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									Media information Gentle box filler V2 2 October 2007

SOFT LANDING FOR KIWIFRUIT Sweet gold kiwifruit might be top of the shopping list for consumers, but frequently the delicate crop is the number one headache for packhouses. Fruit and vegetable sorting specialists Compac Sorting Equipment has been listening to packhouse issues and this season released a gentle box filler that caresses the fruit into boxes and helps to automate packing sheds. According to Brendon Smith at Te Awanui Huka Pak the move to more automation is inevitable. He says it‟s not so much a matter of reducing labour units, but utilizing them in a more practical –and profitable – way Gone are the days, he says, of kiwifruit being an easy crop. Looking back on 12 years of kiwifruit, he says it was a simpler time back when he was managing a 60 staff shed in Te Puke. “There weren‟t the taste bands or the sharp beaked golds that we needed to treat like eggs to retain Class 1 export standard.” He says automation wins hands down over human input. “We can be running 42 days of 24 hours on end. That takes its toll on people and they just get tired. And the routine gets them down too.” It‟s the ability to be on song, all day and every day that saw Brendon installing gentle box fillers hot from the Compac „new product‟ range. “We ran our first trial of 8 this season and the maths showed that we‟d be looking at 12 people over 8 lanes, whereas we now only need 4. That frees up people to do other jobs, which is valuable when you are repacking” The secret, according to Compac‟s Craig Hart, was to start at ground zero in the development. Although simple in concept, the R&D behind the gentle box filler is significant. “There was no comparable product out there and we spent a year in design and tested at least four different prototypes before we were happy enough to go to field testing.” Tweaks along the way during the beta trials were to the internal workings only, confirming that the concept was a robust one. Fruit travels from the carrier to chute, onto the cross belt and then is softly placed into what is simply described as „an electric, vertically moving drawer‟ that lowers fruit into the box. “Although it could be used for delicate stone fruit or tomatoes, it really comes into its own with gold kiwifruit,” says Craig Hart. “The box filler unit receives the fruit from the cross conveyor and gently lowers the correct count into the pack as one, eliminating any high velocity fruit-to-fruit collisions, where damage is most likely to occur.” The gentle box filler is one of several innovations from Compac designed to help in automation of sheds. „We want to automate kiwifruit packing so we can help manage labour issues and the corresponding pressures,” says Craig Hart. “We‟re just going through the whole system step by step and making improvements where we can. Although kiwifruit is

traditionally the least automated because of the pack types we have made a significant step forward and we‟re getting great feedback from the industry.” Brendon Smith agrees: “In our first season with the gentle box filler, we‟ve noted more flexibility. We pack 5million trays this year, of which 1.6million are golds. It looks as though we‟ll be doing the same amount of gold next season too.” The Mt Maunganui Packhouse has had its share of visitors through the season looking at the Compac system. The consensus, according to Brendon, is that the shed has a very tidy system from bin dump to pack, with considerable interest in the gentle box filler. Craig Hart explains: “We took a deliberate stance to limit the number of box filler units we released to the industry in the first season of operation. But we also ensured they went to a variety of operators, ensuring we had feedback and input from various different users with slightly different philosophies in packing.” For the 2008 season, Compac expects to double the number of box fillers in the kiwifruit industry, and have used the end of 2007 season to fine-tune and make any changes to the existing fillers to ensure the product evolves into a robust and reliable part of the packing operations. “We see this aspect of the packing process as key to our ongoing commitment to the New Zealand kiwifruit industry,” says Craig Hart. “Couple this with our ongoing R&D, focused on gaining even greater results from our InVision technology and the results are the best solutions in the world for kiwifruit operators.” -endsMore information Sally Eustace, Compac Sorting Equipment 09 634 0088

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