The chief of New Zealand-based post-harvest solutions company Compac says the newly released Sizer Simulator will allow fruit and vegetable companies to remove the trial-and-error aspect from their packing lines and help to optimize profits.
Eventually, it could also aid in the design of new lines in the future.
Compac CEO Mike Riley told Fresh Fruit Portal at last month’s PMA Fresh Summit in Florida that the new tool can be used to experiment with the many variables along the packing line and has “an awful lot of potential” for the future.
This innovation means that Compac, part of TOMRA Food, is the first to offer packers a virtual environment for running produce
“At its core it allows us to run our customers’ fruit in a purely safe, offline manner,” Riley said. The tool can also serve as a training device for line operators.
But Riley said he believes the economic aspect was the most exciting.
“If I have the opportunity offline to run a batch of fruit, it also means that I can try different settings, different techniques, set up my drops, set up my grades in ways where I can actually figure out whether or not, ‘If I had adopted that particular set up, could I have potentially had a different outcome and potentially made more money?'” he said.
“All of that capability, which of course we have in real-time, now we can have in an offline mode.”
The technology will also create valuable opportunities in the future for designing new lines or packhouse operations, he explained, as the tool could be used to carry out different simulations during the design process to ensure that the line will be able to handle whatever could be required of it.
“So for us and the customer, it really does give that additional level of visibility and predictability of, ‘Is this line going to meet the needs and truly deliver on the economic outcome that everybody’s hoping for?’,” he said.
“These are major capital investments for our customers – nobody buys a Compac line lightly. So the more information we have up front and the more modeling we can do, the better.”
Once those machines are designed and running, he explained the production outcome could then be measured using the same parameters as those used in the design process to effectively “close the loop” and find out how to do it even better next time, in what will be a “continuous improvement process”.
“For me, the Sizer Simulator is just the start of the journey,” he said.
“Historically in the industry, that sort of iterative design and the trial-and-error process tends to happen in the packhouse with real fruit in real-time and at the height of production, which is the last time you want to be playing with ideas.
“So I’m excited by it and I think it’s got an awful lot of potential.”
New partnership with AVEVA
During PMA Fresh Summit, TOMRA, which acquired Compac two years ago, announced a partnership with U.K.-based engineering and industrial software company AVEVA.
AVEVA’s technology will be embedded in sensor-based sorting and packhouse solutions, which Riley says will unlock greater performance, visibility, and efficiency.
For example, he explained that AVEVA’s sensors will be able to detect an increase in temperature of a motor, indicating that it is about to fail so that it can be replaced at a convenient time before the failure potentially causes delays.
“They have a platform that is designed to work with so many sensors and motor manufacturers, and we bring the application of that tool set to the packhouse. So it’s really our knowledge on top of their platform,” he said.
The first Compac product resulting from this partnership is Smartline, which features an operational dashboard for visualization of line performance.
Riley also said that the partnership, which marks AVEVA’s first foray into the produce industry, would help it to work toward eventually developing a “lights-out packhouse” that requires no human workers. He said this has been his vision for Compac since he arrived at the company four years ago, but that there was still some tricky elements of the process left to figure out.
“Currently we have not leveraged all of the technology that’s been developed in other industries across into the packhouse industry, yet,” he said.
“Ultimately, automation and robotics are where this is all heading.”
TOMRA helping to drive Compac’s growth
Riley also mentioned that since the acquisition a couple of years ago, TOMRA has given Compac the platform to grow and scale at a rapid rate, but without imposing itself in a way that would have distracted the team, confused customers, or unfocused it from its goals.
“They’ve just been incredibly supportive, they’ve helped us grow faster, and we’ve seen more and more opportunities to complement and help each other,” he said.
He added that one year after the deal, TOMRA supported Compac in its acquisition of another New Zealand-based company, BBC Technologies, a leading player in the blueberry grading industry.
“I think that’s a really good testament to the fact that TOMRA was supportive of us and I guess happy enough that after one year they entrusted us to go and buy another company,” he said, adding that the BBC acquisition has also been a “very good deal”.