Bühler UK achieves seventh Queen’s Award with its sorting technology

Development teams within Bühler UK have been in celebratory mood after the business claimed a Queen’s Award for Enterprise, recognising its pioneering research into camera technology used within industry sorting machines.

This year’s key accolade for the Swiss-headquartered food solutions and equipment group, is in recognition of its latest systems that are reportedly capable of recognising the subtlest of colour and shading contrasts in materials and foods and so significantly increasing detection rates for foreign materials, potential choke hazards or contaminated foods.

Over the past four years Bühler has used this technology to produce a range of specialist cameras for different markets. Its BioVision camera is targeted at the nut industry, which works closely with the confectionery sector as a key ingredient. In addition, the company has developed its PolarVision aimed at producers of frozen vegetables, and PolyVisiondesigned to improve plastic recycling rates.

The Queen’s Award for Enterprise is the highest UK award for British businesses who have excelled in the fields of international trade, innovation, or sustainable development. This is the seventh Queen’s Award that has been won by Bühler UK since 1968. The technology is currently being used by food producers in Europe and the United States who are reporting increased detection rates for foreign materials up from 85% to 95%.

The UK-developed technology uses hyperspectral imaging to record vast amounts of wavelength data to generate highly accurate colour and shading contrasts for specific products. This data is then statistically analysed to create algorithms that inform the sorting camera exactly what colour and shading contrasts to look for when detecting contamination or a foreign object in a production process.

“The innovation here is our ability to gather such large amounts of data and then use that data to optimise a conventional narrow band digital camera so that it is capable of quickly and efficiently detecting very specific things, whether it is shells in nuts, foreign materials in a vegetable production line or even different grades of polymers in a recycling plant,” explains Benedict Deefholts, senior research engineer, Bühler UK.

One of the criteria for a Queen’s Award is that the technology should not just be innovative, but it must also be scalable, commercially viable and to have resulted in a material improvement to a commercial process. Since the introduction of the Sortex E optical sorter using BioVision technology, sales of Bühler sorting solutions into the nut sector have doubled. The technology is now being used by the world’s top nut producers globally to detect blemished nuts along with the smallest shell fragments in walnuts, pecans and pistachios.

Similar inroads are being made into the frozen vegetable market thanks to the ability of PolarVision technology to detect even the most challenging foreign material in frozen vegetable production lines. Ardo, one of the world’s largest fresh-frozen fruit, vegetable and herb producers, has introduced PolarVision in its European sorting plants.

The Bühler camera technology is also being used to detect foreign material and lower grade or discoloured polymers to ensure the highest grade recyclate can be achieved by plastic recyclers. By detecting such high rates of contamination, it is now possible to produce food grade plastic packaging from 100% recycled material, cutting the need for virgin plastic production and levels of plastic being sent to landfill. While the technology has so far been applied to detect foreign materials, future developments will also be able to detect mycotoxins and even pathogens.

“We are absolutely delighted to be receiving this ‘seventh’ Queen’s award. Innovation is at the heart of our business and it’s wonderful to see another cutting edge product making a big impact in the market; on food safety, food quality and of course generating commercial success for our customers,” says Matthew Kelly, managing director of digital technologies within the Bühler Group.

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