Pick and Place Technology for Fragile Fresh Fruit

Anton Steeman

January 30, 2014

4 Min Read
Pick and Place Technology for Fragile Fresh Fruit

90922-Picture_20001.jpgThis blog only has seen posts about new packaging innovations in regard to packaging design, packaging construction, material use and packaging and printing technologies. However I don’t see a reason why I should restrict myself to those topics and not write about new packaging machinery innovations, particularly when one meets an interesting design for automatic handling of fragile fresh fruits.

In addition to that, the fresh fruit packaging in itself is not subject to spectacular innovations as it hasn’t seen any in years, still being the (corrugated) cardboard box tray as it was decades ago. Packaging companies might have modified the way the box tray is set up, but you can’t report of any significant innovation.
90922-Persion_20lime_20-_20photo_20Veca_20Produce_20Mexico_20resize.jpgThat said, it does mean that any innovation in efficiently packing of fresh and fragile fruit has to come from the machinery companies. Well, here is one of them.

In the country of the kiwi’s, Stroba Ltd, developed a Pick and Place Autopacker to pack Kiwi fruit, and tested it additionally with citrus, stone fruit and apples. New Zealand’s Stroba Ltd is a joint venture company between two New Zealand based companies: Satara Co-operative Group Ltd and Brookdale Industries Ltd. Stroba was initially established to pool the skills and experience necessary to develop an automated packing solution for Satara’s kiwifruit handling operations.

90922-Autopacker_20013.jpgMultiple tray configurations are a must in today’s competitive produce market and the Autopacker has been specifically designed to pick and place a variety of fragile fruits into any tray configuration, gently, precisely and accurately placing the fruits in the exact centre of (what they call ‘down-under’) the plix cup, in other words in the centres of the deep-drawn parts of the tray, where the fruit should sit. The integrated flexibility of the Autopacker allows for on line instantaneous changes to various pack configurations, as it works out that it is just a case of reconfiguring the head spacings and programming to meet the required tray patterns for packing other types of fruit.

The clever and patented bit, (28 patents granted according to the manufacturer) is the design of the moving head. The fruits are singled and manipulated in rows on the, what Stroba calls the ‘singulator’, and presented to the head in a ’square’ pattern. The head picks the products up by vacuum generated by a special 90922-Autopacker_20015.jpgpump that only generates enough suction to hold the product, but not suck it to death. After picking up the fruit the head moves over to the tray, while the pattern of the suction cups are configured into the pattern that fits the tray, in other words each fruit is placed inside the deep-drawn cup of the tray. The head can be pre-programmed to suit a range of tray patterns. The number of options depends on the range of fruit sizes and the range of tray configurations, but “it is reasonably flexible within certain parameters”, the company says. After filling, the completed trays are available for quality control before being closed.

To pack the delicate fruit, the Kiwi fruit industry uses labour to place the fruit into deep drawn plastic trays, which are then stacked in the standard corrugated cardboard open fruit boxes. The output per labourer is about 80-90 pieces a minute. Although the Stroba Twin Head Pick and Place unit can pack at speeds up to 700 fruits a minute, the best results is at 14 trays a minute, or 90922-Autopacker_20022.jpgaround 500 fruits a minute. A single head unit, which has been built to show at the Fruit Logistica in Berlin in February, packs at around 280 fruits a minute, with 36 fruits per tray.

According to the company, implementation of the Pick and Place unit in the Kiwi fruit industry showed a reduction of the direct labour cost per tray by more than half.

During the PMA show in the US from 2 - 5 October a video of the system will be shown in the booth of Ag-Pak.

90745-artisan-image001-resize.jpgDesigned to protect each product as well as the environment, the new packages adopted by Tanimura & Antle Fresh Foods Inc. and Earthbound Farm are almost as “green” as the products themselves. One claims that its living lettuce is “so beautiful, that it comes with a bodyguard,” i.e. a new, custom-designed scalloped clamshell for Artisan Lettuce, the other is completely different as the company decided to switch to 100% PCR PET. …. read the full article

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