Dry, wet or deep-frozen – flexible barcode scanners for use in all areas

Barcode
scanners are used for a variety of
different purposes in the food processing industry. The track-and-trace
requirements are constantly growing, and every individual item of food that is
bought by discerning end-consumers must be fully traceable. The more the food is processed, the greater the level of safety
required, particularly in the case of high-risk frozen products. At the same
time, the technical systems must be highly resilient and meet hygiene
standards. The best practice is that all the barcode scanners be provided by
one supplier for the entire production process
.

Barcode scanners are in use throughout the food
industry from the delivery of the raw materials and the production process in
the wet area, through to the dry area and the intralogistics system. In the
food production sector, the scanners have to be extremely tough. It is
essential that their screens do not break, they can withstand cleaning
processes using aggressive substances and they can continue operating in
freezers at temperatures as low as minus 35 degrees Celsius. Since the 1970s barcodes are widely used in the industry
and retail sector, particularly in the food industry, the EAN-13 barcode
brings benefits for manufacturers, retailers and consumers. This type of barcode
is valid all over the world and encodes the Global Trade Item Number (GTIN),
which is a standardised global part
number. Barcodes provide a unique form of identification for every food item
and make it possible to achieve high levels of accuracy. This means every step in the complex production
processes can be reliably monitored and controlled. Food production processes
have to comply with highly stringent legislation, including the HACCP concept
and a wide range of national and international hygiene and safety standards.

Protecting
consumers and businesses

Traceability is the number one priority, and it enables safe products to be manufactured for consumers. It also protects
the production process and in the long term, the business. Companies in the
food industry must be able to identify when, where and by whom products were
received, processed, stored, transported, consumed and disposed of, and must
provide fully documented proof. It would not be possible to meet these
requirements without automated identification systems such as barcodes. Labelled
products must have their labels read and verified on the production line and
then the data must be stored. SICK
supplies intelligent sensor solutions for this purpose, ranging from compact
devices and standalone systems that are easy to integrate and configure,
through to programmable high-speed cameras.

Compatible,
standardised, flexible systems

SICK’s permanently installed mobile readers use a
variety of technologies to detect barcodes, 2D codes and RFID tags. Its
wide-ranging portfolio of products includes
a solution for every challenge. Its 4Dpro
concept allows the different products to be combined and exchanged with one another because they have a standardised
connectivity system, user interface and accessories. This protects users’ investments, and reduces the amount of
integration work needed during commissioning and maintenance. It also keeps
stock levels and storage costs to a minimum.

Tough products made from stainless steel with an IP69K
rating

The laser barcode scanners of
the CLV6 series are ideal for use in food production processes where hygiene is
crucial. Their tough stainless steel housings have an IP69K rating and can
easily withstand harsh conditions. The design and functionality of the scanners
have convinced system integrators, machinery manufacturers and production users
of their suitability for use in the wet areas of food production. The stainless
steel housings are resistant to chemicals and corrosion as well as fully leak-proof.

These are key considerations for
one of the leading companies in the European dairy industry, for example. A CLV
scanner solution from SICK has been integrated into the company’s production
system to identify barcodes on aluminium yoghurt pot lids. Before the pots are filled with yoghurt, and the lids are
fitted, both pots and lids must be
cleaned in PSDI mode. Once the lids have been
fixed in place, the barcodes are read
while the machine is stationary. When items of this kind in the wet process are
cleaned using a high-pressure cleaner and
cleaning agents, the barcode scanners are fully
protected by their stainless steel housing. They are also protected by
their design, as it includes a low level of surface roughness, smooth, rounded
edges and special housing and fastener shapes. As a result, no residues can
form on the outside of the scanners. To, guarantee
that no broken glass can contaminate the food production process, the
optical interfaces of the scanners are made
from polycarbonate, which is very strong and hard and also resistant to water,
chlorine-based alkaline disinfectants, solvents, oils and greases. When
designing the scanners, SICK focused in particular, on avoiding the creation of
“escape routes” for moisture and also ensured that the products were
resistant to variations in temperature. An
additional double sheath protects the cable entry points and plugs and the cables
themselves are certified by Ecolab for these applications. Even sudden
reductions in temperature do not affect the scanners.

A clear view at
low temperatures

Frozen food production processes present barcode
scanners with particular challenges, and
this area of the food industry is growing rapidly. A look at the sales figures
for 2016 shows how much the demand for frozen food has increased in Germany
alone. A 2.5 percent growth in volume and a 3.6 percent increase in revenues
speak for themselves. The average annual consumption per head of 45.4 kilograms
of frozen food is the highest figure ever recorded.

SICK has equipped its barcode scanners, which are
already highly reliable and tough, for growth in this area of production. The
CLV61x, CLV63x and CLV65x product families are
fitted with heaters. The CLV69x models even have a heated front screen.
These devices can operate without problems at average temperatures of minus 25
degrees Celsius. In some cases, the
temperatures can even fall as low as minus 35 degrees, because of the use of
low-cost off-peak electricity. When a scanner is exposed to constantly changing
temperatures, for example, when it travels on a forklift from the freezer
warehouse to the loading area, the front screen heater prevents the reading
window from misting up.

Their excellent reading
performance makes the SICK barcode scanners with integrated heaters ideal for
use in frozen food production processes. They have a good depth of field, which
is further increased in the CLV65x and CLV69x
model ranges by a real-time autofocus function. In the CLV64x product family,
the depth of field can be easily modified using a dynamic focus adjustment
function. Because of the scanners’ wide aperture angle, one device can cover
the majority of conveyor belt width. Excellent reading properties and a fast,
reliable reading rate help to ensure that the data is safely captured, even when the print quality of the barcodes is
poor, the codes are damaged, or films or other reflective surfaces have been applied over the top. Large reading
distances and low-contrast codes, for example
when identifying pallets, do not pose any problems for the SICK barcode
scanners. Also, their high scanning
frequencies of up to 1200 Hz allow for fast processor
speeds, for example, in container identification. SICK has responded to the
growing demand in the field of package conveyors with its CLV61x Dual Port
model, which has a PROFINET connection with an integrated switch to allow line
and ring topologies to be installed and implemented easily, making the wiring process simple and cost-effective. Also, the CLV63x and CLV64x product families
are also available with oscillating mirrors, enabling them to meet all types of
reading requirements.

Safe processes in ice cream production

Companies in the dairy industry,
where the logistics processes have to meet strict technical standards relating
to temperature-controlled foods, use SICK barcode scanners at the very
beginning of the supply chain. The tankers that collect milk from farms are fitted with a CLV6 series barcode scanner
with a stainless steel housing that has an IP69K rating. This makes it possible to reliably identify the
samples that have to be taken by law from the milk provided by every individual
supplier, even when the devices are exposed
to low temperatures and high moisture levels in the winter months. If the milk
is being made into ice cream, CLV6 series
scanners with plastic screens are used during the primary packaging phase
because the food must not be contaminated with broken glass when the type of
ice cream, container and appropriate lid are being
identified. In the warehouse logistics process for ice cream production,
scanners from the CLV69x series with front screen heating reliably identify the
barcodes in the pallet warehouse, despite the freezing temperatures. In
high-bay warehouses, all types of scanners from the CLV6 product family can be used.

The CLV6 series of laser barcode
scanners from SICK ensures the safety of the process from beginning to end,
regardless of the many challenges presented by food production. These include
high availability and fast turnover rates, growing order numbers combined with
falling batch sizes and demands for more environment-friendly logistics
systems.

Written
by Cornel Rombach, Product Manager for Barcode Scanners, SICK AG, Reute

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