In 1983, Arie Koppert started building sowing machines for small seeds, such as radish, carrot and flowers. At the time, there was hardly any mechanisation in greenhouses, and he decided to mechanise the harvest and processing of radish by means of a harvesting machine and a fully automatic radish bundling machine, so that manually bundling radish became a thing of the past.
Thirty-five years later, the radish machines still account for half of Koppert Machines’ turnover, but in the past ten years, the company also dedicated itself to producing weighing and packing machines for snack vegetables. “The tomato lads saw how we packed radish in shakers and bags, and they wanted the same. Snack tomatoes and radishes aren’t that different in size, but tomatoes are much more fragile, and we came up with a solution,” son Paul Koppert says. “For us, this was a good step, we now offer solutions for the entire snack segment of cucumbers, bell peppers and tomatoes.”
The manufacturer now supplies complete packing lines. Three years ago, the first Multi-Packer was installed for Greenpack, and the packing station in Maasdijk now has four of these. “This machine is based on the so-called tact conveyor principle. This machines uses two easily exchangeable de-nesters: one for buckets and one for punnets, and two de-nesters for lids. In principle, it’s possible to do all types of packaging up to a maximum size of 21 by 18 centimetres with this machine.”
At the end of the packing line, a conveyor takes care of the output of packed products to any flow-packers or top-sealers. “The unique thing is that we can quickly switch on one line with various packaging. In the past, there were machines just for buckets or clamshells. By changing the de-nester, the Multi-Packer can also work with other packaging. The capacity of about 50 packaging per minute is fairly unique in this. When customers choose a mono-product, the speed can be increased to 90 packs per minute. Fortunately, our customers are also seeing this. Besides projects in the Netherlands, we’re also very active in the US, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia and Russia. We’ve already installed six lines this year,” Paul says.
The entire process of designing, manufacturing, installation and service is kept under Koppert Machines own management. “For the Multi-Packer, we only buy the weigher and labelling machine elsewhere. In this, we’re not bound to one supplier. If the customer already has a type of weigher they’re satisfied with, we can supply the same type as well. We build everything around it ourselves, from operating systems and electrical switch boxes to supply and sorting conveyors,” Paul says. Food safety is another important issue when building machines. “We build everything 100% RVS. All in all, these are food safe machines requiring little maintenance, and which are easy to clean.”
Plastic up for discussion
Although the amount of plastic in supermarkets has recently been put in the spotlight, the machine builder doesn’t expect the packing supply will decrease. “Packaging won’t disappear, because they have a function regarding the shelf life of vegetables. However, in coming time, cardboard punnets and thinner films will be looked at more emphatically. For example, we recently installed three lines for cardboard punnets with a thin layer of flow-pack in Germany. That saves quite a bit of plastic. On the other hand, the buckets are still as popular as ever. You don’t want to know the volumes of snack tomatoes that are packed in 500-gramme buckets every day. That won’t just stop.”
The wish list for the coming years features improving the robotisation in fresh produce. “We’ve already done various projects with, among other things, optical sorting and Pick-and-Place with robots, for which new operating techniques are applied, such as fully automatic lamb’s lettuce production and optical sorting in the radish bundling machine. For Prominent, we’re now working on an automated vine tomato weighing and packing line. This technique is good, but it’s now important to gain more speed in packing, and we’re making great strides in this. It’s the future for fresh produce packing stations. It’s also becoming more difficult or more expensive to find good workers abroad. That’s why everything that could save on people is now being taken care of.”