How does X-ray inspection technology impact the wine industry?
In wine bottling production are various machines on the bottling line, like bottle inspectors and fill level monitors – but you’ll hardly ever see X-ray systems. But why wouldn’t those be included?
There is now high-res technology being produced in top-end glass inspection systems. So how do these systems work? How do they find contaminants around the punts of wine bottles, one of the most difficult parts of the bottle to inspect? And why should you bring in X-ray systems to your bottling line?
Historically, X-ray systems have not been great at dealing with wine and champagne bottles. They’re thicker than most products; there’s a lot of variation; and the punt or push-up on the bottom is often quite large.
Fun Fact: The push-up has to be there at some level because when the bottle is made, the push-up prevents the bottle from shaping down and having a rounded bottom, which would cause it to roll around on the production line.
The Old Versus New
Older technology would find around a 7 mm piece of glass in a wine bottle – not very exciting. A lot of wine producers have people hand-inspecting their bottles, and even they would see a 7 mm piece of glass. The challenge is that they wouldn’t reliably see things that are much smaller. But now technology has advanced so much that we can find pieces of glass that are around 2 mm in the bottom of a wine bottle, consistently, at a low reject rate.
Before, a wine producer might have said, “If I really need to inspect this, I’ll hire some people.” The challenge with that is people get tired, they make errors, and many wine bottles aren’t easy to manually look at anyway, especially ones made with a darker glass. (Can you imagine trying to look at 1,000 bottles a day without much machine help?)
Now, we have mechanized inspection that’s repeatable, has a fixed-cost, and a small minimum size. You may start to see a lot of wine producers embrace this technology. The kinds of products routinely inspected by X-ray systems generally do not have the same high value as a wine or champagne. So it’s surprising that more producers aren’t switching to X-ray systems to guarantee that their high-value product is finding as many contaminants as possible.
If you’re a major wine producer with a glass problem, that must keep you up at night. Filling glass containers is a risky business. You can even chip bottles and end up with foreign material. But these are risks wine producers no longer need to tolerate.
There are a lot of systems on the market that inspect fill levels. Many that wine producers use are vision-based systems. They tend to have a percent error to minor standing of anywhere from 2 to 3%. The high-resolution technology that comes with X-ray inspection is able to check the fill level by volume as opposed to a visual indicator.
One of the realities of glass production is that the bottles aren’t consistent. Producers are having to overfill every bottle in order to adjust for this container-to-container variation. When we go to distillers and slow-motion photograph their line, we notice that 60% of their bottles were overfilled.
Historically, the technology couldn’t do anything about that. But if you’re making something that’s very valuable with a limited supply, everything you overfill means fewer bottles you can produce, which means lost profits.
Peco-InspX systems’ capabilities with full container X-ray is able to tell what amount of fluid is in the bottle and give producers a fudge factor so that the fill level looks consistent on a shelf counter. We’re also optimizing it so that you know everything is properly filled with overfilling.
If you’re bottling and you can make 2% more each year by doing a careful fill level, that’s 2% more profit that today you don’t have.
The integrity of the Glass Container
What types of detection can X-ray do to ensure the integrity of the glass wall?
Another thing to worry about with wine is bottles breaking during the filling process; you don’t want customers to say there were 10 broken bottles in your shipment of $200 bottles of wine.
With full-container X-ray, we can create a 3-D model of the bottle wall thickness and specify the locations you need. If the container is too thin, we’ll eject it before you fill it.
When you cork bottles, that applies pressure to the glass, and producers see breakage there. That’s another area we can provide a specific summary of. If the bottle does not meet your specifications, you can go ahead and eject before filling.
That also allows producers to work more closely with glass suppliers. If they’re seeing issues before filling, they can address them before they cost a lot of money.
Corking and Enclosure
The high-resolution systems can see the quality and density of a cork. We can see through the capsule, test the quality of the cork, see if the cork is flush against the glass bottle, see if there’s been wine seepage into the cork. Those are important quality control steps.
We can also see the pattern in the cork, remember it, and associate it with a bottle of wine.
