Nov 27, 2013
Efficiency, quality improve with new cherry packing lines

Stemilt Growers’ new cherry packing line at the company’s facility in Wenatchee, Wash., is already paying dividends by trimming labor costs and allowing operators to capture fruit sizes more accurately, according to company officials.

Stemilt is one of a number of cherry packing operations that is improving efficiency and quality control with new equipment.

Stemilt president West Mathison and owner/grower Kyle Mathison led a June dedication of the new line.

“We’ve been tracking this electronic sizing and defect sorting technology for over five years, and feel that it’s finally ready to be implemented on a commercial level,” West Mathison said.

The Euclid cherry line is being called the first of its kind in Washington. Two 10-lane electronic sizers with defect sorters from GP Graders will reduce the company’s reliance on manual sorting by sizing cherries and sorting each piece of fruit automatically. This allows Stemilt to move away from the traditional method of using a diverging roll sizer to size cherries, and the human eye to sort fruit.

“It allows us to capture sizes in a much more accurate percentage,” said Roger Pepperl, Stemilt’s marketing director. “Pack consistency is the key. Size is very close in each pack. Because we capture the upsizes in every crop, it allows us to also capture the FOB premiums on the larger cherries, which will return to the orchard and the grower in a positive way.

“(The line) also allows us to sort out fruit with less employees at the sorting belts,” Pepperl said. “This has been extremely valuable during June’s rains and the windows of extreme heat. It has reduced costs and labor percentage for packing.

The new line continues to “deliver a food-safe packing program, but our existing packing did this also,” Pepperl said.

“It will really show the grower the value in large cherries, which will continue to chase the crop into larger fruit,” he said. “It also will pull non-packable fruit off the line and prevent bottlenecks on the sorting end. Sizing will be much more consistent.”

Jay Fulbright, Stemilt’s vice president of operations, said in a news release that the Euclid red cherry line has the capacity to handle 12 to 13 tons per hour.

In addition to the GP Graders equipment, two Sorma machines offer flexibility in packaging cherries in a variety of pack types, including clamshells, bags and bulk. The Euclid line is equipped with an eliminator sizer, called Herbie, which cleans up small-sized cherries and sends them to designated sorting tables for manual sorting, and then onto packing.

Stemilt now has five cherry packing lines in Washington. The Euclid line increases Stemilt’s cherry packing capacity. It also enables the company to dedicate packing lines for specific varieties, such as organic dark-sweet cherries.

Approximately 105 employees will work on the line, which is housed in a 24,000-square-foot building.

Sorting, grading

Australia-based GP Graders announced that it will install a 42-lane electronic cherry grader for Rivermaid Trading Co. in California next year. The turn-key cherry line will be installed at Rivermaid’s Lodi plant.

In a news release, Rivermaid’s CEO, Patrick Archibeque, said he and his team traveled extensively through Chile last year to evaluate all the cherry grading machines on the market, and found the GP Graders AirJet Defect Grader to be the “most impressive.”

“The GP machines we saw were quiet, easy to use and needed very little support, leading to a very low tension packing shed,” Archibeque said.

“Our team evaluated the packout intensively by size and defect, analyzing how the grader detected splits, cracks and softness. We were very impressed by what we saw and felt GP was the most advanced out there,” he added.

GP Graders AirJet Defect Grader detects up to 80 percent of defects with 98 percent sizing accuracy, reducing labor costs and increasing productivity.

The 2014 installation will include a twin feed submersible dumper, three new-style cluster cutters, three hydrocooling shower conveyors, a 40-lane size, color, shape and defect grader with a two-lane sample sizer, and 32 exits. It will fit within a 150 by 150- square-foot shed.

Rivermaid is one of California’s largest cherry packers, and plans to process 26 tons per hour on the new line, according to the news release.

Italian company Unitec S.p.A., which recently opened Unitec USA in Stockton, Calif., has installed new cherry sorting technologies at O-G Packing and MORADA Produce, both in California.

The 32-lane, electronic cherry sorting system installed by Unitec at O-G Packing of Stockton, Calif., was highlighted during an open house in May.

“The line started production on May 5,” said plant manager Tom Gotelli in a news release. “We’ve been in business for over 60 years. I’m third generation. Our family loves the cherry business. Now we are excited to have this Unitec machine doing the electronic sorting and sizing for us.

“(The line) is radically changing the way cherries are processed for the fresh fruit market,” Gotelli said. “It takes 30 pictures of each cherry. It goes through the cameras and deciphers what’s good, what’s bad and what size it is. With this technology we have through Unitec electronic sorting and sizing, it sees the fruit better. We can decipher how hard we want to pull on the fruit; pull out defects.”

It sorts red cherries and automatically removes debris and defects. Sorting equipment, cameras and lasers inspect each cherry’s size, color, shape and structural properties. The system removes scarred fruit, doubles, spurs, soft fruit and other types of damages.

“It makes our job much simpler and it gives us a better product in the long run,” he said. “It can grade cherries by size and color.”

Gary Pullano





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