Third big expansion begins for Aweta-Autoline

06/03/2008 12:00:00 AM
Don Schrack

The hearts of the sorters, the motherboards, receive additional scrutiny. After the initial quality control check, the motherboards, Lopez said, are tested in simulators located in heated rooms.

“We run what condition they’re going into,” Lopez said.

The Reedley plant specializes in sorter-packing lines for stone fruit, citrus and apples. But the company is looking to expand into other commodities, Lopez said.

It’s been a heady climb for the company since the mid-1980s when stone fruit grower-shipper Bob Regier suggested to friend and electrician Jack Hiebert that packing time and labor could be reduced if they could develop machinery that could size the fruit. Hiebert was up to the challenge, and Autoline was born.

As the new company designed and manufactured fruit packing lines in the U.S., Holland-based Aweta was duplicating the effort, Farris said. Aweta’s packing lines were designed for vegetables, mostly tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers, he said. In the mid 1990s, the two companies realized the benefits if their engineers could share information, Lopez said.

“We have six full-time research and development engineers on staff here in Reedley,” he said.

In recent years, those engineers developed a two-optic sorter system. An upgraded version went into production last fall, Lopez said. The first of the sorters kicks out blemished fruit before it gets to the wash cycle, he said.

The Reedley operation has more than 300 customers, Lopez said. Most of them are in the U.S., but the company also has customers in Canada, South Africa, South America and Australia, he said. The Aweta operation in Holland concentrates on European customers.

“Efficiency is the big focus,” Lopez said.

That focus has shortened the return-on-investment time.

“For most commodities, the payback averages 2.7 years,” Lopez said. “For some commodities, the payback is less than two years.”

The machines don’t necessarily reduce labor force, however.

“Grower-packer-shippers have found they can train and retain employees in more sophisticated positions,” Farris said.


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