Digital Re-print - November | December 2011

Optical sorting

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R-Biopharm Rhône Ltd.

Optical sorting
Optical sorting has come of age and should be considered as a serious option for inclusion in any modern wheat cleaning plant
by Vanessa Emberson, Satake Europe, United Kingdom


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ptical systems, known better as colour sorters, using visible and non-visible wave lengths and once considered as almost ‘exotic’ equipment, have rapidly advanced to become a mainstream means for separating and grading many industrial and food products including, importantly, cereal grains. The low cost, reliability and speed of modern components, as in so many consumer and industrial goods, has transformed the design and building of optical processing equipment. Consideration can now be given to include optical sorting machines in cereal cleaning plants, whereas they were formerly deemed too sophisticated, unreliable and of low capacity for such applications. In this feature the origins and products of one of the leading suppliers, Satake, are outlined to show how the technology has been developed and applied more widely for its cereal milling and other customers. Satake produced their first sorters in Japan in 1979 during a period when a limit on pesticide use imposed by the government had caused an increase in weed contamination of harvested rice and greater discolouration of kernels due to insect activity. After the successful application of optical sorting technology to the domestic Japanese rice market, and having identified its potential for wider exploitation, they acquired the leading US supplier, ESM International Inc of Houston, Texas during 1992. ESM, Established in 1931, were well known in North America and Europe for their versatile range of sorting equipment, not only for rice but also for grading nuts, beans, sesame
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seeds and even tomatoes and other non-free flowing materials. Satake now have design and testing centres in Japan, the United States and Great Britain from which they offer their new sorting technology. In this report we will look at the area of most interest to our readers for which the new AlphaScan has been developed, while recognising that other sectors such as nuts, pulses, coffee beans and industrial applications provided the impetus for its development.

In the Cereal sectors:
Rice as a white and polished finished product should have a pure and lustrous appearance which is easily marred if even small imperfections are visible to the consumer. For such applications, machines are available which have very sensitive charge coupled device (CCD) sensors to detect, with greater discrimination, these small imperfections to substantially reduce good kernels in the rejects. The RMGS type sorter which was designed specifically for such high quality rice applications is equipped with CCD sensors with a resolution of 0.14mm and 2048 pixels and can be also fitted with near infra-red (NIR) sensors to detect pieces of glass, stone or other inert contaminants not even visible to the human eye. Rye is often susceptible to ergot, a fungal infestation that could constitute a health hazard. A sensor operating in the visible light spectrum is effective for detecting ergot that can then be ejected for safe disposal. Satake have over 300 AlphaScan machines in Germany and Scandinavia operating on this application. The AlphaScan is a dedicated

grain and seed sorter that matches each individuals requirements to remove all discoloured contaminants. This affordable sorter will help you produce the cleanest possible product in a compact, small footprint, with high capacities & using high speed digital signal processing technology and with capacities up to 35TPH these machines are suitable for farms, mills and grain stores alike. Maize (corn) can suffer from fungal infestation, particularly as a result of damp harvest conditions. The affected kernels can be detected by optical means, and as a result sorting equipment using high-speed bichromatic sensors has been found to reduce aflotoxin and fumonisin levels in yellow and white maize. Maize destined for breakfast corn flakes benefits from monitoring at the finished ‘grit’ stage to reject particles that would produce discoloured flakes, marring the appearance of a wholesome food product. Seed corn is monitored by monochromatic sensors which also detect and remove broken kernels and thus improve germination levels. Durum wheat used for production of high quality pasta or cous cous needs to be free of discoloured kernels and black seeds which would spoil the appearance and lower the actual or perceived quality of the finished products. Since durum is of higher value than common wheats, colour sorting became well established in durum cleaning plants. However due to the low capacity and high capital and supervision costs of early generation equipment, the sorters were usually used for small scale recovery of good broken kernels from the rejected seed stream. Now it is practical to use sorters for more general rejection of both discoloureds and seeds from the main grain stream.

Almex b.v., Verlengde Ooyerhoekseweg 29, 7207 BJ Zutphen, The Netherlands Tel. +31 (0)575 572666, fax +31 (0)575 572727, e-mail,

R-Biopharm Rhône Ltd. Block 10 Todd Campus West of Scotland Science Park Acre Road, Glasgow, Scotland. G20 0XA

on it u s 7 Vi s 12 and B St
VIGAN manufactures bulk materials handling equipment:
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in Belgium : 1 pneumatic tower 300 tons/hour

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VIGAN Engineering s.a. • Rue de l’Industrie, 16 • B-1400 Nivelles (Belgium) Phone : +32 67 89 50 41 • Fax : +32 67 89 50 60 • Web : • E-mail :
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FEATURE for milling applications. In this application it can form the core of the primary cleaning stage when it would follow directly after the Milling Separator and its Aspirator and often replace a series of conventional concentrating and seed separating machines prior to the first temper stage. It can be set to remove black seeds and other foreign grains, ergot, black tip, fusarium as well as burnt and other discoloured grains. Huge savings in space, energy, and air exhaust systems are possible. Alternatively, or additionally, it can form a very effective cleaner after the temper stages prior to first break where the flow rate of the wheat stream is often steadier and a little lower in capacity. Optical sorters with appropriate sensors can also be considered to replace conventional ‘air hungry’ dry de-stoners for removal of stones, glass and other mineral impurities.

