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De Grood Innovations’ BV Foodjet printer incorporates a vision system that is based on a Matrox Iris GT smart camera and was developed with the Matrox Design Assistant development environment.

Because of its low maintenance requirement, ease of cleaning and low price per droplet, the De Grood Innovations BV Foodjet printer is suited for the food industry.

Main target markets are bakeries and manufacturers of ice cream and dairy products.

The Foodjet printer is designed to accurately deposit a variety of thick food materials, such as frosting, yogurt or sauce, onto food substrates.

The system’s series of pneumatic membrane nozzle jets deposit small drops onto the moving food products.

These drops then form a digital image in the shape of a decoration or a surface fill.

Decorating requires higher resolution and smaller nozzle (droplet) size, while filling can be done using big drops and lower resolution.

The Foodjet printer has a flexible, modular architecture that can be configured to any production process.

This allows for a number of decorating and filling options.

Changing the angle between the printer head and movement direction of the conveyor allows the resolution to be set.

Using heads behind one another permits ‘multicolour’ printing, where colours are applied in different layers on top of each other.

Placing heads next to each other allows for a wider working area.

While the physical placement of the printer head offers a number of possible configurations, other variables such as nozzles, pressure and dispensing time also increase the printing possibilities.

The printer is controlled by two PLCs and sensors such as proximity switches and photocells are used for alignment.

Depending on resolution, the speed of the printer can be up to 30m/min with resolution as high as 30dpi.

The system has a reaction time of 200us and, with camera, the system accuracy is better than +/1mm.

The HMI allows the operator to choose product, pressure and shutter times of valves.

However, the camera runs autonomously.

Typical for the food industry, many products need to be manufactured continuously and, once a process stops, the machine needs to be shut down and cleaned because products cool down and harden or dry.

‘The Foodjet printer is a closed system, which prevents the product from drying or cooling,’ said de Grood.

‘This means that it has no problem standing idle for hours or even overnight,’ he added.

The traditional food-decorating method is manual application or, if the process is automated, using masks and mechanical restraints.

Area filling is done by applying a liquid curtain, under which the food products are moved on a mesh conveyor.

Another filling method involves partially submerging the products in a bath to apply the substance.

The baths and curtain processes especially require an extensive cleaning procedure when switching between products – for example, when switching to a different colour frosting or switching from milk chocolate to dark chocolate.

Because the Foodjet printer is a closed system, the switch can be done by connecting the reservoir with the new product and flushing the system before connecting the return flow to the reservoir.

‘A closed system prevents mixing of product ingredients or environmental contamination to ensure the best possible hygiene and food safety,’ said De Grood.

The addition of a machine-vision option to the Foodjet printer came about after a customer approached De Grood with an application where it was virtually impossible to mechanically align the food products so that they could be decorated properly.

‘A lot of bakery products would be almost impossible to handle by the Foodjet printer if it did not offer a vision option,’ said de Grood.

‘These include fragile products that get damaged if handled too much by mechanical means for alignment and products with non-uniform shapes.

Both of these situations can be solved by the vision system, which measures the product’s exact position and dimension,’ he added.

The Foodjet printer with the vision option allows for ultra-fast switching between food products.

There is no need for food manufacturers to change any mechanical alignment tools or other sensors to work with a larger or differently shaped product.

The Matrox Design Assistant, an integrated development environment that is bundled with the camera, allowed De Grood to create a flow chart of the application instead of coding programs or scripts.

This eliminates the need to program in any standard programming language such as Visual Basic, C, C++ or C#.

A number of Design Assistant tools or flowchart steps were used.

The location and size of products need to be measured, so calibration of the system is necessary.

Image-processing filters, blob analysis and model finder – geometric pattern recognition – steps were also used to get the required results.

‘The flow chart is configured and tested in Design Assistant, an interactive design utility that runs on a PC and then uploaded to the camera,’ said de Grood.

With Matrox Design Assistant, an application is created by constructing a flowchart using readymade or custom tools instead of writing traditional program code,’ said Fabio Perelli, smart camera product manager for Matrox Imaging.

‘Once development is complete, the project or flowchart is uploaded and stored locally on the Matrox Iris GT smart camera,’ he said.

‘The project is then executed on the smart camera independent of any PC and, in this case, is monitored and controlled from the PLC,’ he went on.

DVC, the Dutch distributor for Matrox Imaging, developed a custom step for communicating with the PLC.

The ability to create custom steps is one of the features of the Matrox Design Assistant environment, enabling users to insert application-specific logic on their own.

This step calls an .exe file that DVC made to communicate with the PLC.

The timing of the communication between the Iris GT smart camera and PLC was critical.

The printers also link back to the enterprise system, offering the possibility of full remote assistance worldwide.

Matrox Imaging, a leading developer of component-level solutions, is recognized for providing OEMs and integrators in the manufacturing, medical diagnostic and security industries with innovative yet cost-effective solutions.

Components include cameras, interface boards and processing platforms, all designed to provide optimum price-performance within a common software environment

Specifically designed to decrease development time and costs, Matrox Imaging technology is used by industry leaders in factory automation, process control, electronics and pharmaceutical packaging, semiconductor inspection, robotics, radiology, microscopy, and video surveillance. We ensure that customers stay with us over multiple product generations by consistently meeting their demands for cutting-edge technology, technical consulting services, integration assistance and the highest manufacturing standards.

A world player in imaging, Matrox has offices in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany, and sales representatives in more than 20 countries. Our proven track record assures customers that we will meet their needs for performance, value and service, now and in the future.

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