November 30, 2015

Key Technology provides new sorting solutions for potato processors

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 1.07.34 PMSorting machinery hasn’t always been tailored to the specific needs of potato processors. Now, due in part to customer requests, Key Technology has designed VERYX, a new digital sorting platform that features belt-fed and chute-fed configurations designed for both wet and frozen strips, as well as other processed potato products.

The addition to Key Technology’s portfolio promises superior performance, improved product quality and maximized yields, Marco Azzaretti, product manager, advanced inspection systems, said at the launch at this year’s International Potato Processing and Storage Convention in Bucharest, Romania. 

In Search of Intelligence

While digital sorting equipment has been able to meet many of the needs of the industry, in the past decade, potato processors have been requesting something more: intelligence.

“Optical sorting technology was already pretty sophisticated and offered a lot of benefits, but what we heard from our customers was that they wanted to take the next step in certain areas,” Azzaretti said.

For instance, while digital sorters have always had the ability to detect and reject minor defects, they can only do so if programmed. If the program is too sensitive, processors risk losing product. If it’s not sensitive enough, quality can be compromised. According to Azzaretti, what processors want is technology with the ability to bridge that gap.

While paying continued attention to food safety, Azzaretti said his clients are also looking for a sorter that can detect subtler and smaller defects, such as rot, green spots and even sugar ends invisible on the outside of the product. They also want sorting equipment that has the ability to make intelligent decisions automatically. Finally, they asked for a user-intuitive product that doesn’t require the constant attention of a skilled laborer. According to Azzaretti, VERYX meets all of those demands and more.

All-sided Viewing

Achieving new levels of product defect and foreign-matter detection and removal, VERYX offers all-sided surface inspection, multiple-sensor Pixel Fusion and the highest resolution cameras and laser sensors currently available on any sorter, according to Key. Along with offering standard recipe-driven operations, VERYX also has the ability learn and self-adjust as new product is introduced.

“With VERYX, we’re able to achieve the sustained all-sided viewing that potato strip processors have always wanted,” said Steve Pellegrino, senior vice president of global sales at Key Technology. “All-sided inspection has been done before, but now the new innovative mechanical sorter architecture, coupled with our self-adjusting capabilities, sustains that view and, most importantly, the sort performance.”

While previous sorters are equipped with cameras and sensors fixed in several locations, processors struggled to keep the lower sensor windows clean. Over time, they would become obstructed by splatter and residue, which rendered them inoperative. In order to address this issue, Key Technology built the sorter around the sensors, positioning the bottom sensors away from contamination areas.

“It’s nothing that we could have done on any of our existing machines,” Azzaretti said. “We had to design a whole new physical architecture to locate the bottom sensors where they need to be.”

This is a big deal for processors because it allows them to meet their customers’ high quality standards, he said.

VERYX automatically sees and understands the raw product it encounters, based on the targets and specs it has been asked to score.

“It is able to make decisions for each product object as to whether or not it can pass it or reject it,” Azzaretti said. “They’re not absolute decisions. They’re relative decisions made intelligently to allow the customer to achieve their target grade at the maximum possible yield. There is no need to change settings from batch to batch; the machine is able to adjust automatically.”

Besides the benefits the advanced technology offers, it also allows processors to tackle labor-related issues. Processors, Azzaretti said, have found it tremendously difficult to hire and retain employees who possess the skills required to operate sorting technology. To address this struggle, Key Technology designed VERYX with easy-to-use technology that offers a more intuitive and simplified operator experience, he said.

VERYX also features a host of Key Technology’s french fry advanced automation, including sort-to-grade and simplified-length-control, which accepts or rejects each strip, controlling the quality of output to meet grade, as defined by the processor. Other features include: auto-learning, self-adjustment algorithms, predictive system diagnostics, smart alarms and FMAlert. During normal production, these systems allow VERYX to operated virtually unattended, Azzaretti said.

Azzaretti points to one more bonus of the VERYX system. Increasingly, he said, potato processors are using their sorters as “intelligent information centers.”

“The sorter is capable of collecting much more information than it needs to be able to sort,” he said. “It only uses a small fraction of the information that it’s capable of collecting. And our customers are telling us that the rest of the information is incredibly valuable for us to also keep and share.”

The sorter, he said, is increasingly being integrated as part of a higher-level line management system. For instance, processors have used the technology to collect information about defect trends, which helps them to make smarter decisions on things like production and storage.

“This information can also be statistically analyzed and processed, and it’s really flexible,” Azzaretti said. “It’s kind of up to the customer, but in general there’s interest in collecting and generating a profile of individual raw products based on what the sorter sees.”

“We’re excited about all the options that we’re developing for potato processors,” Pellegrino said. “We’ve designed VERYX for the global market. Small regional processors and large multinationals will all appreciate how it runs with minimal operator intervention and how easy it is to learn to use compared to other sorters.”

In addition to VERYX configurations tailored to the needs of potato processors, specialized VERYX configurations are available for sorting a range of fresh, frozen and dried vegetables and fruits and nuts.