Achieve Speed and Accuracy in Food & Beverage Packaging Leak Detection

by | Apr 26, 2022 | Analytical, Food & Beverage, Measurement Instrumentation, Packaging

Khadra Helminski

Global Integrated Marketing Manager, Gas Analysis

In a Food Engineering article, Emerson’s Jason Mitchell looks at the importance of detecting packaging leaks in food and beverage operations.

Ensuring the seal integrity of food & beverage packaged goods is critical to product quality control and mitigation of product recalls and returns. Quality problems can subject companies to additional costs and regulations, as well as damage to their reputation. However, traditional seal testing methods are slow, destructive in nature, and don’t provide the high-precision leak testing accuracy needed to reduce waste, meet quality requirements and increase throughput.

Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP)
To remain competitive in a global market, implementing a reliable leak testing system is essential, especially in food packaging lines that use modified atmosphere packaging (MAP)—a method for extending the shelf -life of the product without additives. This technology seals the food in a package that contains a mixture of natural gases in carefully controlled proportions that significantly slow down the process of decay by inhibiting processes of oxidation and the growth of microbes.

If oxygen-bearing air can be forced out of the package and replaced with carbon dioxide, reactivity decreases drastically, and critical food ingredients retain their desirable attributes. CO2 also suppresses the growth of mold and aerobic bacteria. Everything from beer to cookies to ground meat will therefore have a longer shelf life and higher customer satisfaction, thanks to CO2.

The Rosemount CT4215 Packaging Leak Detection System uses the highly precise Quantum Cascade Laser (QCL) technology to identify leaks smaller than 0.3 mm in Modified Atmosphere Packaging (MAP). The system measures up to 200 packs per minute, inline and in real-time.

However, MAP is only effective if the actual package itself remains intact, making leak testing critical. Traditional leak testing methods such as random underwater sampling are slow and may even ruin the package. It may sound impractical, and it is costly and time-consuming, but this sampling method consists of immersing the packages in the water while operators watch for bubbles, like looking for a leak in a flat tire. The method is destructive and increases waste as the tested units can’t be returned to the production line.

Accurate, Inline Packaging Leak Detection in Real-Time

In this Food Engineering magazine article, Jason Mitchell looks at more accurate and practical methods to detect leaks in MAP. This includes infrared laser-based leak detection systems. These systems can be installed directly on the production line. Slight pressure is exerted on the package using a roller and this causes gas to be released if there is a leak. These compact detection units, including Emerson’s Rosemount CT4215 Packaging Leak Detection System, can detect and quantify carbon dioxide, even in trace amounts, taking advantage of carbon dioxide’s ability to absorb specific wavelengths of infrared light. Packages pass through a short tunnel over a conveyor, where a Quantum Cascade Laser-based detector is positioned to detect leaks from pinholes smaller than 3.0 mm.

A vacuum pump in the system draws air at a constant rate through the arch and pulls it through the QCL analyzer element. The laser source pulses on for less than 1 millisecond, allowing more than one laser to be used at effectively the same time. These fast pulses are called “chirps.” The smallest whiff of carbon dioxide can be detected in a few milliseconds by the analyzer as the package passes by, identifying a leak. The control system responds by triggering the rejection mechanism to push the leaking package off the conveyor, timed to coincide with the conveyor speed.
Quality Assurance for a Variety of Package Types

The Rosemount CT4215 can be configured to use different sensing heads to correspond to the specific product and packaging type. The system can test up to 200 packages per minute and automatically rejects leaky packs in real-time, allowing packaging lines to avoid a production bottleneck and increase throughput. Utilizing the highly reliable and sensitive Quantum Cascade Laser (technology), the Rosemount CT4215 enables 100% product inspection and quality control without pack deformation.

To optimize process control, the system offers visibility into production data using software that enables full data logging, configurable alarms, and actional alerts to support the specific needs of packaging lines.

For more info, visit Emerson.com/RosemountCT4215. For more on Emerson’s technologies and solutions for quality and content evaluation, visit the Gas Analysis pages at Emerson.com. You can also connect and interact with other engineers in the Food & Beverage or Life Sciences groups at the Emerson Exchange 365 community.

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The opinions expressed here are the personal opinions of the authors. Content published here is not read or approved by Emerson before it is posted and does not necessarily represent the views and opinions of Emerson.