As the largest British-owned potato chip manufacturer with the top-selling brand of chips in Northern Ireland, Tayto has a proven recipe for success. While most potato chip manufacturers rely on camera-only sorters, Tayto installed four new Optyx digital sorters from Key Technology, Walla, Walla, WA, to maximize the removal of defects and foreign material.

The four Optyx 6000 camera/laser sorters were installed on two batch-fry lines and two continuous-fry lines at three Tayto locations. These systems help elevate Tayto to a higher standard of production and better control of final product quality.

“We considered sorters from two suppliers,” says Philip Hoden, group head of engineers, Tayto. “We compared the technologies’ ability to sort at our speeds, and found clumps and discoloration. The suppliers’ reputations for sorting hand-fried crisps, as well as continuous-fried crisps, played into our decision, too. Key was far more field-proven with these applications. We use the highest-performing technology so only the best products reach our customers. Key’s Optyx was the superior solution.”

Leading the industry with advanced technology, Tayto added lasers to traditional camera-only sorters for potato chips. The cameras detect color, size and shape defects, including green spots, bruises and overcooked black spots. Lasers detect foreign material and batch-fried defects, such as doubles and clumps of chips stuck together, as well as oil-soaked and blistered chips.

In addition, Tayto chose a split-sorter configuration for its batch-frying lines, which takes the Optyx’s 48-in.-wide scan area and splits it into two 24-in.-wide lanes. Handling two different products simultaneously, side-by-side, on one sorting machine, the sorters’ intelligent software enables each sorting lane to have different definitions of defects and different ejection thresholds, as defined by the user.

“The split sorters give us a lot of production flexibility,” says Paul McDonald, project engineer, Tayto. “We can run crinkle crisps on one side and flat crisps or low-fat crisps on the other side at the same time. This versatility allows us to allocate the eight batch-fryers that feed one sorter to two different products to satisfy production demands.”

On the high-throughput, continuous-fry lines at Tayto, the Optyx nears its production capacity, sorting up to 5,000 lbs. of potato chips per hour. “Prior to installing Optyx on our high-speed lines, we had three or four people manually inspecting product after it was sorted,” says Hoden. “Now, thanks to Optyx, we only need one operator on the line to provide extra security. We’ve been able to redirect two or three people from each line to work elsewhere in the plant.”

Most of Tayto’s production lines operate 24 hours a day, six days a week, with the seventh day for cleaning. “Optyx is well designed for sanitation,” says Hoden. “It takes one person a couple of minutes to remove the belt, which is then washed. The rest of the machine is wiped down. It’s all very easy.

“We had Key come in during installation and train our Super Users, who can then train others,” continues Hoden, noting that they have also used Key’s online training program, a self-paced, interactive multimedia curriculum with modules designed for operators, maintenance personnel, sanitation crews, supervisors and others working with Optyx. The online training program is part of Key’s standard PROliance service package, which also includes RemoteMD, a real-time analysis tool that helps maximize the sorter’s performance.

“Optyx is very reliable, so it requires minimal attention, but it gives us added confidence knowing that Key can log on with RemoteMD and provide support remotely, including making adjustments to the sorters,” notes McDonald.

Based on in-house technical inspections, the Tayto team says it has seen a marked improvement in the quality of its product since installing the new sorters from Key, says McDonald.

“The ultimate measure of success is customer feedback,” concludes Hoden. “Customers tell us we make the best potato crisps in the U.K. This doesn’t surprise us; we know we are using the most-advanced technology, and we’ve optimized the layout to maximize efficiencies. We’re at the top end of our market in terms of quality. Optyx helps in that effort. With Optyx, we can easily control our quality and keep it at that high level.”

Key Technology designs, manufactures and markets process automation systems for food and other industries. For more information, visit