The newly installed packing line at Stemilt Growers' Olds Station facility features optical and electronic grading and sorting.
The newly installed packing line at Stemilt Growers' Olds Station facility features optical and electronic grading and sorting.

Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers has installed a apple packing line in its Olds Station facility that uses electronic and optical defect-sorting technology similar to that used on its cherry packing lines.

The line features iQs IV external defect sorting and iFA GeoSort internal quality sorting from Greefa, Tricht, Netherlands, according to a news release.

“The line relies on electronic, or optic, sizing and defect sorting technology to reduce manual sorting of fruit and human error,” Jay Fulbright, Stemilt vice president of operations and special projects, said in the release. "The technology is able to efficiently and gently size and sort apples and will help us deliver great consistency in every box."

As apples move along the sizer, high-definition cameras take up to 60 images of each piece of fruit as it rotates. Computers analyze the images and accurately sort according to size, color, and internal and external quality or defects.

By using the iFA GeoSort grader, Stemilt is able to accurately gauge internal quality and brix of each apple. It also helps identify and sort out internal defects, such as heavy watercore and internal browning.

Apples that don’t make the cut are rerouted to a downgrade sizer for additional sorting, while those that meet the specifications continue down the line for packing into trays or bags.

Although using optics to sort apples is nothing new, using them to sort for external color and do it well is relatively recent, according to the release.

“Consumers buy fruit with their eyes and the rise and popularity in bi-colored apples has created the need for us to do a better color sorting job,” Fulbright said in the release. “Greefa’s grading technology gives us a 3D look at the apple. The multitude of images the software can analyze results in accurate sorting.”

Stemilt’s operations staff led the construction of the new line, which began by completely removing an existing packing line.

The new line, the length of a football field, contains 79 drop points to gently move apples along to the pack lanes.

Stemilt will use the new Greefa apple line primarily for conventional apples, while the company’s neighboring Euclid Street facility is dedicated to packing organic apples. The Euclid Street line also was recently upgraded with a defect sorter.