Bühler UK Ltd recently revealed that it has won this year’s Queen’s Award for Enterprise: Innovation. The distinction recognizes the company’s commitment to research into camera technology for sorting machines.
The technological innovation is being used to drive up food safety controls in the frozen vegetables (and nut) sector, while also helping to increase plastic recycling rates. Since 1968 when the Queen’s Award was established, Bühler has won the distinction seven times.
Bühler’s unique camera technology used in sorting machines is capable of recognizing the subtlest of color and shading contrasts in materials and foods and so significantly increasing detection rates for foreign materials, potential choke hazards or contaminated foods. The UK-developed system uses hyperspectral imaging to record the amount of wavelength data to generate accurate color and shading contrasts to look for when detecting contamination or a foreign object in a production process.
One of the criteria for a Queen’s Award is that the technology should not just be innovative, but also scalable, commercially viable and to have resulted in a material improvement to a commercial process.
“The innovation here is our ability to gather such large amounts of data and then use that data to optimize a conventional narrowband digital camera so that it is capable of quickly and efficiently detecting very special things, whether it is foreign materials in a vegetable production line or even different grades of polymers in a recycling plant,” said Bühler’s Senior Research Engineer, Benedict Deefholts.
According to food producers in Europe and the US which have implemented the technology, detection rates for foreign materials in their facilities are up from 85% to 95%. Over the past four years, Bühler used the technology to produce a range of specialist cameras for different markets. The PolarVision is aimed at producers of frozen vegetables, while PolyVision designed to improve plastic recycling rates. Ardo, one of the largest global fresh-frozen fruit vegetable and herd producers, has, for example, already introduced PolarVision in its European storing plants.
The Bühler camera technology is also being used to detect foreign material and lower grade or discolored polymers to ensure the highest-grade recyclate can be achieved by plastic recyclers. By detecting such high rates of contamination, it is now possible to produce food grade plastic packaging from 100% recycled material, cutting the need for virgin plastic production and levels of plastic being sent to landfill.