AEW sees clearly with Firstsight

26 February 2009

AEW Delford Systems, now part of Meral Food Systems, is able to produce greater volumes of more accurate bacon slices with a new machine. The slicer utilises computer and vision technology that measures a cross section of product prior to slicing.

AEW appointed Firstsight Vision as its strategic vision partner to develop the machine, which can also slice other products such as ham and cheese.

Vision specialists from Firstsight worked closely with food industry experts at AEW to develop a system that would enable a wider range of larger products to be processed with greater accuracy. Key to the project was the selection of the most appropriate cameras and the development of a suitable image processing methodology using Firstsight’s Common Vision Blox toolset. The outcome was a patented, flexible and extremely accurate measurement solution that could not be achieved by traditional machine vision technology and which has been adopted on a range of commercially available high speed, high volume, continuous feed slicer products. In addition, grading functions were introduced that could deal with the variation of product found in meat and maximise the value of the product being processed.

For bacon slicing, a high-speed camera is used to scan the leading face of the product before slicing. The system measures the area, lean/fat ratio and the lean/fat structure, and takes into account their different densities, before adjusting the thickness of the next slice and providing grading information to labelling technology down the line. This maximises the on-weight percentages and minimises give-away.

For products such as cheese and ham, the vision system is used in conjunction with laser profiling. This follows contours so closely at the cutting face that virtually any variation in product composition – however irregular – is detected. Holes in cheese, voids in ham, areas of fat and even lean/fat ratios are all measured at the blade, slice by slice. This means on-weights, extremely low giveaway, consistently accurate grading, high output and excellent product presentation with minimal manual intervention.

In addition to slicing applications, vision has been incorporated into high capacity automatic portioning machines for fresh or chilled boneless product. The vision technology produces a three dimensional profile so that the product can be accurately portioned, at high speed, in accordance with the user’s specifications. Product can be divided into ‘zones’ with differing options or priorities. These zones may be specified by slice count or by percentage of the piece. The system automatically selects the most appropriate portion to cut for every slice maximising the number of useable, on weight portions.

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