The rules governing the multi-trillion-dollar worldwide food processing and handling industry are as varied and complicated as the palates of consumers. Everything from preparation to storage and packaging has regulations that must be followed and fully documented to ensure food safety. Failure to adhere to reporting requirements at food manufacturing plants can lead to large fines and product recalls, and in some cases, facility shutdowns or food-borne illnesses.
For the world’s food processors, performing plant maintenance, testing machinery and other compliance tasks can add tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual expenses, depending on the size of the factories.
One way to reduce the costs associated with performing and documenting those tasks is by using 3D laser scanning.
The ability to get instant access to every detail of the plant with digital remote management provides unprecedented control over facilities from any location, enabling plants to maximize safety, efficiency and agility.
Laser Scanning Provides Fast, Accurate Results
Laser scanners take highly detailed measurements from a distance and create accurate, comprehensive as-built snapshots of what they see, timestamping the results as the technology creates a digital point cloud of the conditions. While traditional measurement methods require multiple people to climb on ladders, scaffolding and catwalks to collect the data over periods of days and weeks, laser scanning can be completed in a matter of hours by a single technician from safe locations on the ground. The results are available almost instantly for review and collaboration by key stakeholders.
Laser scanning is so thorough, it can document small details such as the pattern marks embedded on pipe fittings. The technology has the ability to greatly reduce human error, along with the need for related rework or extra site visits from government inspectors, since everything is documented in the digital twin the scanners create.
The raw data the scanners capture can easily be turned into 3D representations for use in building information modeling (BIM), with CAD programs or for customized analysis. The ability to get instant access to every detail of the plant with digital remote management provides unprecedented control over facilities from any location, enabling plants to maximize safety, efficiency and agility.
Over the lifecycle of a factory, what’s there in reality is not shown on the drawings — and what’s shown on the drawings is not even near what the reality is. Laser scanning overcomes this challenge.
An Easy Way to Capture Complete, Accurate As-Built Data
Travis Sachs is a big believer in the potential of laser scanning in manufacturing facilities. Sachs is the chief operating officer at 3DS Technologies Inc., a Guelph, Ontario-based scanning services provider with clients throughout Canada and the Unites States.
He says food processing plants are an ideal application for laser scanning, since it can quickly and accurately capture information that in many cases, otherwise just doesn’t exist.
“It’s pretty common that there are just no accurate drawings for these factories,” Sachs says. The systems at food and beverage processing facilities are constantly being repaired or updated, and the maintenance records aren’t always kept up.
“For example, if a plant is changing out all valves or RTDs (resistance temperature detectors), or adding new pipework, they don’t always (record) that,” he explains. “So, over the lifecycle of a factory, what’s there in reality is not shown on the drawings — and what’s shown on the drawings is not even near what the reality is. Laser scanning overcomes this challenge.”
Every detail matters, and every project has to be done right the first time. Using the right combination of technology and experience provides a significant return on investment by putting all the data you need on your facilities right at your fingertips.
Safe, Noncontact Measurement with No Downtime
A big advantage of laser scanning for food production facilities, Sachs says, is that using the technology does not require machinery to be shut down or for scanner operators to be in close contact with other people or with the equipment to capture measurements. The noninvasive nature of laser scanners allows data to be captured from a safe distance, reducing the chances of contamination or slowing down production lines. Most scanning equipment only requires one operator, further minimizing the risk of contamination and ensuring worker safety.
Sachs founded 3DS Technologies after several years as a millwright and project manager running the maintenance department at a manufacturing facility, where he discovered firsthand the difficulties of trying to work with inaccurate measurements and missing records. After learning about the capabilities of laser scanners and their many applications, he started 3DS with a rented Leica ScanStation P50 from Leica Geosystems. The long-range 3D terrestrial laser scanner allowed 3DS to offer clients scans of places inaccessible with other technologies.
Soon after, he purchased a Leica ScanStation P30, which offers 3D and high-dynamic range (HDR) scanning of up to 1 million points per second and a 120-meter range. That was followed by the compact, high-speed RTC360, which easy to use and capable of completing a full scan in as little as 26 seconds.
“Speed, quality, accuracy and data accessibility are all imperative,” says Sachs. “Every detail matters, and every project has to be done right the first time. Using the right combination of technology and experience provides a significant return on investment by putting all the data you need on your facilities right at your fingertips.”
More Than Meats the Eye
3DS recently demonstrated the value of laser scanning to the owners of a meatpacking plant in southern Ontario. The plant is tightly spaced with processing machinery, and the owners wanted to replace much of the equipment while minimizing the related downtime. Sachs reached out to the company, explaining how 3DS’s laser scanning services could quickly provide the data they needed to lay out the plant’s new equipment as efficiently as possible.
In contrast to other data-gathering methods, which could require multiple visits to capture all the required measurements, 3DS’s scan work took less than a day.
“We went in on the weekend, while they were shut down for sanitation work,” Sachs says. “We went in without any disruption to normal production. And we provided them with an as-built 3D model so they can do their design and know what they’re working with. You wouldn’t be able to do that without 3D laser scanning.”
Laser scanning already has a long history of success in other manufacturing sectors, such as automotive and oil and gas. As word spreads about the benefits of digital remote management in food and beverage processing, companies are scrambling to capture digital documentation on their facilities to avoid falling behind. Laser scanning provides a distinct competitive advantage.
“The applications of this technology are incredible,” Sachs says. “Whether you’re dealing with a merger or acquisition, a plant retrofit, ongoing maintenance or regulatory reporting, laser scanning really simplifies the process of documenting everything. You can very quickly go to the accurate digital model and answer any questions that might arise. It drastically reduces risk and costs, as well as labor. I feel really confident when I say that it’s not if you’re going to use laser scanning; it’s when you’re going to use it.”