Brief history 1931: ESM (Electric Sorting Machines) began business in Lowell, Michigan where the first machines were designed to sort the Michigan navy bean. (known elsewhere as baked beans). 1951: new rice sorting equipment had been developed and the company was purchased by Mandrell Industries Inc and moved to Houston to be near the flourishing rice growing and processing region. 1959: Ampex Corporation purchased
Mandrell allowing ESM to share development facilities with the Petty Company, a sister organisation. Soon after this ESM introduced bichromatic sorting for raw coffee beans and peanuts.

1992: Satake Corporation, soon after the purchase of the Robinson and Simon milling business acquire ESM, and with their combined know-how began development of further sorter equipment for this and other sectors. The ScanMaster was launched with its high-resolution cameras (CCD) followed in 1994 by the Infra-red version, offering the only true bichromatic and IR machine on the market. 2000s: the establishment of the Vision Systems division of Satake USA Inc., saw the introduction of touch screen controls, increased light intensity and contrast.
U  ltra violet versions were also introduced for sorting almonds and coffee beans.

1973: Geosource was formed from ESM and a number of oil related businesses. Rapid advances in optics and digital electronics were adopted for the new sorter designs. 1984: ODISTA created as a holding company with Geosource operating in the oil sector and ESM independently in colour sorting.
Wheat of bread making types is now also being subjected to more stringent cleaning procedures. This is particularly true of wheats of organic origin, or destined for whole grain products where the subsequent milling process does not act to scalp off residual impurities. Organic cereals have often been found to be prone to contamination by seeds of an undergrown crop.

2004: The AlphaScan was launched to bring a low cost, high capacity, digital sorting option to the cereals sector for use by farmers, grain elevators and flour mills. 2008: The AlphaScan II was launched 2010: The Evolution RGB machine
range was launched.

Most current sorters benefit from the use of reliable and robust solid-state digital control technology. Touch screens, stored ‘preset’ programs and diagnostics all assist the operation of the equipment.

Careful attention to the design hoppers, chutes and enclosures minimises build up of dust and consequent need for cleaning. Wipers keep the optical systems clean. Pneumatic ejector valves are robust and have lives of well over one billion cycles. The fluorescent and halogen light sources have a typical life exceeding 3,000 hours & the new LED light sources last for many years.

ability to see true colour, precisely sort a wide range of products, even those with small shade differences.

Most manufacturers produce optical sorters that operate on similar principles, the differences essentially being in the detailed design and applications. The granular material to be sorted, in our case cereal grain, is fed by gravity and spread across multiple channels so that individual kernels follow each other in rapid succession down a series of parallel channels. The optical sensors are arranged to ‘look’ at each and every kernel. Once a defect has been detected, a subsequently placed compressed air ejector opens for as little as 0.5 milliseconds at an input pressure of 3 bar (45psi) to remove the substandard particle and blow it to the reject outlet. Sorting machines can be configured to make an initial coarse separation at very high capacities and then re-treat the rejects to give an overall separation with an optimum discrimination. Optical sensors are positioned such that the product is inspected on both sides of its trajectory in order to detect any defects on either side of the kernel.

Food purity
The retailer and his consumer public are acutely aware of contamination scares and the need for purity during and after processing of food products and ingredients. The application of leading edge technology to monitor and maintain the expected levels of purity is reassuring. Processors using such equipment demonstrate a commitment to quality and are thereby also better protected against liability claims.

Optical Sorters for cereal cleaning
Optical (colour) sorters of the new generation are intrinsically suited to playing a major role in the cleaning of most cereal grains. They are compact, robust, consume very little energy and do not need elaborate ancillary exhaust systems. They are suitable for a versatile role for not only removing foreign seeds and discoloured kernels but they can be considered for removing of stones, glass and other inert contaminants. The latest range from Satake also now includes a full colour machine (RGB) which is a revolution in optical sorting. Both the human eye and the Evolution detect colour through three wavelengths (Red, Green & Blue), allowing the sorter to match the human eye’s ability to see true colour. This full colour sorting machine uses 16 million colours, high resolution cameras & long lasting LED lighting to detect and remove defects. The smallest colour deviations are identified and rejected. The Evolution has the

Optical sorting has come of age and should be considered as a serious option for inclusion in any modern wheat cleaning plant. Satake has introduced the AlphaScan as an easy to use and economical machine especially to meet the need for removal of foreign seeds and discoloured kernels from wheat, and it has been well received for this purpose. It has benefited from the technologies of their ‘family’ of other sorter types which includes the well known ScanMaster and RMGS products designed for sorting seeds, nuts, beans, industrial products and, of course, rice.

Applications for wheat cleaning
The AlphaScan can be used in a modern wheat cleaning plant & is a new generation of sorter developed especially

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Optical sorting
Optical sorting has come of age and should be considered as a serious option for inclusion in any modern wheat cleaning plant

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