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Stemilt unveils football-field length apple packing line

The next generation of apple packing technology has arrived at Stemilt, and with it, one of the longest apple sizers in the world. The company recently unveiled a new, high-tech apple line at its Olds Station facility. It features the latest generation of external defect sorting (iQs IV) and internal quality sorting (iFA GeoSort) from Greefa and a long, gentle sizer with 79 drop points to pack apples gently and with great consistency.

“We’re excited about the addition of our new Greefa commit-to-pack line at Olds Station,” said Jay Fulbright, VP of operations and special projects at Stemilt. “The line relies on electronic, or optic, sizing and defect sorting technology to reduce manual sorting of fruit and human error. The technology is able to efficiently and gently size and sort apples and will help us deliver great consistency in every box.”

Stemilt’s operations team led the construction of the new line which began by completely deconstructing the existing commit-to-pack line. Starting with a blank slate allowed for the installation of the long Greefa sizer – which is nearly the length of a football field.

“It just keeps going and going,” said Fulbright. “The benefit of having one of the longest apple sizers in the world is having so many drop points for the fruit. We have the flexibility to pack multiple sizes and grades and also reduce the number of touches to the fruit, which is important in maintaining a high quality pack.”

The new apple line uses similar technology as the electronic cherry packing lines Stemilt has recently invested heavily in. Apples move along the Greefa sizer through the “brains” of the line, where HD cameras rapidly take up to 60 images of each piece of fruit while it rotates. The images are analysed by computer software and the apple is accurately sorted according to its size, colour, and internal and external quality or defects. Apples that don’t meet standards are rerouted to a downgrade sizer and additional sorting, while apples that continue down the line are packed into trays or bags.

Using Greefa’s iFA GeoSort grader, Stemilt can get an accurate reading on the internal characteristics and Brix value of each apple. The technology easily identifies and sorts out fruit with heavy watercore and internal browning, Fulbright noted.

The line uses iQs IV external defect sorting technology to look at the outside of the apple. It recognizes and removes the stem and calyx ends of the fruit from the results, and allows high resolution cameras to pinpoint even the smallest external defects, including russet, hail, and bruising.

Using optics to sort apples is not new technology, but the ability to sort for external colour and do it well is relatively new, said Fulbright. “Consumers buy fruit with their eyes and the rise and popularity in bi-coloured apples has created the need for us to do a better colour sorting job. Greefa’s grading technology gives us a 3D look at the apple. The multitude of images the software can analyse results in accurate sorting,” he added.

Stemilt will use the new Greefa apple line primarily for conventional apples, while the company’s neighbouring Euclid Street facility has a dedicated organic apple line. The Euclid Street line was also recently equipped with a defect sorter.

“The addition at Euclid and the new line at Olds make it possible for us to sort all of our apples electronically. We can reduce labour costs and simultaneously deliver a consistent, high-quality pack. This helps in our overall goal of improving the consumer experience, building demand for our fruits, and delivering greater returns to our growers,” Fulbright said.

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