• Key Technologies likes its apples sorted.
    Key Technologies likes its apples sorted.

A new integrated sorting system for fresh-cut apple products can transform a processor’s entire operation according to Key Technology. This story was first published in Food & Drink Business May/June 2020.

Automation systems specialist Key Technology has introduced a new sorting system for fresh-cut apple products.

The integrated solution sorts peeled and skin-on apples and pears, which are cut in a variety of sizes and shapes including cubes, strips and wedges.

Karel Van Velthoven, advanced inspection systems product marketing manager at Key says: “Until now, fresh-cut apple processors around the world have typically relied on manual inspection to achieve their quality objectives.

“With our new apple sorting line, processors are able to automate and transform their entire operation.”

The new solution integrates Key’s Iso-Flo shakers, rotary sizing and grading systems, belt conveyors and a VERYX digital sorter. It removes pieces of stem, seeds, calyx/flower and core as well as foreign material and product defects like dark and light stains, rot and skin.

According to Key, the sorting line’s automated inspection significantly improves overall product quality and increases yield while reducing labour requirements.

Less waste, more product recovery

Van Velthoven says, “Beyond improving product quality and reducing operating costs, this totally new sorting strategy massively increases product recovery. Before, people inspected halves or wedges, so a lot of good product was lost with each defect.

“By placing VERYX after the cutter, the sorter inspects smaller apple pieces such as cubes and strips so every defect that’s removed takes much less good product out with it.”

With VERYX sorters available in different sizes, Key can design apple sorting lines for processors with production capacities from three to 15 tonnes per hour.

The new solution begins with belt conveyors that transfer whole, halved or sliced apples, after they are peeled and cored, to Key’s Sliver Sizer Remover (SSR), which mechanically removes fines that result from the peeling and coring process.

The product then continues to either a cutter that cuts the apples into different sizes and shapes or, if already sliced, directly on to the sorter. By cutting whole or halved apples instead of wedges, the yield from the cutter is improved since there are fewer slivers.

When whole or half apples are the final product, the cutter can be easily bypassed.

A conveyor then carries the apple cubes, strips, dices or wedges to an Iso-Flo infeed shaker that spreads the product for presentation to a mechanical Precision Size Grader (PSG), which removes small pieces that are generated in the cutting process.

Next, a Key Iso-Flo dewatering shaker removes any residual water while spreading and singulating product to feed the downstream VERYX sorter.

Van Velthoven says that as the only belt-fed sorter that can view product in-air with top and bottom sensors for full-surface inspection, VERYX is ideal for challenging shapes like cubes or wedges.

“Recipe-driven operation enables VERYX to be changed over to handle a new product in seconds with only a couple of taps on the touchscreen. The SSR and PSG can be easily adjusted to handle different cut shapes and sizes,” he says.

It can also be equipped with Key’s Information Analytics software, which allows users to analyse and share big data across their enterprise via an OPCUA-compliant infrastructure.

The result for Key is a versatile apple sorting line to handle different apple and pear varietals and various cut shapes and sizes with minimal changeover for customers.

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