Food sorting tech: recent innovations raising the bar
By Melanie Epp | Contributing Writer
As the processed fruit and vegetable market grows, so too do the needs of processors. Companies looking to improve quality, maximize yield and eliminate food safety issues know that a vital part of the process is the optical sorter.
Recent innovations in both detection technology and intelligent software have elevated the capabilities of sorting solutions, helping processors to meet those demands. Here are some of the most recent innovations.
SORTEX FA1 by Bühler Group
Unveiled for the first time at Fruit Logistica 2018 in Germany, the new SORTEX FA1 is a compact sorter designed to provide the final quality check on fruit and vegetable packing lines. It is also ideal for processing lines where space is limited or for processing lower volumes of high value, premium, niche and organic products, like wild blueberries for smoothie production.
Both SORTEX FA1 and its predecessor SORTEX FA2 offer high standards when it comes to hygiene, Stefano Bonacina, Bühler Group’s segment development manager for fruit and vegetables in Europe and CIS, said in an interview at Fruit Logistica 2018. With its open and accessible frame, SORTEX FA1 is easy to clean. The sorter’s PolarVision technology is coupled with PROfile shape technology for better detecting foreign material and extraneous vegetable matter. It is equipped with 128 ejectors, which can cope with everything from fine wood shavings to stones and glass.
“Now the market is demanding not only clean product, but a level of purity which represents the next target of the overall market,” Bonacina said.
Dryce by RayTec Vision
Designed for dried and frozen fruits and vegetables, Dryce uses new Decaray technology, a 10-light system (four color and six infrared) for detecting visual and textural defects. Using high-resolution cameras, the optical sorting system examines product using a “free fall double side view” system that analyzes the entire surface of each passing product. It disposes of color defects, such as unripe produce, rotten produce, and foreign bodies — even if they are the same color as the end product.
Dryce wasn’t RayTec’s only innovation on display at Fruit Logistica 2018. The Italian company also introduced its Unyco software, a new system that makes it possible to run all machines off of one type of software. Companies benefit from a single software system in that it reduces employee training time and margin of error.
“This way you don’t have to learn different software for each machine,” Area Sales Manager Andrei Moiseev said. “You just have to know one software for all the machines.”
Xcalibur by OptiServe
Looking for an optical sorting machine that fits your budget as well as your requirements? Xcalibur may be the choice for you. The company refers to Xcalibur as an “all-round” type of machine with the ability to sort potato products by structure, mass, shape and color.
Xcalibur uses a four-camera interface in order to project an image of the products as they pass by on a conveyor belt. The position of these products on the belt is not important. Xcalibur makes its choice within a fraction of a second, deciding either to approve or reject product. Each second, it is able to process approximately 3,500-4,000 individuals pieces. This is just one of many features that makes the Xcalibur the unique sorter that it is, Ans van Lierop, internal sales and customer service representative said in an interview at Interpom Primeurs in Belgium.
Oculus by Herbert Solutions
Although Herbert Solutions offers everything from cleaning and separating equipment to box fillers, its intelligent optical sorting equipment, Oculus, was what really drew attention at Fruit Logistica 2018.
Oculus is a high performance, compact optical sorter designed for washed and peeled potatoes. It is available in four sizes, depending on what capacity processors require.
In an interview at the trade fair, sales manager Gerard Bos explained how the roller system provides 360-degree tuber rotation, allowing for 20 percent more coverage than a typical “cascade” system.
Inside, Oculus takes 16-24 images of the potato’s surface and sorts it by size, shape, color and texture. It also has the ability to detect defects, such as rot, greens, scurf, mechanical damage and growth cracks. “It’s able to recognize small spots of a quarter of a millimeter,” Bos said. “And that’s the reason why it’s doing a very good job on all these defects.”
Oculus is continuously upgrading and improving software and camera technology to make the next generations more efficient and precise in their sorting.
“For example, with french fry companies, it’s very important for them to know how much length is in the potato,” Bos said. “And nobody’s grading in length.”
Oculus machines, Bos said, are able to measure in length and organize product in a way that helps processors decide what quality they can make with what they have. Product quality is, after all, what sets processors apart from their competitors.
“Our equipment is very gentle on the crop,” Bos said. “Our idea is that the customer has to make money with his crop, and that’s where he should add value, and good quality should stay good quality.”
ADR EXOS by Key Technology
In November, Key Technology launched its newest automatic defect removal system for potato strips — ADR EXOS — at Interpom Primeurs in Belgium. Karel van Velthoven, manager of customer engagement at Key Technology, said it’s the only vision system on the market that’s designed specifically to cut out defects from potato strips, turning bad product into good.
“Typically, a sorter would eject the entire french fry,” Van Velthoven said. “This one cuts out the bad part and then sends the good piece through. So this is a significant improvement. Where you lose a lot of good product with a regular sorter, here you actually only lose the bare minimum.”
ADR EXOS features a cutter-wheel design with small knives, which cut out defects as product moves through the sorter. ADR EXOS is coupled with intelligent software to better manage strip quality and length. Doing so reduces product waste, enabling processors to maximize profitability.
The latest model uses 20 percent more knives, which Van Velthoven said results in 28 percent smaller cuts — or more precise cuts — which means 28 percent more yield.
“We had a terrible summer. For the potato growers it was bad because of the drought and heat, so it was a very bad potato year,” he said. “Every small piece of french fry is worth a lot of money now.”
ADR EXOS can process up to 17,000 pounds per hour.
“The return on investment is so easy to calculate,” said Van Velthoven, who said ADR EXOS could improve recovery value by as much as €150,000 (approximately $170,000).
ADR EXOS is available as a completely new system and as a field upgrade kit that allows existing ADR 5 users to access all the benefits of the new EXOS product technology.