Flat fruit shippers who spend a lot on hand-packed layers could drastically reduce costs and speed operations if a machine in beta testing turns out as intended by the engineers at Sunkist Research and Technical Services.
Flat fruit is any commodity that’s not round and won’t easily roll down a packing line, including lemons.
The research division for Sunkist Growers Inc., Sherman Oaks, Calif., led by director of engineering Alex Paradiang, started working on the flat packer a year ago.
“We started retrofitting an orange machine,” Paradiang said. “Then we realized we needed an entirely new machine.”
Courtesy Sunkist Growers Inc.Engineers in a special division of Sunkist Growers Inc. are completing testing of this flat fruit packing machine, which they designed at the request of a citrus grower/exporter in Argentina. Sunkist Research and Technical Services was founded in response to the needs of its parent company and customers, and to provide the Sunkist with an additional revenue stream. Back at the drawing board — a computer screen — Paradiang and the Sunkist team used Autodesk Inventor software to create the machine. The design so impressed the software company that Autodesk named Sunkist its inventor of the month for March.
Now, with a prototype built, beta testing is expected to begin soon in Argentina or Australia. The packinghouse in Argentina that initially sought the machine packs about 150,000 tons of citrus per season, Paradiang said.
“Domestically we volume fill lemons,” Paradiang said. “But for European and South African markets, layer packs are a must.
“There are three or four pack houses that want it in Argentina because they are hand packing now. In a regular pack house you would see 20 to 30 people packing layers. It would take about six of these machines to do that volume.”
Paradiang said the new flat packer loads two boxes at a time, side-by-side. It takes about 30 seconds to fill two five-layer, 40-pound boxes of lemons. Testing is expected to be completed this year. Paradiang said they plan to customize it for other “flat” fruit such as tangerines, kiwi and avocados.
The price of the machine isn’t known yet, Paradiang said, but many of Sunkist’s customers lease equipment anyway.
“The lease cost includes training and service,” Paradiang said. “Upgrades are given to lease holders for free.”
Corporate officials realized the potential of the research division as a revenue stream about 25 years ago, Paradiang said. Before that, they only worked on in-house projects. Now, Sunkist is “dominant in spherical fruit packing machines,” Paradiang said.