Does PPO Do This? Your Top Questions Answered

Common Client Questions & Answers About PPO’s technology and Smart Imaging System

Meat processors ask a lot of thoughtful questions when it comes to assessing the efficacy of foreign material detection technology in their plants. Working with many potential customers over the years, we’ve answered a lot of repeat questions. There’s a good chance you’re wondering some of the same things too. 

Keep reading for expert answers to the top questions about hyperspectral imaging, the ins and outs of foreign material detection and how our Smart Imaging System really works.

Q1: What level of product throughput can PPO handle in the plant?

The conveyors in our Smart Imaging System are 30 inches wide and they run at 80 feet per minute. The amount of product you need to form a single layer depends on piece size and product state. The actual throughput volume will depend on the type of product. 

  • For a very small product, like bacon bits, fine dices and grinds, we can inspect up to about 20,000 pounds per hour. 
  • As product gets bigger, like chicken trim and coarse grinds, we can inspect up to 30,000 pounds an hour.
  • For whole-muscle product, like chicken breasts, we can inspect up to 40,000 pounds per hour.
  • For big trims like pork and beef, we can inspect up to 50,000 plus pounds per hour, depending on the cuts of meat.

Our Smart Imaging System uses an optical method of scanning, which means the cameras can only see what’s visible to them on product surfaces. So it’s important to consider the product spread as part of the volume calculation, to ensure that product can be spread in a single layer across the belt.

Raw chicken breasts moving through PPO's Smart Imaging System

Q2: How does PPO’s Smart Imaging System detect bone in product?

In order to detect foreign materials on the line they must be visible to PPO Smart Imaging System. Our technology can’t see inside of the product like an industrial metal detector or x-ray can.

If the bone or cartilage pieces are exposed in some way then our hyperspectral imaging technology has a very good chance of finding it. Detection success also depends on the size. For example, foreign materials that are one millimeter in size will be more difficult to detect than those presenting at five or six millimeters.

Q3: If I install PPO’s Smart Imaging System, will it replace my metal detector and x-ray detection technologies?

A successful foreign material detection program is  less about replacing certain technologies than it is about finding the right mix of complementary technologies. For example, without metal detection and x-ray you lose the ability to see inside your product. This is why many processors invest in a suite of detection technologies to inspect their product. 

We have a customer with zero foreign material finds downstream because they are using a multi-hurdle approach to inspection. This means they run product through those classic x-ray and metal detection technologies before it enters our Smart Imaging System. All three technologies paired together work extremely well to help reduce foreign materials finding their way into finished product.

Q4: Does PPO’s Smart Imaging System summarize the types of foreign material found over a certain period of time?

The PPO Smart Imaging System is recording all foreign materials detections as they’re happening in real time and shares that raw data with you. Our PPO Insights platform will deliver real-time data and reporting in a user-friendly dashboard so you can visualize what’s happening on the line, make quick decisions and easily share findings with others in the business. 

Q5: How does routine maintenance work with PPO’s Smart Imaging System?

Our Smart Imaging System doesn’t require a lot of maintenance beyond what you’d expect in a plant:

  • The system performs a calibration every morning and then again after about eight or ten hours of operation.
  • Maintenance is a biannual event in addition to regular inspections.
  • Lamps are replaced more frequently because they must always be functioning in an ideal state to detect foreign materials.
  • If components may break while sanitation crews are cleaning the machine, the inspection checklist that teams run through at the beginning of every day helps ensure the system is in a functional state before starting.
PPO Waterfall System

Q6: How does PPO’s Smart Imaging System detect foreign materials that are hidden underneath thick product? 

Since the Smart Imaging System scans the surface of product it does need to flip the product to see multiple sides. There are three different configurations of the Smart Imaging System, two of which automatically flip product:

  • The Z-Configuration uses a change of conveyor direction to flip product to the other side. This is the system plants often use for thick trims and whole chicken breasts.
  • With the Waterfall system the product falls over a short drop and shows a new product surface. This system is ideal for ground or diced product, like poultry and pork.

Q7: How does PPO’s Smart Imaging System handle product streams with shadows?

Our systems are optically based, which means they need to capture light in order to see information. Shadows come in a lot of different intensity levels. A “true” shadow doesn’t reflect light but many shadows actually do reflect some light back. They simply appear darker than fully illuminated product. 

They simply appear darker than fully illuminated product. 

Dealing with shadows comes back to how we train our machine learning models.

  •  When training our foreign material detection application, we teach the system what foreign materials look like vs what products look like. 
  • While we design the robustness of these models, we will also teach them what shadowed foreign materials look like and what shadowed product looks like. 
  • As we build the model there is a limit to how dark a shadow can be and still let the system see inside. 

To summarize, our Smart Imaging System does recognize what a shadow is, if that shadow is acceptable and if there is a foreign material in a shadow. 

Q8: How does PPO’s Smart Imaging System surface a foreign material problem that you didn’t you didn’t know you had?

Our technology isn’t just trained to look for certain foreign materials, it’s also trained to detect anything that doesn’t look like product. Imagine a scenario of foreign material arriving in your plant because one of your suppliers is using a new type of glove. Cut gloves are made out of Kevlar, which means they don’t look like pork, chicken or beef. Our Smart Imaging System will detect a piece of that glove very quickly if it’s at the right size.

Q9: How long does it take to train PPO’s Smart Imaging System?

The time lapse between system installation and having the system ready to go is about six weeks. Here’s how that timeframe breaks down: 

  • First, we need to collect data about your product in your environment. We can’t run thousands of pieces of product through PPO facilities, so we need to be in your facility to see true product variation and what it looks like when it comes from your suppliers. This step takes a few weeks to complete. 
  • Next, we place real live foreign materials on the product as part of the commissioning exercise. We do this outside of regular operations, just before a sanitation cycle or in an offline position, so it doesn’t impact operations. 
  • Finally, we’re ready to put the Smart Imaging System through its paces. In this performance demonstration, we’ll put foreign materials directly on product during regular operations and prove that it’s finding all the right things.

Q10: How custom is PPO’s Smart Imaging System? Are spare parts hard to come by and can a plant maintenance team work on the equipment if needed?

The system uses industry-standard components familiar to maintenance teams, like the Intralox belt that’s already in your plants, ABB breakers in electrical components, Allen Bradley PLCs (programmable logic controllers) and more. This makes the majority of the system completely serviceable by plant maintenance teams. 

The system includes a hyperspectral camera and a visual camera. These sensitive optical parts are only serviceable by PPO’s experts.

Q11: What stage is PPO’s Smart Imaging System located in a multi-hurdle inspection approach? Does it have to come after the metal detector and x-ray?

The location of PPO’s system This is very much plant-process dependent. The inspection technologies don’t need to all be grouped together.

  •  You could have a metal detector at the beginning of the process to make sure that metal doesn’t come into your line and damage your processing equipment. 
  • You could also have x-ray at the end of the line as part of a standard process of inspecting the final product before it gets to the consumer. 
  • We work with our partners to figure out what’s best for their unique process and where our Smart Imaging System will deliver the most value so they can optimize ROI at every inspection stage.

Do you have questions you’d like answered around foreign material detection, hyperspectral imaging, or PPO’s Smart Imaging System? Our team is always ready to chat. Reach out to [email protected] to get the answers you need.

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