Robotics Plus signs global deal for robotic apple packers
Robotics Plus, a New Zealand agricultural robotics and automation company, today announced it has signed an agency and distribution agreement with Global Pac Technologies which will see the company’s revolutionary robotic apple packers go global. The deal, which will initially target the US, Australian and New Zealand markets, is fuelling a period of accelerated growth for Robotics Plus as industry demand for its innovation grows.
Global Pac Technologies is a joint venture between United States company Van Doren Sales and New Zealand-owned Jenkins Group.
Robotics Plus CEO Steve Saunders says between the two companies, Van Doren and Jenkins have a presence in almost every packhouse in New Zealand, Australia and the US.
“We see enormous potential in our new relationship with Global Pac Technologies. Naturally their global packhouse relationships offer exciting opportunities for us to expand distribution of our apple packers to markets beyond New Zealand, but more importantly, they share our vision for the future of packhouse automation. Together we aim to transform the global horticulture industry.”
Jenkins General Manager, Jamie Lunam, says: “Apple packhouses already use automation extensively for sorting and grading, but the process of arranging apples in trays for export is still highly labour intensive.
“Labour shortages are a major and growing concern in New Zealand and many other food producing countries. We see Robotics Plus and their packing technology as game-changing for the industry. It is a very exciting time to be involved in helping to affect this positive change.”
Van Doren CEO, Brett Pittsinger says the global apple industry has been packing apples the same way for decades.
“Labour shortages are now causing major headaches for packhouses in the United Sates. It’s exciting to see the enthusiasm amongst packhouses when they see the potential of this technology.”
The Robotics Plus apple packer identifies and places apples in their trays, and has the ability to safely handle up to 120 fruit per minute which is the equivalent of two people.
The robotic apple packing technology was originally developed by Massey University graduates, Dr Alistair Scarfe and Kyle Peterson. Saunders saw the technology early on and agreed to provide investment that would lead to them to building their first commercial prototypes in 2016.
Robotics Plus chief technical officer, Dr Alistair Scarfe says Robotics Plus carried out our first commercial trials of the packer last season and were delighted with the results.
“Our scaled commercial trials were mostly carried out in New Zealand, but we also sent a packer to the United States, where it was trialled in their huge packhouses. As a result we now have huge demand from both markets, with production underway to fulfil the orders.”
The packers are the first of a suite of horticulture automation technologies in development by Robotics Plus, who recently secured investment from Yamaha Motor Co. (Japan). The technologies aim to address major issues in the horticulture industry caused by labour shortages and increasing consumer demand for fresh fruit.
Applying cutting edge science to traditional agricultural systems is at the heart of the Robotics Plus business strategy. The company is working closely with universities and research institutes to develop a range of other technologies including a robotic kiwifruit harvester, robotic pollinator, autonomous agricultural vehicle and a robotic truck scanner.
Saunders says the investment from Yamaha earlier this year and the formalising of the relationship with Global Pac Technologies, means Robotics Plus is in a period of accelerated growth, all of which has the benefit of attracting new talent to the company.
“There are some very clever young engineers coming out of New Zealand universities. We’ve found that if you show them the customer needs and give them the right equipment they can achieve amazing results.”