In 1983 Arie Koppert started manufacturing sowing machines for small seeds, such as radish, carrots and flowers. At that time mechanization in the greenhouse was scarcely available and he decided to mechanize the harvesting and processing of radish by means of a harvesting machine and a fully automatic radish bunching machine, which meant that the manual bunching of radish was definitely a thing of the past.
35 years later the radish machines still represent half of the turnover for Koppert Machines, but over the past ten years the company has also invested heavily in the production of weighing and packaging machines for snack vegetables. "The tomato industry saw how we packaged radishes in shakers and bags and wanted that as well. Now snack tomatoes and radishes do not differ that much, only the tomatoes are much more fragile, but we also devised a solution for them," says son Paul Koppert. "That was a great step for us, so now we can offer solutions for the complete snack segment of cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes."
The manufacturer now offers complete packaging lines. Three years ago the first Multi-Packer went to Greenpack, and at the moment four of these are already in service at the packing station in Maasdijk. "This machine is based on the so-called stroke conveyor principle. Two easily exchangeable denesters are used for this machine: one for buckets, one for trays and two denesters for covers. In principle it is possible to use this machine to pack all variants of packaging to a maximum size of 21 by 18 centimeters."
At the end of the packaging line, a conveyor belt arranges the removal of the packaged products to a flow packer or top sealer. "The uniqueness of this is that within one line we can switch to different packages quickly. Before, there were machines solely for buckets or clamshells. By exchanging the denester we can also handle other packaging on the Multi-Packer. The capacity is about fifty packages per minute and that is practically unique. When the customer opts for a single product the speed can be increased to up to 90 packages a minute. Happily our customers notice that as well. In addition to projects in the Netherlands, we are also very active in America, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia and Russia. So far this year we have already delivered six units," says Paul.
The entire process of design, manufacture, installation and service is managed in-house by Koppert Machines. "With the Multi-Packer we only purchase the weighing unit and the labeling machine. For these we do not have a fixed supplier. If the customer already has a weighing machine with which he is satisfied, we can also supply that particular type. Everything around it we produce ourselves, from control systems and electrical switch boxes to supply and sorting belts," says Paul. Food safety is also an important element in machine construction. "We build everything in 100% stainless steel. All in all these are food-safe machines with little maintenance, that are easy to clean."
Plastic up for discussion
Although the use of plastic in the supermarkets has recently attracted a lot of attention, the machine manufacturer does not expect the supply of packaging to become less. "The packaging will not be phased out, because they also have a function in the shelf life of the vegetables. But in the coming period we will look more explicitly at cardboard trays and thinner films. For example, in Germany we have recently placed three lines for cardboard trays with a thin flow pack around it. This saves a lot of plastic. But on the other hand the buckets also remain as popular as ever. You could not possibly guess what volumes of snack tomatoes are packaged daily with our machines in 500-gram buckets. This is not going to stop any time soon."
On the wish list for the coming years is to raise robotics in the fruit and vegetable sector to a higher level. "We have already carried out several projects including optical sorting and Pick and Place with robots, where new control techniques have been applied, such as fully automated cultivation of field lettuce and optical sorting in the radish bunching machine. At Prominent we are now working on an automated weighing and packing line for vine tomatoes. This technique is already working well, but it is now important to increase the speed of the packaging, in which we're making great strides. It simply is the future for fruit and vegetable packing stations. Also abroad labor is getting more difficult or expensive to arrange. That's why everything you can save labor on, will be tackled."
The original of this article appeared earlier in edition 5, 32nd volume of Primeur. See www.agfprimeur.nl
For more information: