Currently Under Commercial Trials.
Packing apples is a labour intensive task for packhouses around the world. The labour to fulfil this role is often difficult to find, which can jeopardise the produce if it is not packed in time. In New Zealand, we are reliant on schemes like the Recognised Seasonal Employer Programme to ensure our crops can be packed in time. Supporting this migrant labour force poses its own problems, as it often requires: housing facilities to be built, transportation and there is often language barriers to overcome that can impact on quality. The human labour force (domestic or imported) is also often unreliable, requiring on-going training and supervision to ensure quality control. Training can be costly and time consuming due to the ongoing need resulting from high staff turnover rates.
Overall labour is also constantly increasing, impacting production costs over time. Having a steady or even declining packing cost through the use of s, will help keep the cost of fresh produce (i.e. apples) competitive in the global marketplace and thereby more affordable for consumers.
By achieving a high speed throughput of 120 apples per minute, RPL will meet the demands of the modern packhouses internationally, while ensuring optimal fruit handling. The apples also need to be in the correct orientation, with all of the stems lying horizontal in the trays and be pointing in the same direction, all while having the colour side of the apple facing up for optimum presentation. This is only the first part of the challenge. The bigger problem is dealing with the large amount of variability presented by the apples. There is a wide range of apple varieties, sizes, shapes, colours, blemishes, etc. and this system needs to distinguish the apples features regardless of diversity. People are quite good at distinguishing these features and we must duplicate this accuracy using analysis algorithms.
This fully customised cell, designed specifically for packing apples, includes: a multi-head pick-and-place robot to meet throughput speeds and size constraints; apple singulating lanes with inbuilt electronics and vision system to get the apples into the correct orientation; automatic tray pocket recognition for any tray type; as well as full control electronics and analysis algorithms to make it all happen.