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Serbian soft fruit comes out of the cold

13.07.2006 Sortex solution improves efficiency and cuts costs in frozen fruit sorting. The region of Valjevo, Serbia may not spring to mind as a centre of fruit processing but nevertheless the industry thrives there and at the forefront of operations is ZA Fruit, a joint venture with German company Obst Trautner.

ZA Fruit specialises in sorting raspberries, plums and blackberries for distribution throughout Western Europe, buying in fruit from local growers at the height of the season from June to September. The company then sorts and stores fruit purchased from other cold stores, with less specialised sorting facilities, in the off-season period between October to May. The fruit in both cases being sold on in small packs of 750g or cartons of 5kg.

ZA Fruit, under the ownership of Ms Zivana Todorovic and Ms Iris Trautner, has always been regarded as a leader in adopting new technology and in seeking ways to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

This is particularly important in an industry that has been traditionally highly labour intensive; for instance, it takes 70 people working three shifts a day to hand sort raspberries - removing mouldy product, damaged fruit and foreign body contaminants such as stalks, wood and plastic.

To this end ZA Fruit and Sortex worked together, in the hope that they might be able to offer improved efficiency in this most delicate and difficult of sorting processes.

Sortex conducted several sorting process tests using their Niagara II single colour sorter, focussing in each test on one or more of the inherent problems of production, especially the ejection of mouldy product and broken raspberries, as well as the removal of foreign bodies.

The test results were startling. ZA Fruits found they were able to reduce the contamination within the product run to less than 5%; they were able to drastically reduce the amount of good product in the final reject and to largely eliminate mouldy fruit and foreign material. They were also able to separate 'grits and brokens' (small pieces of fruit) which can subsequently be sold for the production of jams, juices and yoghurts.

Consequently, they very quickly took the decision to install the Niagara II. Apart from improved efficiency, better reliability and low running costs the installation led to a drastic saving in labour costs. Today, throughput has increased four fold while the workforce has been reduced by 40%.

ZA Fruit were so impressed by the results that they agreed to hold a recent open day at the plant where other interested processors could view the Niagara II in operation.

Lawrence Kuhn from Sortex explained to over 20 interested visitors why the Sortex Niagara colour sorter was the perfect sorter for this application because of its, '..Colour and shape recognition abilities and its deployment of infrared cameras for removing foreign bodies.'

A Sortex engineer was on hand throughout the event to answer technical queries and he reported that most of the visitors were highly impressed by the sorter's ease of use, its accuracy and reliability in foreign material removal, its low running costs and in the increased throughput to be enjoyed by its owners.

Ms Todorovic summed up the open day and her decision to install the colour sorter, as a complete success. She said of the open day that she had, 'particularly welcomed the chance to have discussions with others working in the industry about the future of the market and the necessity to turn to technical innovation in order to remain competitive on a world scale.'

She went on to say; 'I am very impressed by the Niagara II. I think the conclusion drawn from the day is that technology like this is the way ahead. I am particularly proud that we are the first in Serbia to install the Niagara in our plant.'

The Niagara colour sorter is ideally designed for the soft fruit sector but is also perfect for other fruit and vegetable sorting such as sweet corn, beans, peas, carrots, etc. and Sortex look forward to installing more such sorters in these sectors in the future.