"Everyone wants a top product; it can't have any flaws," begins Dirk Luyck of BelOrta subsidiary Sort&Pak Service in Belgium, summarizing the soft fruit market demand. That is why, when developing a new packaging line, the focus was on minimizing handling. "We wanted to achieve gentle handling, ergonomic conditions, and correct weight."

The green indication on the scale indicates that the punnet contains the correct weight

That correct weight is crucial, Dirk knows, because soft fruit is expensive. "The goal is to have as little giveaway as possible," he says. And that is at the heart of the packing process. Dirk explains that growers deliver strawberries or soft fruit by the kilo, divided into punnets. "The grower's trays come straight from the field, and not every punnet contains the correct weight. That must, thus, be corrected."

"That’s done semi-automatically on a three conveyor belt set-up," says Gerard Van Riggelen of Bizerba, the company that supplied the customized line. He explains that the growers' trays are manually placed on the outer two belts. The operator takes a tray from the belt and puts it on the scale. "The container's weight is checked and, if necessary, adjusted."

A red indication on the scale indicates that you are underweight

The scale is equipped with a weight indicator and a visual 'stoplight' so the operator can see a package's status at a glance. "The Brain 2 Portion Control software helps optimize the portioning process. A red light means underweight. Add fruits until you reach the correct weight and the light turns green. An orange bar indicates overweight. When the correct weight is reached, the system automatically registers it. The operator then places the checked tray on the middle belt, which transports it to the weigh-labeling machine," Gerard explains.

During the process design, a compact, smaller-than-standard scale terminal was chosen. "The distance the operator has to move to the conveyors is reduced by ten to 15 centimeters, so the system's far more ergonomic than many others where trays are often removed sideways from the conveyor system. We must make it easy for people."

In the semi-automatic weighing setup that Bizerba made for BelOrta, a compact weighing terminal was chosen for ergonomic considerations

Visual insight of the workstation
According to Gerard, you control the system centrally via a database of articles you can link to article information and tare values databases. The software uses this information to provide visual insight into a workstation's performance. "Based on the expected packing capacity, the performance is shown on a terminal for all the workstations. A green light means the expected speed is being achieved; if it's just under, it's orange. Red means the work is far too slow," he says.

The software also lets you extract statistics from the system, Dirk points out. "That can be defined and reported per user, product, or lot. We’ve linked the hardware to our manufacturing execution system (MES) solution via a communication tool," he says. Dirk sees that the central control prevents deviations. "We can deploy data per product and type of packaging. That used to be very prone to human error."

Weighing sealed packages
At the end of the process, all the sealed packages are weighed a final time, and only those with the correct weight are labeled, Dirk continues. "That's been our focus for many years: weighing all sealed packaging. That's both a legal obligation and important for our quality certificates," he explains. Next, the packages are repacked. "There, whether they’re labeled is rechecked. A non-labeled package is an underweight one, and thus, not allowed to be packed."

Based on the expected packing capacity, the performance is indicated at a terminal with a 'traffic light' for all workstations

Dirk points out that the choice of a semi-automated set-up was deliberate. "Every punnet is taken in hand, and there's an additional quality check. That's paramount. It's a nice system that doesn't require many extra people," he reckons. Sort&Pak Service has contracts for the whole line's maintenance and calibration. "By doing preventive maintenance, we drastically reduced the machines' downtime,'' Gerard adds. After three years of using the packaging line, Dirk can attest that expectations have been met. "We added two more lines after the first installation, and the concept has been adopted with an extra line here and one at another of BelOrta's sites. The system has brought calm to the business operations," he concludes.

Sort & Pak Service / BelOrta
Dirk Luyk
T: +32 12670 222

Bizerba België n.v.
Z3. Doornveld 130
1731 Zellik
T +32 2 466 00 81