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Automation of sorting and packing onions continues

Vos Onions sorts and packs onions for exporters. The company invested in modernising their machinery, and in the coming years they’ll continue to pay attention to automation.

Ten years ago, Vos Onions set up shop at the industrial estate Bagijnhof in Veen, the Netherlands. The company sorts and packs onions for a group of permanent exporters. The majority of the onions is bought on the free market via agents. “They know exactly what our customers want, and based on that they look for the most suitable batches,” says Arian Vos of Vos Onions. When we talk to him mid-October, onions of the new harvest are already being handled.

Autumn is traditionally the busiest period of the year, although sorting and packing onions lasts throughout the year nowadays, according to him. “We have a lot of work particularly when Africa is on the market.” Vos Onions packs the onions as desired by the customers. The majority is packed in nets of 25 kilograms, but the onions can also be packed from five kilograms to big bags.

Arian says he’s currently faced with challenges on the purchasing side of things in particular. “Demand is good, but a lot of farmers are holding onto their onions. Because of this, most sorters don’t have much in stock now. To retain margins, it would actually be good to have a few weeks between purchasing and delivery. We couldn’t make much money if it were all dependent on day trade.” He mentions prices normally drop in the plant onion season, after which the market recovers again. “Prices actually steadily rose throughout the season. Growers are therefore not yet interested in selling their product. It continues to be difficult to predict what the market will do, but it’s promising to be an exciting season.”

Flexibly responding to the market
Besides choosing a suitable purchasing time, finding the right batches also requires time. According to Arian, quality of the onions is very changeable this season. “The onions from heavier soils, in Flevoland and the Noordoostpolder for example, are generally better quality. You really have to keep your guard up. Everyone does things their own way. By having the right purchasing time and selecting the best batches, we can still try to earn some money. We really depend on our flexibility and not on the largest volumes.”

While a lot of other packing stations started doing their own exporting in recent years, Vos Onions made a conscious decision to remain true to their original roots. However, this doesn’t mean the company isn’t in development. In recent years, they invested in modernising and automating their packing line. Two new machines from Manter were recently taken into use. The MBP HS (Manter Bag Placer High Speed) for automatically hanging bags with holes and a strip, and the SAB HS (Semi Automatic Bagger High Speed) for packing burlap sacks and net bags. “When purchasing these machines, constancy and reliability were important requirements for us in particular. The machines are in production every day. A high capacity is a nice bonus, but that’s unimportant if the machine makes too many mistakes.”

Machines increasingly faster and maintenance friendly
Arian says the machines are both user friendly and low-maintenance. “Quickly and easily changing components is a major advantage. Besides, the machines have to be easy to clean and well covered, because a lot of dust is released when handling onions. The new machines are a step forward in that regard. Instead of chain movements, toothed belts are used nowadays. These don’t stretch and are less likely to wear out from dust. Additionally, the machines are mostly made from RVS and the speed has improved considerably.” Arian isn’t ruling out continued automation. He’s particularly interested in developments in the field of optical sorting. For Vos Onions, the onions are still manually sorted. “This might change in future. I didn’t think much of it at first, but considering current developments I’m now open to it. The results of optical sorting are improving all the time. Moreover, manual labour is getting more and more expensive. As soon as the technique works 100% and becomes affordable, we’ll be seriously looking into it.”

Manter International is a manufacturer of weighing and packing machines for fresh produce. The machines find their way to all corners of the world, and the company is continually developing new services. For example, the Manter Service App became available last year, which improved the service process towards the customer. With this application for smartphones and tablets, it becomes possible, among other things, to visualise new machines and to order additional parts. Vos Onions bought their first Manter weighing machine in 1999, and since then they’ve always chosen Manter. “We’re just very satisfied with the cooperation. We have a connection with the representative and the IT people, they really listen to our wishes, and when we have breakdowns we can always count on quick and good service. It’s just a nice way to work,” Arian concludes.

More information:

Vos Onions 
Arian Vos

A. Hoekstra 

Publication date:


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