On-call product inspection: A 911 response to your packaging emergency

Having X-ray, metal detection, and checkweighing capabilities for your packaged goods are as close as a phone call away and may cost less than you think.

Imagine that you are responsible for 13 pallet loads of packaged food, and you know that somewhere in there is a bolt that's come loose from a blender. Unfortunately, you don’t have an X-ray machine and your metal detector was out for repair.

What are you going to do?

You could try calling Darren Eaton or Aaron Soto, managers of the Product Inspection Services (PIS) of Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc. (www.thermo.com) for Europe and the United States, respectively. Each can provide a veritable packaging 911 response to the thorniest, insomnia-inducing problems of product inspection. "Everyone who uses our services is in a panic mode," says Soto.

Thermo Fisher's PIS locations include a 5,000-sq-ft facility in Westmont, IL, south of Chicago; a 25,000-sq-ft facility in Rugby, England, in the center of the country; a 10,000-sq-ft facility in Holland, and a 5,000-sq-ft facility in Italy. The process employs the latest X-ray systems as well as state-of-the-art metal detectors and checkweighers. The inspection employs the latest X-ray systems as well as state-of-the-art metal detectors and checkweighers.

The inspection can be done at your place or theirs or at a mutually convenient rented site. Thermo Fisher's facilities are FDA- and USDA- compliant. If yours are chilled products, a just-in-time inspection from a refrigerated truck can be arranged to keep the products safe.

The inspection facilities stateside and abroad are outfitted with multiple Thermo Scientific branded X-ray inspection machines, metal detectors, checkweighers and associated support, including personnel. The PIS facilities stateside and abroad are outfitted with four X-ray inspection machines, two metal detectors, a checkweigher, and associated support, including personnel. Other equipment and capability can be arranged, including tapping the engineering expertise of Thermo Fisher Scientific, an $9 billion company.

Its services encompass both contaminant-focused and quality-control and quality-assurance functions. Almost any inspection can be conducted, including bulk product. Detectable contaminants include metal, glass, PVC-based plastic, stone, rubber, bone, and others. Detectable "faults" include product voids, missing components, damaged product, over- or underfills, and others.

How it works

After a phone call, potential customers are asked to complete a one-page data sheet that asks questions such as package dimensions. A packaged product sample is almost always requested, too. Thermo Fisher aims for a 24-hr turnaround from first contact, according to Soto. Cost is based primarily on the product volume and not on the value of the product nor on urgency, he adds.

If not done on-site, product delivery is the responsibility of the customer. Thermo Fisher personnel unpackage, inspect, and then repackage the products in the same format and condition in which it was received.

Batches can be as little as one pallet load or as many as needed, with cost as little as $1,200. In the U.K., where PIS's setup is accessible almost as a "walkup" operation, costs can be as little as $100. Soto says they are looking to get down to inspecting very small amounts, too, in the United States.

"Most of what we inspect comprises boxed product or product in foil or metallized bags," says Eaton. "That's the great thing about X-rays: we can look through just about anything."

About 90% of the business is food-related, though PIS can inspect pharmaceuticals and nonfood goods. Examples of actual projects:

∑ A confectionary company that had seven truckloads of bagged product expected not to find any contamination, but product was not sellable until it was checked. Interestingly, the inspection uncovered the fact that the 12-oz bags were grossly overfilled by about 50%. The company then installed checkweighers from Thermo Fisher Scientific at its plant and quickly recouped its inspection costs several times over.
∑ PIS inspected—and therefore recovered for sale—$10 million worth of cosmetics for a cost of $100,000.
New developments include adding high-resolution X-ray inspection with glass-in-glass capability that permits finding glass pieces in a glass bottle.

Soto is in the process of procuring an additional 10,000 sq-ft facility in the Chicago area that's closer to the intersections of Interstates 80, 90, and 94. The company also has plans to add facilities on the West Coast and in Texas.

For more information, visit Thermo.com or contact Aaron Soto, phone 904/230-3110 or aaron.soto@thermofisher.com. In Europe, contact Darren Eaton, phone 44(0)1788-820-330 or darren.eaton@thermofisher.com

To hear more details about this capability, listen to this Podcast of PW's interview.
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