Space-age technology10/02/2009 The new SORTEX E sorter of Bühler Sortex uses space-age technology to remove foreign matter with unmatched efficiency during packaging of frozen fruit and vegetables. The SORTEX E is an innovative and cost-effective machine which minimizes the rejection of accept product and reliably detects foreign material. For frozen food processors, the packing line is the last opportunity to eliminate foreign matter. Traditional technologies have long been used to remove foreign material that was missed in the primary process. But these technologies do not offer absolute safety. For example, they find it hard to distinguish light wood from potato or cauliflower, cardboard from carrot, or some clear or colored plastics from vegetable mixes. The list of hazards seems endless: cigarette filters, for example, are exceptionally hard to detect in mushrooms. In an increasingly litigious world, the price of inadequate product screening is heavy.
With the launch of its SORTEX E sorter, Bühler Sortex now offers processors an elegant solution that enables them to overcome these problems. It combines proven technology of outstanding reliability with advanced applications. The secret of the new SORTEX E sorter’s success lies in the Indium Gallium Arsenide (InGaAs) technology that it uses.
InGaAs technology was developed originally for the space programme to distinguish between cultivated and uncultivated fields. It was quickly adopted for military use as it enables an easy distinction to be made between foliage cover and other material such as camouflage. Seizing on this capability, Bühler Sortex applied InGaAs technology to the cameras it designs and places at the heart of the SORTEX E.
Short-wave infrared region
InGaAs technology takes advantage of the fact that vegetation absorbs energy in the short-wave infrared (SWIR) spectral region whereas other material reflects it. Sensors in InGaAs cameras can detect energy in the SWIR region while conventional sorters use cameras based on silicon technology that can detect energy only in the visible and near infrared (NIR) ranges.
The enhanced InGaAs technology used in the SORTEX E makes use of the fact that at certain wavelengths vegetables reflect very little energy while common packaging materials such as plastic, wood and cardboard reflect it very well. Foreign material is highlighted as clearly as under a spotlight. The new SORTEX E of Bühler Sortex has been matched to the capacity of traditional packaging lines. Its design is so compact that it fits onto a small surface area with little loss of headroom. It is capable of sorting up to seven metric tonnes of frozen fruit or vegetables an hour.
Productivity and profitability
In designing the SORTEX E, a balance was struck between perfection and the cost of achieving it. Because of the high throughput capacity made possible by InGaAs technology, processors are now able to identify and remove foreign material at the vital packing stage. They can thus increase their profitability by minimizing the wasteful and costly rejection of accept product.
The consequences of foreign material contamination may be serious for processors. Once consumer confidence is shaken, it is expensive and labour-intensive to restore it. The SORTEX E sorter with its enhanced InGaAs technology creates an entirely new level of security that is vital in the prevention of foreign material contamination. It is not only the product itself that is at risk, but the reputation of the whole brand.
Sales impact prior to launch
Bühler Sortex launched its new SORTEX E sorter officially at the Anuga FoodTec in March 2009. But pre-launch tests produced such dramatic results that over 20 machines were sold even before the official roll-out.
The purchaser was the Spanish Virto Group, which carried out intensive pre-launch trials at its headquarters in Azagra (Navarra). Virto tested the SORTEX E under the most rigorous conditions and found that it was possible to remove all types of foreign material and extraneous vegetable matter both from frozen single vegetable varieties and complex vegetable mixes, even with added proteins. Hourly capacities of 4 to 6 metric tonnes were achieved. In all, Virto found that the new technology outperformed the existing sorters it was using. The company placed an order for both the SORTEX E and the new SORTEX KBR. The SORTEX KBR sorter is a sophisticated further development of the established SORTEX K that incorporates the revolutionary InGaAs technology. This machine is capable of sorting at capacities of up to 10 tonnes per hour.
The new Bühler SORTEX E sorter.