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"The customer has the say. That is the power of this machine."

Netherlands: Optical onion sorting line from Wouter van der Beek attracts many visitors

Onion trader Wouter van der Beek presented the first ever optical sorting line this year, which sorts onions by intrinsic properties. This innovative entrepreneur from Tollebeek officially put it to use this summer. According to Van der Beek, it was a huge challenge to get the project started. The onion world questioned the plans. 'You're totally nuts' was the first reaction from America. The other large players in onions declared Van der Beek crazy. "In the meantime we are a year further and they are now coming in hoards to see the world's first in action," says the ambitious entrepreneur.

Entrepeneur Wouter van der Beek with his new optical sorting line for onions.

Higher quality

The entrepeneur purchased another location in the village of Tollebeek where he was faced with the choice to purchase a new sorting line. From that moment, Van der Beek began to orientate himself with the possibilities of an optical sorting line. A forty metre long optical sorting line was placed. Van der Beek chose this installation for a number of reasons. "The quality increases and can be guaranteed to stay at this level. I would like to work with chains at a more personal level with this new machine. The grower is rewarded for a good quality batch of onions. This gives him higher efficiency."

It is possible to see how the onions look from the inside on the computer. The farmer has the possibility to see his own data via the computer.

Advanced sorting line

While the fruit and vegetable industry has been using optical sorting machines for at least twenty years, this was never the case with onions. No one was ever in the position to develop a selection line for onions with selects by size, colour, weight and external quality. "This manner of sorting out quality problems is beneficial, especially during a season with quality problems. With traditional sorting machines, an onion that looks great from the outside can still be rotten from the inside. That was made clear again last year."

The onions are transported to a type of 'dish' where they are directed to the appropriate crate. The computer ticks the onions with flippers, that are present on every conveyor belt, in the direction of the correct dish.

The advanced sorting line processes 22 tonnes of onions on 12 criteria. It does this with the help of 32 infra-red cameras that photographs 60 onions per second. Van der Beek: "The determination of types, colour, but especially the internal qualities, opens new markets. If I select onions by a single or double centre, then the seed companies are truly interested. If I select onions to the gram or millimetre, that provides the opportunity to present the onions on the shelves in a more aesthetically pleasing way than is currently the case. The gold-yellow onion, for example, is a specific size. The customer has the say. That is the power of this machine."

New possibilities

“I am convinced that this is the beginning of something great. It is up to the market to come up with ideas on how to make the product better or to present and profile the onions. I am going to help them realise these ideas," says Wouter van der Beek.

Source: Nieuwsbrief Freeland

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