The need for automation is higher than ever. Processors of fresh produce have been struggling to fill open positions on their processing lines, even prior to Covid. As a result of labor shortages and in an effort to attract talent, processors increasingly spend more on wages, benefits, housing, etc. During Covid, this situation has worsened and is anticipated to continue. In addition to labor shortages, the need to minimize contamination and recall concerns are key as consumers demand clean and safe produce. Additionally, a safe working environment is imperative for a processing operation. “Given that future business health is often contingent on improving capacity while reducing costs, we offer products and services that help facilitate operational health,” says Nick Maglio with ProEx Food.
Offering automation tiers
“At ProEx Food, we offer automation tiers, based on the needs of each individual project.” Every piece of equipment/machinery in a processing line automates a certain task. This could be infeed, a washer, peeler, husker, saw, slicer, de-corer, blancher, sorter, and also primary and secondary packaging. “We have the capability to bring these pieces of equipment as well as the robotic and digital technology together in one well-designed, hygienic, efficient fruit and vegetable processing line,” said Maglio. ProEx Food designs, coordinates, integrates, and installs the line. The company also trains staff and performs aftersales support. “We are the easy button, removing the need to manage a fleet of different vendors,” he added.
Pro-Ex Food prides itself on turnkey installations. In this scenario, the company performs design engineering, manufacturing and/or sourcing, factory acceptance testing, integration, installation, commissioning, and training functions. “We line up all teams involved or work with preferred local suppliers. Ultimately, we focus on building long-term partnerships with our customers. Over the years, several customers have come back to us for the install of a next phase, and we continue the journey with them.” Post install, aftersales parts and service is available.
Building an integrated, automated fruit and vegetable processing line starts with the design process by analyzing the operation. Most operations have different input product conditions, combinations of products produced, capacities, space limitations, and more. “We work to optimize the solution for each need, to maximize the benefit for each customer. This is an area where we shine as our staff has a unique mix of lean manufacturing operational leadership, engineering, financial, and additional technical experience. Analyzing the current state allows us to ensure each solution is truly optimized,” commented Maglio. This applies to both replacing an existing manual or semi-automated solution as well as a new installation. ProEx Food follows a 5-Point Optimization Process, which covers the tasks and milestones to get from project intake all the way through installation and training.
Automation to reduce operational cost
An example is a fresh-cut fruit and vegetable processor/distributer who serves grocery customers. Although it is a large and very well-organized operation, all produce had been cut by hand. Orders were placed each day for fulfillment the next morning. The operator would stage all product to be converted and sharpen the machetes. Staff would help perform daily tasks. “We highlighted different ways to automate the processes for a few of the higher-volume items, the company immediately recognized the value. The initial conversation started around one cubed and clamshell-packed fruit but expanded to a multi-format line that quickly changed from one product to the next. “Our team was able to analyze and make actionable recommendations that reduce operational costs.”
“The collective knowledge of our team is used to create ideal solutions. We aren’t just a manufacturer, nor just an engineering outfit, nor just an integrator, nor just a robotics company, nor just any other niche service provider. We are your one-stop-shop for efficient, integrated, automated fruit and vegetable processing lines.”