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How Optical Components are Helping to Feed the Nation

28th Apr 2020

At a time when food is in-demand more than ever before, Knight Optical – the leading supplier of on-spec, metrology-tested premium-quality optical components – looks at how optics are used across the world in food supply chains. From farm to fork, we examine how optics play a broader role in food processing than some may think.  

The outbreak of the Coronavirus has struck many industries, and the global food chain is certainly not immune. Across the world, we have witnessed record demands for food – with consumers ‘panic stockpiling’, and supermarkets struggling to keep shelves replenished throughout these unprecedented, challenging times. As the weeks have gone by; however, we have seen a much-anticipated improvement in food availability within our local supermarkets, and optical components have, in one way or another, played an essential role in this long-awaited delivery.

Farmers Putting All Their Eggs in One Robotic Basket

Let’s start where it all begins; farmers’ fields. The agricultural industry has heavily relied on machinery and highly-engineered equipment since the beginning of time; with the earliest iron plough dating back to 475–221 BCE1. Flash forward to the 21st century, and mechanization has come on leaps and bounds within the farming industry. And, it will come as no surprise that today’s modern-day farmers are turning to robotics to assist with everyday duties.

Autonomous farming presents many benefits and removes the need for farmers to complete monotonous and long-winded jobs, such as harvesting and de-weeding. This allows them to use their expertise in other much-needed areas that will allow for expansion, development – and of late, helping with the increased need to ‘feed the nation’. One of the most common methods of autonomy within the agricultural sector is driverless tractors. Much like high-tech, luxury autonomous cars, these unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) depend on LiDAR (light detection and ranging) to function. This technology allows these UGVs to operate in the same way as a self-driving car and avoid vulnerable obstacles across farmland, such as roaming livestock and workers, while undertaking agricultural tasks.

What Optics are Used for Driverless Tractors?

At Knight Optical, we’ve been working alongside leading agricultural manufacturers within the autonomous sector for several years as a long-standing supplier of Optical Components for LiDAR Systems. There is an array of optics required to enable the high-performance operation of LiDAR systems – as well as a wide-ranging variety of components that protect integral elements of the system. For example, our Front Coated Mirrors are employed within LiDAR systems to steer laser beams for optimum performance. In contrast, our Optical Filters are specified to eradicate stray light that may impede the visualisation of the system. Furthermore, our Cover Windows are essential in defending internal elements within these LiDAR systems.

From Farm to Factory 

The farm is not the only environment that uses optical components; however. Food processing uses an abundance of optics to ensure grocers are presented with the highest quality of fruit, veg, salad and the like. Particularly conventional within this sector are machine vision systems, and their potential is gaining recognition for more than just quality control of products – with additional functions such as automatic inspection of food packages2 and barcode reading also the norm.

What Optics are Used in Machine Vision Food Processing? 

Polarising Beamsplitters are commonly integrated within these machine vision systems. Their configuration typically comprises charge-coupled device (CCD) cameras, where Polarising Beamsplitters generally are found. This formation creates a polarisation camera-based inspection system that is competent in identifying the polarisation of reflected light from objects. Polarisation imaging within the machine vision market is of particular interest thanks to its ability to reduce glare3; resulting in higher clarity inspection.

Designed to split incident light into its polarised components, rather than by simple transmission and reflection, our Polarising Beamsplitters are available in a wide range of options to suit individual applications’ needs. With three varieties in our portfolio – including Standard PolarisingBroadband Polarising and High-Power Polarising types – these custom-made-only Beamsplitters are typically finished with an Antireflective (AR) coating (over the operating wavelength) to reduce losses due to reflection.

Knight Optical’s Supermarket Sweep 

Once optics have helped assess the quality of food and sorting into required divisions has taken place, produce is sent to the supermarkets for retailing, where the omnipresence of optical components is also evident. From floor to ceiling, supermarkets make good use of optics. Whether it’s an Optical Dome mounted to the ceiling assisting with the observation of suspected shoplifters or a Parabolic Reflector within an LED helping produce to stand out to consumers, optical components are found around every corner within your local supermarket. However, one fundamental method in which they assist with the final stage of food processing is the sale of products within till-based barcode readers.

What Optical Components are Used in Barcode Scanners?

Available in a wide-ranging portfolio of high-specification substrates – such as Sapphire, Ruby, Quartz and BK7 (or equivalent) – our Ball and Half Ball Lenses are frequently used within the manufacture of high-spec barcode scanners. Available from stock for projects demanding quick turnaround times or as Custom-Made Components to meet the exact needs of your application’s requirements, our Ball and Half Ball Lenses are found within barcode scanners across many of the nation’s supermarkets and local grocery stores.

Why choose Knight Optical’s Custom-Made Components?

Over the years, we have assisted with the specification for many optical components throughout the food supply chain, and our Custom-Made Optics are renowned across a spectrum of manufacturing divisions for their second-to-none quality.

What’s more, our customers can rest assured that their components will arrive on-spec and thoroughly tested thanks to our in-house, state-of-the-art Metrology Laboratory and dedicated QA Department. It is thanks to our dedicated team and unparalleled optical knowledge that we can offer first-class advice for prototyping and production. It’s not just our Metrology Technicians and meticulous QA staff to who owe our success; however. Knight Optical’s Technical Sales Advisers have worked with world-leading manufacturers on some of the most game-changing technological food supply chain innovations.

Custom-Made Optical Components in High Demand

Our Custom-Made optical components are of high popularity amongst manufacturers. By choosing these bespoke components, not only will you be able to select the substrate, thickness, optical coating, tolerance and dimension best suited to your device; but you’ll also benefit from second-to-none optical knowledge from a member of our experienced team. Furthermore, for projects requiring quick lead times, we also hold a wide range of Stock – in a variety of dimensions and materials – available on our website for next-day dispatch.

If you’re looking for premium-quality, bespoke optical components for your food processing application, please do not hesitate to get in touch with a member of the Technical Sales Team.