In order to get the highest return from your crop, it’s essential you separate the good from the bad. The following are 10 of the most common reasons packhouses invest in defect sorting technology.
1. Labor efficiency
Skilled labor is getting more difficult to find and increasingly expensive to keep. This means that packhouses must utilize staff more efficiently to ensure maximum return from their limited work force. By eliminating the need to manually sort fruit, staff can instead be used elsewhere like packing boxes in the shed or even picking fruit in the field. A great example of this is Washington Fruit, who have just removed all 16 of their manual graders.
2. Improve consistency
Human sorting is inherently subjective and the chance of two people consistently grading to the same standard is low — the chance of a day shift grading the same as a night shift is next to zero. Without consistent grading standards, packhouses are unable to deliver a consistent product to market. A blemish grading machine provides a single source of truth for grading standards; this can obviously be changed to suit consumer needs or customer requirements, but it guarantees you can trust that every fruit is graded the same at any time.
3. Reduce cost per pack
A common metric for packhouse performance is the cost per finished pack. A defect sorter helps lower this figure by reducing the required packing hours and costs which improves labor utilization whilst providing greater returns to growers. A lower cost per finished pack also allows sales to be more competitive in the market resulting in increased margins that go straight to the bottom-line.
4. Increase throughput
Throughput is on the mind of every packhouse manager, whether it be trays per minute, bins per hour, or tons per shift. The major benefit of a defect sorter is seen when running fruit with high percentages of defects. The throughput is no longer constrained by the rate at which human sorters can remove bad fruit – an electronic sorter will sort a 20% good crop just as quickly as an 80% good crop. Whether this increased throughput means packing more fruit or packing for less hours - it’s a great efficiency bonus that growers appreciate.
5. Improve quality
Manual grading and previous generations of technology only allow for simplistic grade splits such as export, local market, juice, and cull. Recent improvements in defect grading systems allow for much better differentiation of defects and grades. This allows packhouses to be a lot more creative with how they construct their products, enabling a much higher complexity of pack. An example of this is pulling the best of the export fruit into a higher quality grade that will attract additional premiums in some export markets, resulting in better returns throughout the supply chain. New machine learning algorithms also allow for training examples to be stored and used to constantly improve the quality of grading. Read more about the importance of maintaining quality throughout product pack.
6. Data and reporting
With manual grading, visibility of what’s actually happening with packhouse fruit is generally limited to the results of whatever sampling processes are in place. Data is one of the biggest trends in the industry today. Good defect grading technology allows you to track the quality of every piece of produce and get a breakdown of your product at the fruit level rather than the box. This information can be used for managing employees, recording performance, improving efficiencies and paying growers. Specific defect data adds value throughout the supply chain, enabling growers to advance crop and orchard control, and enables packhouses to improve inventory management and storage processes.
Packhouse workers are only human; they get tired, get sick, need breaks, and take holidays. What this means is that staff are unable to perform at 100% for 100% of the time. A defect sorting machine is the perfect employee — it shows up on time, always works hard, doesn’t need constant supervision, and will come back next season even if there’s nothing to do in the off-season. Machine learning means that all lessons learnt are retained from season-to-season so packhouses can start where they left off and improve their grading based on previous lessons learnt.
8. Food safety
Increased traceability and food safety throughout the supply chain is a mainstay trend in the fresh produce industry. This has been highlighted by a number of recent produce recalls that have cost food brands hundreds of millions of dollars. Automated defect sorting means one less hand that handles each piece of fruit – adding one extra step in the chain that is now controlled, safe and low risk. Read about our hygiene upgrades for your packhouse.
9. Competitive advantage
Due to the changes discussed above, many markets are experiencing a push for growers to consolidate in an effort to share the added overheads of doing business in the 21st century and utilize more economies of scale. This is a challenge that packhouses should face proactively and put themselves in a position to ensure they are not one of the smaller players at risk of getting cut out of the market. Co-operatives and corporates typically employ the best technology as a mechanism to differentiate themselves from the rest of the market – keeping up with industry leaders reduces the risk of falling behind and increases the chance of pulling ahead.
10. Enhance your brand
Consumers are paying more attention to who they buy from and, as a result, companies are investing a large amount of time and money building their produce brands. A proven brand promise is often able to extract a significant price premium, so by investing in defect sorting technology, packhouses are now able to produce products of high consistency and complexity to protect and enhance their brands and get the recognition they deserve. The importance of protecting your brand is demonstrated well in the New Zealand Rockit Apple Story.