PACK EXPO Las Vegas Q&A: Digital Sorting with Key Technology's Marco Azzaretti

At PACK EXPO Las Vegas, Food Manufacturing had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Marco Azzaretti, Advanced Inspection Systems Product Manager at Key Technology, to discuss topics in digital sorting and the company's new VERYX digital sorting platform.

At PACK EXPO Las Vegas, Food Manufacturing had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Marco Azzaretti, Advanced Inspection Systems Product Manager at Key Technology, to discuss topics in digital sorting and the company's new VERYX digital sorting platform, which was on display at the Key Technology booth.

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Q: What was Key Technology featuring at Pack Expo Las Vegas?

A: Key introduced the all-new VERYX™ digital sorting platform at Pack Expo Las Vegas. This is the next-generation family of belt-fed and chute-fed sorters that removes foreign material (FM) and product defects to improve product quality, food safety and process yield. It’s ideal for fresh, frozen and dried vegetables and fruits, processed potato products, nuts and other foods. Of course, we configure every sorter around the product characteristics, application requirements and process objectives of each customer. It will be available in a range of inspection widths from 700mm to 2100mm for belt-fed and 700mm to 1400mm for chute-fed configurations to satisfy small to very large production capacity requirements.

Q: What customer needs drove the development of this next-generation digital sorting platform?

A: Customers are always looking to improve the accuracy of FM and defect removal while maximizing yields. Also, with the growing shortage of available labor, they want more autonomous equipment that relies less on their operators and greater ease-of-use to simplify training. Customers have also been asking us for sorters to deliver a wide range product and operational data to their enterprise so they can better manage raw materials and optimize processes throughout their plants.

Q: How is advancing technology improving foreign material and defect removal?

A: Key’s industry-first Pixel Fusion™, which we introduced on VERYX, integrates the input from multiple cameras and laser sensors in relation to each image pixel. This achieves better differentiation between good and bad objects to more accurately identify and remove subtle defects and challenging FM. For processors that require full-product surface inspection of each object, we can configure VERYX sorters with sensor arrangements that eliminate blind spots to maximize removal of FM and product defects. On belt-fed sorters, we’ve introduced another industry first on VERYX — bottom cameras that are positioned away from product splatter to sustain 100 percent surface inspection throughout the production cycle. Also, because VERYX features new intelligent LED lighting and next-generation cameras and laser sensors that offer twice the resolution capability of previous sorters, we’re able to detect and remove the smallest defects and FM.

Q: How can data be harvested from a digital sorter to improve plant operations?

A: Digital sorters have a unique opportunity to offer intelligence at the same time they sort. They "see" 100 percent of the product flowing on the line and can capture vast amounts of sort data and product data whether that data is used in the sort process or not. VERYX features Key’s Information Analytics, a set of tools that can collect, analyze and share a broad range of product and operational data to help our customers optimize their processes. The data can be made available for off-line analysis or delivered flexibly to a customer’s SCADA or MES (manufacturing execution system).

Q: How is ease-of-use improving?

A: Intelligent software and algorithms help shield the user from the sorter’s increased technological complexity and sophistication. With VERYX, advanced intelligence offers greater autonomy and a significantly more intuitive user experience, which eases use and helps the sorter operate at peak performance. VERYX features new auto-learning and self-adjusting capabilities as well as predictive system diagnostics, smart alarms, FMAlert™ and Sort-to-Grade™ that allow it to operate virtually unattended during normal production. VERYX’s new recipe-driven operation ensures customers achieve consistent sorting over time and across multiple sorters in different lines or locations. Our new user interface, which is common to both belt-fed and chute-fed VERYX sorters, can provide different views to users of various levels, depending on their needs, and makes VERYX easier and faster to learn than other sorters.

Q: What is being done to maximize yields?

A: Improving the accuracy of defect and FM removal improves product quality at the same time it maximizes yields by reducing false rejects. It starts at the infeed to the sorter where Key’s specialized material handling solutions convey and control each object. By singulating and stabilizing product, the sensors can best "see" defects and FM and the ejection system can best target bad objects for removal thanks to a predictable product trajectory and the ability to aim airflow of the ejection nozzles only at those objects targeted for separation. Additionally, VERYX features a new ejector manifold that is tailored to each product application, with the distance between nozzles and the power of the valve varying for optimal performance. Intelligent ejection further improves yield by actuating one or more ejector valves that target the center of the object to be removed rather than the location of the defect, which could cause the object to spin and inadvertently remove good product with it.

Q: What differentiates VERYX from other digital sorting technologies?

A: Everything about VERYX differentiates it from previous-generation sorting technologies. Pixel Fusion and sustainable all-sided surface inspection are two stand-out innovations. On the hardware side, everything from the mechanical architecture to the configurable LED lighting system and the new ejector manifold helps VERYX achieve higher levels of sorting performance. On the software side, VERYX offers transformational intelligence to operate virtually unattended during normal production and present a more intuitive user interface to ease use and help maintain peak performance.