Companies lure produce business with technology

12/09/2008 12:00:00 AM
Dan Galbraith


Steven Bunnell, North American commercial leader of process instruments for Thermo Fisher Scientific, Minneapolis, shows off the Ramsey VersaWeigh 300 Combo Checkweigher, which combines metal detection and check-weighing technologies.

(Dec. 9, 2:35 p.m.) CHICAGO — Many fresh produce operations need to ensure uniform weights of products in various packages and also check product for contaminants such as metals.

One machine at the recent Pack Expo at McCormick Place handles both tasks in a single unit.

Meanwhile, another company is adapting technology first developed for the meat industry to detect contaminants during packing of fresh produce items.

Combining technologies

The Ramsey VersaWeigh 300 Combo Checkweigher, launched this summer by Thermo Fisher Scientific, Minneapolis, gives fresh produce companies the ability to weigh and precisely scan for metals simultaneously.

The machine, on display Nov. 9-13 during Pack Expo, detects such contaminants as baling wire that grows right into carrots and other commodities, said Steven Bunnell, North American commercial leader of process instruments. Bunnell estimated the price of the machine at about $41,000.

Bunnell said the technology is already popular and in use at major fresh carrot companies such as Wm. Bolthouse Farms Inc. and Grimmway Farms, both based in Bakersfield, Calif. The equipment is also at work for other major companies, in blueberry and raisin operations, Bunnell said.

Bunnell said the new machine is fast, accurate and easily maintained.

The machine also has what the company calls “future-proof technology,” designed to ensure upgrades can be made at minimal cost.

New ‘dual-wave’ technology

Taking innovation in a different direction, Buffalo Grove, Ill.-based Anritsu Industrial Solutions USA Inc. is trying to revolutionize inspection of fresh produce by adapting technology it originally developed for the meat industry.

At Pack Expo, the company introduced its sanitary x-ray system as an extension of its KD7400 line.

The new equipment prevents bacteria collection through a crevice-free housing and uses unique, dual-wave technology to detect contaminants, said Erik Brainard, general manager. By scanning fruits and vegetables via multiple wave frequencies, the machine can do a better job of detecting metal, Brainard said.

“The innovation is in the way the machine is designed for sanitary cleaning, and the technology that meets meat industry detection standards,” Brainard said. “To assist in the prevention of bacteria counts, we’ve taken Anritsu’s existing technology and put it in a sanitary x-ray package.”

KD7400 machines disassembles quickly, without the use of tools, and allows customers the ability to connect to the company’s new software package linking Anritsu machines to a centralized hub to optimize quality control and allow real-time review of production by management, according to a company news release.

Joining U.S. contaminant detection fray

The Netherlands-based Tummers Methodic and SFW Food Processing, Burley, Idaho, at Pack Expo debuted a rock-trap flow machine for potatoes, carrots and other produce that has already been successful for about three years in Europe, said Kees den Boer, sales manager for Tummers Methodic.

“This is going to be a revolution. It can handle up to 350,000 pounds of potatoes and carrots an hour,” den Boer said. “It has a small footprint — it uses 70% less energy than conventional systems — and it’s just so simple.”

The Tummers/SFW machine reduces water use and needs fewer pipes to distribute that water, den Boer said.

New rock-removal system

Columbus, Wis.-based Hughes Company Inc. first introduced equipment for the fresh produce industry just two years ago and is now introducing a washing system that removes dirt, sand and rocks from small quantities of potatoes, carrots and green beans, said Todd Belz, president.

A big player in metal detection on packing lines, Toronto, Canada-based Fortress Technology Inc., handles work for fresh produce firms such as Salinas, Calif.-based Taylor Farms and East Coast Fresh Cuts, Savage, Md., a regional fresh-cut processor, said Diehl Mateer, independent manufacturer’s representative for Fortress and owner of Mateer Associates, Wayne, Pa.

“Metal detection is a mature industry. It’s been around for more than 25 years now, and Fortress makes machines of all different sizes,” Mateer said. “Fortress focuses on keeping units simple to operate, reliable and with high performance and high sensitivity.”

Mateer said Fortress guarantees extremely low tolerances of contaminants in packaging operations involving 50- and 100-pound bags.

Other companies, such as Mettler-Toledo Hi-Speed, Ithaca, N.Y., and its sister company, Mettler-Toledo Safeline, Tampa, Fla., offer various metal detection, x-ray inspection and check-weigh equipment designed for specialized applications.

Extra-heavy check-weigh machines

One company at Pack Expo, Automatic Packaging Machinery Inc., Norcross, Ga., focuses on computer weighers built to minimize vibration while maximizing accuracy, said general manager John Elegreet.

A.P.M. weighers use an Ethernet-based system to allow customers quick recovery time if something goes wrong with the machine. Elegreet said his company tries to take the concept of “proprietized parts” out of the equation, allowing its customers the ability to go to about any hardware store to obtain replacement parts.

The company’s computer weighers cost $85,000 to $110,000, Elegreet said.



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