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UK: Hochfeld sets new packhouse parameters with Marco

As a key importer and packer of grapes for Tesco, Richard Hochfeld Group (RHG) has used Marco’s innovative Trac-IT Yield Control Module for six years to improve its pack house profitability. Since moving its grape packing facility last year, RHG has further improved yield control management with Marco’s system, over pack has been reduced to virtually zero and packing capability has almost doubled in speed. The company’s managing director Alan Guindi explains how that has been achieved and outlines the value the system could add to packing grapes at source for the UK market.

How does RHG use Marco’s yield control system?

"The system monitors and controls every punnet packed through the course of a production run and automatically regulates the amount of fruit packed so that the average across the entire run is as close to the required target as practically possible.

"The individual packers stand at a bespoke workstation complete with intelligent weighing equipment, and are controlled by a simple, language-transparent, traffic light system. When the pack is within fractions of a gram of the target, the green lights illuminate to indicate that the punnets are at a satisfactory weight. If the packer removes an out of spec punnet they are locked out of the system until a supervisor ‘unlocks’ to allow them to resume. This means the system is an extremely efficient way of monitoring and controlling packer performance and eliminating human error, whilst virtually eradicating giveaway from the packing process."

Could this system benefit others looking to pack at source?

"There could be huge gains for the entire supply chain if we could get suppliers using Marco’s yield control system at source. In the southern hemisphere, packers will, as a matter of course, over pack by as much as 12%. Although it is largely an accepted part of the business, it is very damaging to profitability, especially when this giveaway is spread across hundreds of thousands of punnets."

Minimising pack giveaway is paramount, but how about reducing waste?

"Wastage is a significant issue – one packer told us that they are losing the equivalent of two bulk bins of grapes per line per day during the manual packing process and many of those ‘lost’ berries would have been well within acceptable specification. Where Marco’s system would come into its own would be through what they describe as 'first fill feedback', which manipulates the pre-fillers to ensure they accurately control levels of waste.

"Using our own example, since we moved to our new facility, the giveaway we have achieved in runs of more than 500 boxes has been one berry per pack either way, which in real terms is zero as you can’t put half a grape in a punnet. Waste very much depends on the quality of the fruit we’re working with, of course, but there has been a noticeable sustained reduction."

Does the yield control management system have any other knock on effects?

"We have found that there is greater efficiency throughout the packhouse as the Marco system has effectively allowed us to pack at twice the speed using the same lines. That doesn’t mean we pack twice the volume now, but we are able to pack using far fewer packhouse hours than before, driving value into the service we provide for both our suppliers and customers. Packhouse costs are generally the most expensive part of the process, so any efficiencies you can introduce into the packing process have to be more than worthwhile."

Why isn’t everyone using Marco?

"As with all innovations, there remains a need to convince people of the need to make the initial investment. Marco provides a trial process, which first works with a packer to measure existing overpack at the end of a line, then uses a demo workstation with Marco’s yield control software installed to monitor the packing of 100 punnets or so. This simple process will give a clear before and after picture and a precise measurement of the weight saved. When multiplied by real volume and put into financial context, every packer would see the potential ROI – the results are extremely persuasive.   

"I’ve already been singing the system’s virtues in Chile and South Africa and took Murray [Hilborne, md of Marco Ltd] to see some of the bigger producers amongst our supply base in Chile. We saw them too late for them to implement anything before this season, but I know that two or three of them will look to introduce Marco products into their packhouses before next season."

How can UK importers be sure that fruit packed overseas meets customer specifications?

"For suppliers packing at source, the Marco Trac-IT module includes software that would provide detailed reports by email to RHG, with the documentation and data required to verify that punnets have been packed to tight customer specifications. The fruit has to be on-spec and packed in the proper manner, of course, but there should be no reason why the weights are not controlled."

How does Marco compare with its competition?

"I have seen lots of different systems around the world that attempt to optimise packing performance, but nothing quite like the Marco system. It is the design and the innovation that makes Marco stand out from the competition, as what they have come up with is an evolution of every system that went before them. The yield control management system integrates seamlessly into the packing process and its simplicity means that anybody can use it with minimal training.

"Dealing with Murray and his team is a delight. We are fussy consumers of any product we buy and we have our views and opinions, but Marco do everything they can to satisfy our needs as quickly as possible. As far as line design goes, Marco are the best I’ve seen and I’d go as far as saying both Murray and their lead packhouse design engineer Wayne are geniuses in their field."

For more information:
Mandy Hart
Marco Limited UK
Tel: +44 1342 870103

Publication date: 5/28/2012


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