Walla Walla, Wash.-based Key Technology Inc. has introduced two versions of Optyx, packing line sorters that can handle up to eight tons of dark red cherries per hour.

The first of the Optyx sorters was installed this season at Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash.

“We’ve been operating Optyx 20 hours a day, seven days a week for most of the season, and we’ve been very encouraged with the sorter,” Jay Fulbright, vice president of operations, said in a news release. “Optyx gives us the opportunity to process fruit better. It’s allowed us to increase our throughput without increasing labor.”

Key Technology debuts improved cherry packing line sorterDesigned specifically for cherries such as bings, chelans, skeenas and other dark red-skinned varieties, the Optyx sorters put a new slant on technology that is not totally new to the food industry, said Bret Larreau, Key Technology’s product marketing manager.

“The technology has been around for years for peas, corn, potato chips and other products,” he said. “But the Optyx sorters turn the cherry packing process kind of inside out, a whole new approach.”

The cherries are fed to the sorter via a Key Technology-developed water spreader infeed that provides gentle handling. As the fruit passes on a conveyor belt, the Optyx sorter uses color cameras and lasers to inspect from the top each cherry’s size, shape, color, and structural properties, Larreau said. The fruit is then launched off the belt for in-air optic viewing from below.

Controlled by the company’s KeyWare software designed specifically for cherries, the system activates an air jet driven ejector system that removes foreign material and defective cherries, Larreau said.

“The sorter takes out up to 70% of the grossest defects,” he said. “Good cherries are gently discharged from the sorter into a water flume.”

Over the years, the cherry industry has wanted sorters that can eliminate defective fruit at 98% efficiency while not losing a single good cherry, Larreau said.

“There’s no way yet to get that level of perfection,” he said.

There are two models of the sorters: the Optyx 3000 scans a 24-inch wide stream of cherries and sorts up to four tons of fruit per hour, while the Optyx 6000 is able to scan a 48-inch wide area with a per-hour capacity of up to eight tons.

The Optyx systems will reduce the number of human sorters needed on each packing line, Larreau said.

“The packer is going to be able to adjust its pricing to reflect the cost savings or increased throughput so that the cost per box can be lowered,” he said.