Metal detectors. To most, these are devices owned by hobbyists that are into beachcombing or amateur archaeological research. The truth is, metal detectors are used in a number of different capacities many of which have a direct impact on the daily lives of millions of people around the world every single day. For the most part, these multi-purpose devices are used to make the world around us safer; not only are they used to help locate and remove unexploded land mines or other military ordinance, they’re also used in the detection of weapons (like guns and knives) at the airport (and other high risk locations), and in the construction industry to locate steel reinforcements in concrete and pipes that might be buried in a wall.
It might surprise you to learn that metal detectors are also used quite extensively in the food manufacturing industry. Unlike other industries, the metal detectors used in the food industry aren’t handheld devices – in fact, they’re far from it.
Why is the Use of Metal Detectors Necessary in the Food Industry?
You don’t need to be an engineer to understand why the food industry uses metal detectors: to prevent the accidental consumption of metal. During the manufacturing process, it’s possible that a trace amount of metal accidentally finds its way into the product that’s being produced. Since most of the food manufacturing process takes place within a series of machines at an incredibly fast pace, human inspection isn’t entirely practical, even if it’s possible.
Due to continued advancements in technology, modern metal detectors are much more sensitive than ever before, and offer a wider range of output signals than previous incarnations. It’s important to understand however that no matter how advanced or sensitive a metal detector might be, it’s not a perfect technology; it’s possible that an occasional particle or two passes through without being detected. To their credit, metal detectors add a tremendous amount of screening ability when it comes to our food, preventing countless batches of contaminated food from ever reaching store shelves.
What Are the Most Widely Used Types of Metal Detectors (in the Food Industry)?
There are two basic types of metal detectors used in the food industry today; the Balanced Coil system and the magnetic Ferrous-in-Foil system. While different, each serves a purpose in maintaining food safety.
Balanced Coil System
The Balanced Coil system employs three coils (the centre coil generates a field, while the outlying coils act as receivers that can detect metallic particles). If a magnetic or conductive material passes through this field it will cause a disturbance and can thus be detected by the receiver coils. Since all metals have at least one of these characteristics (magnetic or conductive), the Balanced Coil is the more widely used system between the two.
Able to detect metals like iron, steel, and magnetic stainless steel, the Ferrous-in-Foil system is used by manufacturers that produce products like pies or TV diners that are packaged using aluminum foil trays (a non-ferrous material). Unlike the Balanced Coil system, the Ferrous-in-Foil system uses a powerful electro-magnet to detect metallic contaminants. When a magnetized particle is detected by the system, a notification is immediately sent to the user interface and the product is subsequently removed from the production process.
The Importance of Metal Detectors in Today’s Food Industry
It’s easy to see why metal detectors are so very important in the production of consumable goods. Perhaps there was a time, when everything was handmade, that metal detectors weren’t as necessary as they are today. These days, manufacturers literary prepare millions of units each and every year, using highly efficient, automated processes. It only stands to reason that the screening and detection technology that’s used to ensure the safety of the product is just as advanced and sophisticated as the production equipment itself.
It’s true that manufacturers use metal detectors as a means to ensure quality for their customers, but these devices also help to protect the products and the brand itself. Failing to take the proper precautions to detect contaminants in their products leaves the door open to the erosion of consumer trust, something that no corporate entity can afford.
Published by Steffen Ploeger