FLEXAPACK TACKLES FRUIT PACKING WASTE
Winner of Food Processing’s 2014 top technology accolade, Pacepacker Services continues to revolutionise how fruit packers handle fruit and delicate vegetables, including apples, pears, tomatoes and peppers. Designed in-house, the FlexaPac system virtually eliminates product bruising and waste as well as increasing throughput.
Automating the labour intensive activity of manually loading netted fruits and delicate vegetables from a rotary table into crates, trays and cartons, the FlexaPac system is a first for fruit packing. Effortlessly handling in excess of 60 nets of fruit and vegetables per minute, it addresses the issue of product bruising and waste, which results in high retailer penalties.
In 2015, it was estimated that up to 40 per cent of UK fruit and vegetables were rejected before they even reached the shops. According to WRAP research, process improvements using lean manufacturing principles can help save between £400 million and £500 million a year.
With customer’s quality expectation continually increasing, independent Food Production Consultant Trefor Mason approached Pacepacker to design an automated solution that would reduce waste and increase throughput for one of his clients. He reflects: “Having worked with many fruit packers and suppliers it was apparent that the packing of netted or bagged fruits into trays was an area which required a complete overhaul. My client is a fruit supplier to many leading supermarket chains. Having assisted them in the redevelopment of their factory we began to look for an automated solution which would overcome the drawbacks of manual packing and ultimately eliminate product bruising, increase line throughput and re-deploy manual workers.”
FlexaPac provided the answer. The system comprises two parallel conveyor belts that transport the bags of fruit from the packing machine onto FlexaPac’s set of landing platforms. Here, once the correct quantity of netted or bagged product has been recognised by the system, they are gently pushed onto a set of lowering plates, which then smoothly lower the product into the waiting tray below – completely eliminating damage and waste.
Without human handling, the system evenly distributes layers of fruit, below the level of the tray bale arms or carton lips, until the required quantity is met. The system uses a combination of touch screen, PLC and servo systems and enables storage of many recipes for different product configurations. An email alert system is also incorporated to provide production status snapshots.
Pacepacker’s Commercial & Information Systems Manager, Paul Wilkinson, comments: “The FlexaPac technology is completely different from anything else on the market, and while it was designed to automate and overcome the issues relating to the packing of both netted and bagged fruit it also offers manufacturer’s of other goods, such as nuts, plant bulbs, onions, cheeses and shell fish, a fast and waste efficient automated packing option. For a fully integrated turnkey system, the FlexaPac can be interlocked into an existing line – a first for fruit packing.”
Commenting on the original design that was installed by a leading fruit packer, Trefor notes that the system not only increased throughout and virtually eliminated waste, it also reduced labour by 85%. “The footprint of the FlexaPac has been cleverly designed so that it is no bigger than the current rotary table operation. All in all, it’s an excellent solution which overcomes the drawbacks of manual fruit and veg packing,” he adds.
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