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Washington company develops automated apple tray inserter
Automation is becoming a normal part of the fresh produce supply chain. As the industry becomes more competitive, more and more functions are being automated in response to labor, cost, time and other factors.
There is a new product available that has automated the packing of fruit trays into boxes. Although the concept has been approached before, Haley Manufacturing, the Washington-based company that has developed the machine, said that they are having great success with it and are now rolling the product out to apple growers commercially.
"The SAS Automatic Tray Inserter is now available commercially with 2 installations and a 3rd/4th on the way," said Josh Logsdon of Haley Manufacturing. "At the moment it is available for all apple markets including Washington, Michigan, NY, and all of the Canadian apple growing regions."
Logsdon added that the tray inserter can potentially also be used for avocados and other fruits. "For the moment we are focused on apples, but we feel very confident that after our testing that avocados will be a natural fit," he said. "Of course we continue to improve parts and pieces and processes as we see the opportunity. It is extremely likely that this equipment will work with other fruits and vegetables."
Once the apples are placed on a tray, a conveyer system moves it into the loading position. Three straps securely hold the first tray of fruit, which is also the tray that will be on the bottom of the box. It then lowers the tray (called hitching or indexing) to the appropriate height based on algorithms and the size of fruit. Once the tray is lowered, a set of fingers slide out over the top and the next tray is conveyed into position using the orange rubberized belts. The fingers retract quickly and the tray is lowered onto the tray below. This process is repeated until all the trays are in the box. The straps then lower the group of trays to the bottom of the box and then retract extremely fast, after which the box is indexed out of the loading zone and the next empty box indexes forward.
Logsdon said the machine can handle both standard and Euro trays. He also explained that the fruit is never damaged in the process. "When placing the trays on top of each other, the gap between the top of the apples and the machine's fingers is minimal thus the tray is never dropped," he noted. "The fruit is never touched by the straps or fingers and the process of inserting the trays is the same as a worker physically completing the work."
Capacity and servicing
According to Haley Manufacturing, the tray inserter saves a lot of time and labor, given that it requires minimal attention while operating. Additionally, it can be maintained in-house, but Haley does offer service and technical support.
"In terms of capacity, we have seen speeds of up to 16 trays/min, but the realistic capacity is between 8-12 trays with consistency and accuracy," Logsdon said. "Each packing facility is able to maintain it themselves, but Haley Manufacturing offers technical service support and preventative maintenance programs."
To help with the cost, the company also offers different payment options. "We offer flexible Cap EX payment solutions, or multi-year operating leases to fit most budgets," Logsdon explained.
More info at CPMA
Haley Manufacturing are exhibiting at CPMA this week and they are focusing on the SAS Automatic Tray Inserter. The company also has bagging machinery and other packing line equipment that attendees can discuss with the team members.
"This is Haley’s first CPMA and we are exhibiting to share this new automatic tray inserter as well as our poly and pouch bagging machinery," Logsdon said. "Our focus will be on the tray inserter, but we will be showcasing our poly bagger and pouch bagging capabilities and additionally the packing line equipment that we provide. Visitors to our booth can discuss the equipment, see images, videos and discuss the value, ROI and features of the equipment."
"After polling our customers, we have learned that automation that leads to labor reduction is one of their key needs," he continued. "Our equipment, design and processes are focused on helping solve this both short term and long term."