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MARCO exhibits at PMA

Meeting global fresh produce pack house challenges

Year-round consumer demand for pre-packed fruit and fresh produce is steadily increasing and pack houses around the world are facing significant challenges to remain competitive. Marco’s Murray Hilborne spends a high percentage of his time talking with global growers and packers in order to understand their needs. This has allowed his company to develop smart, innovative technology that has a proven track record of increasing pack house productivity by 30% or more.

Ahead of the PMA show he explains the challenges facing pack houses in an interview with Fresh Plaza.

Marco will be sending representatives to the upcoming PMA show in Anaheim and would welcome the opportunity to meet up with visitors to explain how their innovative fresh produce pack house solutions are bringing major improvements to growers and packers, improving productivity by 30% or more. Anyone interested in meeting with a Marco representative in Anaheim should contact Becky Hart. [email protected]

Which companies' pack houses has Marco played a key role in developing?
We work with international brands around the world including: Windset in the USA; Karsten in South Africa; Richard Hochfeld, Eric Wall and Hall Hunter in the UK; S.A.T. Moyca in Spain; Tomate Jouno in France; Agrimessina in Italy; KHE and Vegpro in Kenya and Grupo SIESA in Guatemala. Our technologies are used by packers of soft fruit, table grapes, tomatoes, exotic vegetables, herbs and salads.

How do the pack houses of today compare with those of yesteryear?
Traditional pack houses were historically low tech, labour intensive operations, relying on standalone, basic mechanical or digital weighing scales to measure pack weights and employing high levels of unskilled manual labour. The scales were relatively slow and packers had to interpret actual weight readings which easily led to errors. Data collection on pack weight trends, waste and other key pack house operational criteria was non-existent. In these uncontrolled environments over-pack was commonplace and levels of waste unnecessarily high. (We regularly find giveaway levels of 20% or more are not uncommon). There was no overall pack house visibility and no way for managers to measure individual operator performance. (Note that many pack houses still rely on outdated equipment and un-measured labour forces.) Without sufficient key operational data it was impossible to know how to improve productivity.

By contrast many modern pack houses have invested in new technologies to improve productivity. Unfortunately, although most pack houses have made investments, many subsequently realise that the new equipment only solves current problems, all too soon becoming redundant as their business grows and changes. Further isolated investments fail to bring the required improvement longevity and the mixture of equipment does not effectively communicate with each other.

The successful ones are those that have invested wisely with a supplier that provides performance solutions rather than specific machines or equipment with a pre-defined scope, performance or productivity rate. These provide continuous production improvement based around a set of measuring and control tools that grow and adapt in line with the increased efficiency.

What will the pack houses of the future consist of?
At Marco we believe that improving productivity in today’s fresh produce pack house requires a solution that provides an ongoing measure-control-improve environment that changes as the business grows, not one that only solves current challenges and problems. The operational requirements of today’s pack house may be quite different to what is needed next season and the season after.
The key to success is to provide a highly efficient and versatile solution to the manual packing process. Pack houses of the future will be a blend of automated high-efficiency mechanical handing solutions and intelligent yield control packing systems based around operator-friendly packing line workstations that can optimise productivity, virtually eliminate giveaway (over-pack) and measure operator performance. Such yield control systems are already providing uplifts in productivity of 30% or more for international pack houses.
How do these systems achieve productivity increases?
The new technologies effectively de-skill the packing house operations. They provide easy-to-use packing stations with simple operator interfaces and real-time data to provide effective solutions for all of these challenges. The systems are a unique blend of imaginative hardware, software and the latest high speed electronics, collectively developed by Marco. Typical over-pack in uncontrolled packing operations can be as high as 15%. Effective yield control can reduce this to less than 1%, whilst increasing throughput. Marco’s packing stations use an intuitive light display system to show when target weights are reached rather than one based on weight units. This is much simpler for operators, who simply pack to the bright central light, irrespective of weight value. Training on such systems is very simple especially where multi-national operators are employed.

It is only by measuring performance that improvements can be made. In parallel measuring the overall pack house mass balance will provide essential feed-back for productivity and waste production. (Mass balance measures the amount of product entering the pack house in a given time and compares it with the overall amount of packed product leaving. This data highlights individual operator performance and levels of over-pack at key points in the process).

New technologies such as Marco’s ‘one light-one fruit’ technology within their yield control system is bringing significant improvements to packing lines. Packers are simply prompted to ‘add’ or ‘remove’ a displayed number of fruits. This technology is ideal for the packing of table grapes, tomatoes and berries.

An important parameter in measuring pack house productivity is the UPWH (Units Packed per Worker Hour). Empirical evidence shows that in most pack houses, at best, only 50 minutes in any hour are productive, with typical performance running around 45 minutes per hour. Downtime is typically an accumulation of minor delays or interruptions, which, in isolation, do not appear to threaten productivity and are therefore often dismissed or overlooked. The key downtime factors which affect productivity include:

• lack of product at the line
• lack of packaging materials at the line
• insufficient operators on the line (lateness, extended breaks etc.)
• equipment failure
• shift change delays
• packing film / label change delays

Marco’s latest pack house technologies can identify the reasons for downtime, highlighting where, when and why packing lines are not operational in any given time period so that remedial action can be taken.

Are the number of fully-automated pack houses increasing?
‘Yes’ is the short answer. This automation is primarily focussed on the transportation of product throughout the pack house – (from field-picked product, down the packaging lines and through to finished packaging and palletisation). The main automation investments are in high-efficiency conveyor systems, pack sealing equipment, high speed labellers and metal detection.

The relative fragility and diversity of fresh produce does not lend itself to fully-automatic packaging. This is especially true for many vegetables (e.g. asparagus, snow peas and beans) and also where the consumer wants to purchase so-called ‘natural’ products packed on the vine or stalk (e.g. tomatoes and table grapes). Therefore it should be borne in mind that for the foreseeable future many pack houses will continue to rely on a high degree of manual input for the actual packing of the products. The overall pack house productivity for many products will continue to be governed by the efficiency of the manual packing process.

For more information:
Tel: +44 (0)1732 782380

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