One of the major concerns for growers in the fresh produce sector over the last few years has been labor, and this is not likely to change anytime soon. It will probably get more expensive and more difficult to secure workers. It is not just the cost and availability of labor but also the quality of the workers, with fewer ‘returners’, the time and cost involved in training is increasing.
Robotics have become a big talking point both in the harvesting and processing of vegetables, and new technologies are being developed to help solve the labor issues faced by growers and processors.
Scorpion Vision have been developing solutions for the automotive and aerospace industries for over 25 years and have recently turned their attention to the vegetable processing industry.
“We have been involved in the fresh produce industry for around six years now,” explains Paul Wilson, CEO at Scorpion Vision. “We were asked to develop a solution for trimming Brussels sprouts, which may seem easy, but sprouts come in all shapes, sizes, and colors due to the different seasons, different varieties, and countries of origin.”
Using 3D vision combined with AI, Scorpion Vision have built a system to trim the end of a sprout and remove the outer leaves. The system recognizes the stem regardless of the variety and cuts a fixed distance from the end, and this distance can be adjusted.
“The same technology can be applied to various types of vegetables, for example, trimming leeks. After the leeks are washed, they are passed under a camera that accurately locates the stem plate to direct a water blade to cut with millimetric accuracy removing the roots and leaving the stem clean and intact.”
It can also be used to de-core lettuce, top and tail swedes, carrot batoning, as well as detecting root fly damage.
“The system acts like the human eye but is much faster and more accurate. We will always need people on the processing lines to feed the lines and to check if things are working as they should, but on a large leek processing line, we have been able to reduce the amount of labor from 40 people to just 6.”
In the case of leek trimming, the systems can be retrofitted over an existing line or as a drop-in robotic cell where a robot is required to pick up the produce.
“Cost will always be a major factor when considering the implementation of new systems, but for many growers, it may be that they are forced to invest in it due to the labor shortage. We reckon that people will see a return on investment in 2 -3 years.”