What can typically happen is that people fill bottles that’s not the original wine and re-cork it. What would make that effective is being able to take the cork out without damaging it, replace the exact same cork, and get the same seal on the bottle. That has a low probability of success. One thing we’re eager to work with wine producers on is “fingerprint identification” of corks for each bottle, which gives people 100% assurance is the wine they’re getting is the wine they ordered at the time of production.
This tests the native product and doesn’t harm or damage the bottle in any part of the inspection process.
Many counterfeit inspection processes can only look at the external of a product, or looking under high-resolution magnification; usually things like obvious chips, label quality, or paper quality. But X-ray systems allow for a multi-point process for fingerprinting that allows you to more or less see the inside contents of the bottle, the cork enclosure itself, whether it’s been tampered with.
That means we can even give you grading for if the wine is in good shape!
Can X-ray Damage the Wine?
The FDA did a study about using X-rays on organic products. The bottom line of that study was that there were no health risks to using X-ray inspection machines. X-rays pass through the containers and are picked up by detectors. They’re not modifying the product you’re looking at in any way.
X-ray uses ionized radiation. For things that are large and living, X-ray exposure can hurt you. When you go to the dentist, you wear a lead shield. The level of X-rays we use for an inspection process are so low that the ionizing effect is practically zero.
- The machine exposes the wine to less radiation than a person naturally gets over the course of a year from the sun.
- The energy passes through in the form of photons to make an image, but the food or beverage does not become radioactive.
- People are exposed to 36,000 microsieverts of radiation every year, naturally. That’s about 4 microsieverts (a radiation measurement) an hour. Food and beverage inspected by X-ray is the equivalent of leaving the food or beverage in the sun for 2.5 hours.
A Single, Consolidated Machine
Rather than using multiple systems down a production line, an X-ray system allows producers to consolidate all inspection steps into one machine. “More for less”, essentially.
Most of the time, wine facilities don’t have unlimited space. The process of storing wine especially takes a lot of space. A lot of operations are often constrained. If you can integrate fill level and label detection into one system, that’s very neat.
It’s also great for mobile bottling options because now you don’t need multiple machines on your mobile operation – just one. A consolidated X-ray system will reduce the amount of equipment on your line.
(Peco-InspX machines are immensely portable. We fly them all over the world to customers!)
Fill Valve Monitoring
Most fillers are some set of repeating nozzles that go into bottles and fill them. The X-ray system maps each fill head to a counter and its memory, and looking at how consistently each container is filled based on the fill head. If there’s any deviation beyond what’s acceptable, it will tell you so you can adjust that system before it gets too far out of whack.
One thing about maintenance systems today is that they’re often done by “catastrophic problem detection”: something is going very wrong before the monitoring system picks it up. Peco-InspX makes sure to provide an intelligence system that proactively counters and alerts you to problems.
When you’re bottling, you don’t have time to shut down a process if something is wrong with the inspection system. Peco-Inspx provides customer service that guarantees help as soon as you need it.
- Our machines have remote monitoring systems worldwide. We can watch from any of our facilities and make sure it’s performing to standards.
- We have a remote diagnostic capabilities so that if something goes wrong, we can fix it electronically.
- We have people roaming areas that answer calls within 30 seconds and are available 24/7.
- We do our best to be at your facility in 30 minutes or less once we’ve received your call.
- We distribute readily-available parts throughout the world, including the central valley in California, where a lot of wine is produced.
We really put focus on immediate response to make sure production isn’t interrupted. We invested immensely in electronic monitoring so we can find a problem before it causes an issue. On top of that, we have engineers whose sole job is to take care of time-sensitive customers.
We want to protect your business without disrupting it.
A Large Selection
We want to learn how to provide a solution customized to you. That’s why we offer customization features for our machines.
However, we have a machine that’s designed to inspect wine and champagne bottles; 100% of the container. That’s generally what we recommend to people in this industry. We have engineers who are focused on wine inspection machines specifically that you can reach out to about those needs.
We recommend you begin with consultations so that we can design machines to fit your needs. We have a core product that’s configurable, but let’s make sure we understand what exactly you need first.
If you want more helpful resources from Peco-InspX visit https://www.peco-inspx.com/lp/resources