An Australian fruit and vegetable automation and technology solutions company is encouraging producers across the industry to think about how implementing machinery into their operations could help with productivity and efficiency.
J-Tech Systems Sales Manager Automation Tim Bond says that there is often a misconception that automation is only for the big fruit and vegetable growers and that it is an "all or nothing" situation.
"Even smaller lower, cost projects can semi-automate part of an existing process and deliver benefits in your packing shed," Mr. Bond said. "I want growers and packers to think about what current labor-intensive processes are and what high-value activities staff could be doing instead. If the thought of automation makes you feel uncomfortable, or you are used to the existing method, it may be that technology is just not for you yet, or perhaps now is the time to start the journey towards automation."
Mr. Bond says that the main aim of automation is to make lives easier, and there are a number of different purposes, whether it be to fill a labor shortage or provide more consistency in products. It can also be easier to budget and plan expenses because it is steadier to work out payments, workforce needs, and maintenance costs with more predictability.
"Machinery should give you the same result every time you turn it on until you shut it down at the end of the process," he explained. "It can also lead to increased productivity; some of our customers have quadrupled the output with the same number of people. There is also the flexibility of when you operate. Some of our small customers, and family-run businesses, have been able to run with next to no external labor by putting in automation machinery. For example, an opportunity to fill an export container can be worked through until it is done because they only need to find 2-3 operators to get it done. It is easier to co-ordinate the overtime as well, as opposed to needing a larger workforce of 20-30 people."
Having more consistent picking and packing processes can allow businesses to focus on value-add activities, according to Mr. Bond, but he still admits that he hears a number of objections to automation from within the industry.
"The main one is that it is only for the big guys," Mr. Bond said. "Similarly, another is that if we were bigger, we could make more sense of it. Some even say that they have 'always done it this way' or that they looked into it a few years ago - but a lot can change in a few years. It may not have made sense in terms of the business structure or costs back then, but just have another look. People have also told us 'it won't work here' or, 'it is all or nothing,' or even 'we can't afford it.' So, when should you get into automation? I say when it makes sense to. For us, it's a journey, and every step that you take is a win, then it builds up into the outcomes you can see. Automation is a journey that doesn't stop, so my advice is don't wait to make a start."
Mr. Bond listed a number of automation options that can assist fruit and vegetable growers and packers, including:
- Bin Tippers
- Sorting or Grading
- Bin/Box/Crate Filling
- Tray Packing
- Strapping or Wrapping
- Check Weighing
- Packhouse Software
- Tray packing/box filling line