers and the product being inspected. Whether it’s a routine or failsafe check, the process is explained with clear step-by-step instructions, leaving no room for uncertainty or faults. Once done, the user gives the inspection system a fail or pass and signs it on screen to ensure full accountability.

“As part of their audit, certain retailers conduct ad-hoc assessments on operators to verify that they fully understand every COP parameter and test procedure,” adds Charlie. “The beauty of Sparc’s automatic testing software is that it not only reminds operatives to perform the test, but ensures every user follows the exact test conditions set by the retailer according to the products being inspected.”

Paperless testing and data collection

Traditional manual test procedures mean COP checks are documented on paper, running the risk of errors and wasting costly time. And, with no real-time reporting, it can make fault-finding difficult. With Sparc’s smart technology, when a sensor establishes a test has been conducted, a dated, paperless due diligence report is generated that allows the operator to add notes to before submission if required.

Tests tailored to different retailer results are automatically recorded and real-time reports can be generated. The solution is fully configured to provide remote and secure access, allowing QA managers to create secure, time-stamped, auditable digital documentation that is easily shared with retailers and auditors.

Dependent on the information required, reports can show information on contaminant rejection, average weight, and machine performance in line with COP parameters, which can be utilised by food firms to enhance overall efficiency.

When a retailer updates its COPs, Sparc issues an instant upgrade via a USB stick. To minimise downtime, food processors simply insert this into each machine’s USB portal. In a matter of seconds, the new performance check parameters are live.

Maintaining food safety in an ever-changing industry

Auditing and traceability are crucial to the success of a business, playing a central role in maintaining and improving global food safety standards.

Ultimately, food safety regulations are getting stricter all the time, while consumer expectations are on the rise. Considering inspection systems are integral to food safety and quality, any manufacturer can benefit from devoting the right resources to automate their audit conformance processes.

Charlie concludes: “Although our competitors offer systems with the capabilities to enable COP compliance, we are the only known business to have installed retailer COP procedures into our inspection systems. This ensures that any testing to do with weight, metal or vision inspection are being followed with optimum accuracy and accountability while driving down the overall costs of a manufacturing line.”

The software, developed in-house by Sparc Engineers, was deemed so advanced it forms an integral part on Fortress Technology’s latest launch — the Raptor Combi metal detector and checkweigher.

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