Focus on customer specific machines

The market for optical sorting machines is in development. Multiple techniques are now applied when it comes to sorting internal quality. Optimum/Concept Engineers recently developed a machine that combines camera and laser techniques.

Concept Engineers was recently taken over by investment company Pentahold and partners Paul Berghmans and Steve Raskin of Optimum Sorting. “We have every confidence that Concept Engineers can be grown into a major global player in the sorting business,” says new CEO Steve Raskin. “To realise this, we’ll have to invest considerably in machines and technologies in coming time.” Steve, former sales manager for BEST, who has been active for about 20 years in the sorting branch, has seen the development of optical sorting from up close. “Twenty years ago, sorting was still one bridge too far for many companies, and processing lines were preferred. Nowadays, companies can’t get around it anymore. It has become vital to have a sorting machine in the line. The customers of our customers are asking for it as well.” According to him, this is partly because of the increased requirements surrounding food safety. Instead of one sorter, multiple machines are placed in the line increasingly often. “All this to guarantee constant quality. After all, we work with a natural product, and each plot supplies a different product. By having a sorter it becomes possible to supply the same quality.”

Concept Engineers produces optical sorting machines that are used for, among other things, sorting potatoes, chips, carrots and nuts, but also for sweets, shellfish, tobacco and plastic. Globally, Concept Engineers has realised more than 400 installations. The production of the machines takes place in Eindhoven. These machines are based on camera technology. Optimum Sorting recently opened a branch in Hasselt. This branch focuses on other technologies, including laser. Steve mentions both branches will operate under their own names for now, but he doesn’t rule out a complete branding under the Optimum Sorting name in future. “We want to serve the market with the most optimal sorting machines. Not the best sorter, but applying the best possible technologies, based on position of the machine in the processing line. This means we’ll focus on customer specific machines in coming time.”

Combining technologies
Camera and laser technology is now still often applied separately. While sorters based on camera technology mostly select on colour and shape, laser technology mostly selects on structure. “With laser, for example, the chlorophyll content can also be looked at to sort green staining in chips,” Steve explains. “Laser is best suited to processing lines with free fall, such as frozen chips. Laser technology is also applied in sorting nuts. With this technique it’s possible to make a large contrast between the shell and the nut. When processing fresh-cut potatoes over a horizontal belt, for example, the camera technique is more likely to be applied.” Optimum/Concept Engineers recently developed a machine that combines both techniques, and also screens for foreign objects. 

According to the CEO, the first results are promising. “Besides, other developments are also happening. For example, data analysis is becoming more and more important. We want to learn more about the product, and that’s possible as well. By generating more data about, for example, location, time of harvesting and climatological circumstances, quality could be determined in advance. The machine can set up itself if it has enough information, so that sorting can be done even more efficiently. We continue to further develop automatic balancing as well. In the past, you had good and bad. Nowadays, the machine can balance itself. It’s made increasingly easy for the operator. Sorting must and can still be improved. We’re getting ever-closer to the 100 per cent, but we’re not there yet. Besides, there are still plenty of other aspects such as sales and service that can always be improved. All in all there are still plenty of challenges for the coming time.”

More information:
Concept Engineers
Steve Raskin

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