High-tech Israeli sorting machine gets to know fruit inside out
Israeli company Eshet Eilon has just returned from presenting its new innovative system at one of the country's leading expositions Agritech. General manager Menashe Tamir spoke with www.freshfruitportal.com about how the NIR fruit sorter uses infrared technology to internally analyze fresh produce piece by piece and can weed out one bad apple before it spoils the bunch.
"What the world is looking for these days is as much information as possible about the internal qualities of different fruit and vegetables which has been a difficult thing to achieve, but we have done it," Tamir says.
"It has become extremely important to the industry to know details like the sugar, oil or water content of certain produce as well as being able to detect internal defects."
Together with Israeli government department the Agricultural Research Organization's Volcanic Institute, the company's research and development team have been working behind the scenes on the NIR system.
So far Eshet Eilon’s technology has developed machinery to analyze dates, apples and avocados and will be adapting the system to work with different produce, including mangoes and citrus, depending on client needs.
What is NIR?
Fruit is fed into the sorting machine which using specialized cameras and a mathematical module to analyze piece by piece what is going on inside the produce as well as weighing it, measuring its diameters, length, coloring and noting all sorts of nutritional content and picking up on any defects.
What this means is that premium fruit can be separated from first and second class fruit, a factor that has become extremely important, according to Tamir. Entire shipments can be checked easily and quickly; buyers know exactly what they are receiving and can send the fruit back if it’s not up to standard.
Tamir says although others are using near-infrared hyperspectral imaging (NIR), Eshet Eilon's system is the first to implement the technology on such a scale that thousands of pieces of fruit can be checked at any one time.
"In basic terms our machine can read reflections of the waves that come from different fruit to give us a picture of what is going on inside. As well as the usual grading, it has an optical system that uses a special kind of very strong light on the product and a sensor absorbs the waves that are reflected back from the fruit," he says.
The NIR waves are isolated and using our specialized mathematical module, we can analyze the behavior and shape of the waves and make the right correlation depending on different parameters.
"We can do around five tons of produce per hour and that’s checking every single piece. We can then sort the fruit depending on factors like its sweetness, maturity, how long it will take to ripen and much more.
"This way we are able to present a much bigger picture to buyers of the produce providing them with much better information that will help them sell the fruit or take important decisions like how much of the fruit to store."
Avocados, apples & dates
Tamir says the ripeness of avocados depends on oil content so if a fruit is not harvested at the correct time it will struggle to ripen properly.
"With our system you can get rid of the not so great avocados so they can be used elsewhere in processing. The same with apples. Our system can check the sugar content and sweetness of apples to determine which ones go for a premium shipment and which ones can be used in something like apple sauce.
"There can be a very nasty fungus in dates called aspergillus niger that shows up as a black mould forming inside of the date and there is no way for a farmer or an exporter to know if this horrible mold is there or not.
"What usually happens is that samples are taken to check for contamination but this still does not give a complete picture. With the NIR system, every single date is checked as it passes through the machine. If there is a problem, an alarm goes off and any defects or contaminations can be discovered instantly."
Presenting at Agritech
Following the presentation of the new technology at Agritech Israel recently, Tamir says the reaction has been 'unbelievably good' with many interested parties coming to the fore.
"We had many inquiries and I was talking to literally hundreds of people from all over the world including Thailand and India and there was generally huge interested in this and I believe it was the hottest news of Agritech.
"I spoke with ministers, officials, farmers, exporters and people from all over came to see how it works and learn more. Everybody, including us, is really excited.
"At the moment we are in the process of moving it from the research and development stage to a commercial basis. We are already running on it on let’s say, a semi commercial basis so that’s why we felt comfortable to present it at this well known expo in Israel and hopefully very soon we should have it running commercially in the market."