The installation of a HiTec Decore Cutting Machine in Canada was completed just in time. Soon after, the coronavirus put a stop to all international travel. HiTec Foodsystems’ Canadian client could, therefore, get started with the new machine. Jeroen Lijkendijk, this Dutch company’s sales director, has since seen an increased global demand for automation. All to limit the numbers of hands on the line.
Travel and visit restrictions do not make investing in a new machine any easier. But with today’s modern technology, much can be done to help meet clients’ new machinery demands, from afar. “There are plenty of digital solutions and possibilities to design custom-made machines for our clients,” says Jeroen. “They can use 3D drawings to view the entire machine. They can also then fit in into their production process. We can accommodate clients that might have VR glasses too. These glasses are currently, however, mostly left on the shelf. They are mainly still used at trade shows.”
Florets of the broccoli, in the background the cutting head
“Even before the crisis, we were having clients send their products to us. We then test them on the machine at our production facility. These machines are adjusted to fit the client’s product. We then add the finishing touches too. The machines leave the factory, ready to be dispatched. HiTec also implements and realizes the machines and process lines at the client.”
“We supply the systems as turnkeys.” HiTec’s involvement does not stop there. It continues with service and maintenance. “There too, we can check machines for malfunction and advise on how to fix these. All from a distance,” continues Jeroen. “If there is no alternative, we can, of course, do onsite repairs, with certain measures in place.”
Sixth generation machine
The DCM de-coring and floretting machine that has now been placed at the Canadian producer is the sixth and, therefore, the latest generation. “It de-cores and florets, using a process we, at HiTec, have mastered quite well. The entire machine was designed using Proven Technology. That means the machine is improved based on our clients’ feedback and wishes. So, it is continually being perfected.”
“For example, the big difference from the previous generation is productivity. This has been increased from 90 heads per minute to 120. We have improved its maintenance and services as well as the control panel’s user-friendliness,” says Lijkendijk. “Our Canadian client uses the machine solely for cauliflower and broccoli. You can, however, quickly replace the cutting heads with a different model. Iceberg lettuce can then, for instance, be de-cored, and halved or quartered.”
“These settings are easily adjusted on a touchscreen. You choose the product you want to process and press start. The machine does the rest. We are a small company. But we have a relatively large engineering division. That allows us to not only perfect and adjust the machines to meet our clients’ wishes. We also specialize in designing custom-made machines - floretting machines. We have them for products like bell peppers too.”
When it comes to designing machines, hygiene and user-friendliness are two of HiTec’s core issues. “We manufacture many custom-made machines. They are, therefore, all unique. However, when it comes to hygiene, they all conform to the same, latest European Hygienic Engineering and Design Group guidelines,” explains Jeroen.
“We use cylindrical pipes in the frame and sloping edges. We also omit hidden points. The machine is, therefore, easy to clean and keep clean. Hygiene is crucial for our clients. Some important buyers, especially in the fast-food chains, place high demands on hygiene and a clean factory.”
Detail of the DCM machine at the Canadian customer
When it comes to automation, the rest of the world is catching up
There have been many developments in the area of automation in recent years. “In Europe, we are well on the way. We lead the way compared to other markets. We have, however, noticed other countries starting to catch up. These are in the Middle East, North America, and Israel. Our global dealership network is active in these places. There are also developments in low-wage countries. There, they want fewer people in the line. They are focusing on automating production processes,” says Jeroen.
The outbreak of this coronavirus has boosted the demand for automation. That will limit the number of hands needed. Jeroen has noticed more in-depth investments on the market too. “Companies are always seeking opportunities to automate processes. Especially when it comes to boring, repetitive work.”
“That type of work is also easily automated. The more challenging jobs are left for people,” says the sales director. “We have also noticed a lot of developments in robotization.” But it seems some processes will always be better done by hand than by a machine. “Short runs of niche products are sometimes extremely tricky. Automation is then not always beneficial.”
He adds that the end of this sector’s automation is nowhere in sight. “Digitization is an especially important development. Realtime info supplied by the machine is becoming vital. Production managers can then see, for example, when a machine needs maintenance. Output data supplied by the machine is also becoming more critical in the process. As a smaller business, we can add this element more quickly to a client’s demands than the larger firms. That is our strength in the market,” Jeroen concludes.