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Robotic food processing now with x-ray vision

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ROBOTS are playing an increasingly important role in helping Australian producers maintain high quality standards for their products while at the same time helping to lower costs and reduce waste.

Queensland company Zen Automation specialises in delivering turnkey robotics based food preparation, inspection and packaging systems that function as an integral part of their client's overall operations.

Brisbane based Zen Automation Technology has been working closely with Melbourne based Applied Sorting Technologies in using x-ray sensing to expand the capabilities of robotics systems, particularly for processing fresh fruit and vegetables.

Historically most robots have relied on a range of visual sensing systems and image processing software to guide operations like picking, grading or trimming products and then placing them into appropriate locations or containers.

By adding x-ray imaging, robotic systems can now look at the inside of the products as well as the outside.

Typical applications where x-ray imaging can be used to guide robots include looking internally for damage caused by insects or disease and either grading the product accordingly or directing automatic trimming robots to remove the defect.

Fresh lettuces can be scanned for stones and insect damage and the image used to position and align the lettuce for automatic core removal.

Software developed by Zen Automation enables their robot systems to handle products presented in random orientation and position on a belt.

For example, random sausages can be x-rayed for metal or bone contamination, picked up, regardless of their orientation, correctly aligned and placed into trays for shrink-wrapping.

"Every situation is different and we bring together the best combination of technologies to provide a turnkey solution,” said Zeng Li, Managing Director of Zen Automation.

"X-ray imaging is new in food processing robotics but it has a lot of potential. Applied Sorting is an Australian based company specialising in x-ray imaging and we expect that by working with them we can give our clients a wider range of solutions for their needs.”

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