Montana firm finds Key Tech equipment sort of awesome

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Using their noodles on a new way to use digital inspection equipment, a Montana pasta manufacturer was led to Walla Walla’s Key Technology.

Pasta Montana, a pasta manufacturer out of Great Falls, Mont., reportedly became the first domestic pasta maker to install a digital sorter that ejects foreign material and defects from its product stream. Nearly a year later, the company is singing the praises of its Optyx sorter from Key Technology.

“As a pasta manufacturer for Japanese customers that accept zero defects, we need to ensure the quality of our product,” said Plant Manager Claude Smith in a prepared statement. “Of course, our domestic customers appreciate this, too. We wanted to add a quality control step that was as close to certain as we could get. We were looking for a way to guarantee perfect pasta. That’s what drove this project.”

The Optyx was installed last July on the line that produces penne, shells, elbows and more, he said.

The digital sorter is more typically used to process harvested foods, such as fruits, vegetables, potato products, nuts and more, the announcement explained. To adapt for pasta, Key customized the sorter and developed the intelligent software and algorithms for the application.

Before the Optyx, Pasta Montana relied on mechanical screening and metal detection, plus quality control checks.

“When we ran products for some of our Japanese customers, we’d slow the line down to half-speed and add four people assigned to watch the product and achieve 100 percent inspection,” said Adam Hatch, maintenance tech at Pasta Montana, in the statement. “Now, with Optyx, we can run at full-speed and we’ve eliminated the human error that comes with manual inspection. We’ve increased productivity by 20 percent on that line and we’re better able to ensure the quality of our product.”

The machine features color cameras and a laser. It sorts on a 24-inch-wide belt, inspecting as much as 41/2 tons — or 4 metric tons — of pasta per hour. The cameras recognize color, size and shape to detect defects and co-mingled product. When those things are identified, Optyx activates its ejection system to remove the objects from the product stream.

Key has also supplied Pasta Montana with an Iso-Flo scalping shaker that removes, among other things, under- and oversized objects, and an Iso-Flo shaker with a unique air flow system that removes lightweight material. A third Iso-Flo conveyor, configured as a scale feed shaker, was installed above the combination weigher to maximize the efficiency of the bagger.

“Since we installed Optyx, we’ve not had a single customer complaint,” concluded Smith. “And we’ve made it easier for our people to package the best pasta.”

Vicki Hillhouse can be reached at 509-526-8321, vickihillhouse@wwub.com or on Twitter.

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