Apples

Robotic Apple Packers Key To Maximising Efficiency & Returns

As the first half of 2021 comes to a close, the fresh produce industry is still struggling to overcome familiar challenges that have faced producers for decades. Apple growers, pickers, and packers, in particular, continue to face unprecedented difficulties in getting more products to store shelves in less time.

Long-standing issues such as labour shortages, outdated equipment, and inefficient processes as well as more recent border closures as a result of that little thing known as COVID-19 are just a handful of the issues facing those all along the production line from initial picking at harvest time to packaging and shipping.

With packhouses across the globe still working around the clock to keep up with demand, robotics and automation remain a valuable lifeline for producers that are prepared to adjust to the times, as well as those that are ready to support them through the transition.

Ongoing industry issues create barriers for growers and packers

While the pandemic has catalysed many industry challenges, the inability to meet this growing demand was a problem long before COVID-19 came along.

Whether it’s due to a fear of change, the upfront investment, or just independent battlers struggling to stay relevant in a sea of big names, many packhouses still rely on outdated equipment that’s often more costly to maintain than it is to replace, while manual packaging processes slow things down and keep workers away from areas where they’re most needed.

With the demand for apples skyrocketing in 2020 – and this trend looking to continue through 2021 and beyond – many producers are hesitant about whether they’ll be able to keep up with demand. At the same time, many seem equally hesitant about exploring new options in order to keep up…

Apples
Apple packhouse

Resisting automation often leaves packhouses behind

Consumer needs continue to change, and one of the best ways this industry can keep up is by embracing new technologies. To adapt doesn’t just mean to survive, it means to thrive. Packhouses that aren’t at least exploring some of the potential benefits of automation are unlikely to keep up with demand.

With an over-reliance on manual processes, ongoing labour shortages both inside and outside the packhouse will never be resolved. There are simply too many labour-intensive roles to fill and too few workers to fill them. “Our customers need to automate in the packhouse so that labour can be redeployed in the field, where it’s needed.” says Cameron McInness, director of Global Pac Technologies. “Without picked fruit, there isn’t much point in having a packhouse!

Elsewhere, and the pandemic has thrown a spanner in the works with social distancing. Having too many people working in close proximity is now unsafe. As we come to understand the benefits of more space, these regulations are likely to be adopted voluntarily in the future.

Remaining stagnant in an evolving industry means missing the opportunity to grow. As packhouses waste time sourcing labour, battling with old equipment, and placing staff on labour-intensive processes, their export earnings potential continues to dwindle.

Packhouse automation provides valuable support

Some may see packhouse automation as a big financial outlay, but it’s also one of the best bang-for-your-buck investments a packhouse can make nowadays. Not only does it significantly improve packhouse productivity, it also allows packhouses the freedom to redeploy labour where it’s needed.

It’s no secret that when manual labour is under pressure, quality may be compromised, whereas with robotic technology, quantity and quality go hand-in-hand. The output capabilities of robotic apple packers surpasses what we’re capable of achieving through manual processes.

Minimal downtime is another drawcard for packline operators looking to invest in robotic packing technology. Packhouses are under the pump, which is why robotic technologies allow for seamless integration with existing systems with minimal user training required.

Packing apples
Apples

Aporo and Ampelos: a consistent and reliable apple packing solution

The capabilities of robotic apple packers resolve several long-standing challenges within the apple industry, from labour shortages to production efficiency. Meticulously designed to pack apples with care, the fruit retains its quality despite the speed at which it’s processed.

The Aporo Produce Packer and the Ampelos Carton Filler work together to improve packhouse production and maximise efficiency. The Aporo will get fruit into trays, and the Ampelos will pack the trays into cartons.

For the Aporo and Ampelos, it’s all about careful, precise packing all day, every day. The result? An efficient, sustainable, and productive packhouse. With the challenges facing the industry today and, undoubtedly, more on the horizon, it’s the efficient, sustainable, productive packhouses that look set to turn increased demand into the opportunity for growth that it can be with the right equipment.