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Apple packing robot ready for foreign markets

A Tauranga company is ready to take its apple packing robotics offshore and help remove the headache of finding staff to do mundane work.

The automated apple packing machines place apples in trays "colour up" with the stems aligned, using sensors, software and electromechanical technology, and are expected to remove some of the monotonous work that apple packhouses find difficult to staff.

Robotics Plus has five automated packers operating in Nelson and has plans to enter the United States and other markets. Most of the funding so far has been provided by serial investor Steve Saunders who is chairman and founder of the company which makes other robotic products.

The company's co-founder Dr Alistair Scarfe pitched the potential of the company to angel investors at the New Zealand Agribusiness Investment Showcase, run by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise near Palmerston North on Thursday. The company already has about 30 per cent of the multi million dollar injection needed to take the innovation to the next level and is considering bringing in commercial partners.

Scarfe said the bruise-free robotic packers were ready to be taken to the market and they had proven themselves at a Nelson packhouse as being faster, more accurate and hygienic and by removing a repetitive and mundane task for workers.

He said New Zealand's apple exports were growing 10 per cent a year and packhouses were struggling to find labour with 14,000 seasonal workers required to service the apple industry.

"We will be entering the US market later this year. The packers provide better handling - instead of people manually picking apples into trays which employers have to house and train - and that comes with its health and safety and communication challenges. The apple industry has said our packing technology has the potential to revolutionise the packing industry in the future."

Saunders said he had to acknowledge the funding from different government agencies which had contributed $12 million to apple packing and other projects which was helping New Zealand lead agri-tech innovations.

source: stuff.co.nz

Publication date: 3/20/2017


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