InGaAs 'Spy in the sky technology' takes Buhler Sortex to the forefront in the Quest for safer and cleaner food

12.03.2009 There is a constant need in the fruit and vegetable freezing and packing industry to achieve ever safer and cleaner food. More traditional technologies had been used to remove foreign material that had been missed in the primary process and also packaging materials that had been inadvertently added in the final packing process.

However these technologies, while adequate for the removal of some foreign material, have difficulty in the efficient removal of packaging materials such as light wood from potatoes, cardboard from carrots and some clear and coloured plastic from vegetable mixes. Customer complaints are still at unacceptably high levels with all the implications of damaged supplier-purchaser relationships.

Listening to vegetable packers, the Buhler Sortex R & D, Marketing, Sales, Applications and Manufacturing Teams set about the task of finding a solution to reduce complaints faced by their customers.

With their expertise in camera sorting technologies, they decided that InGaAs technology would provide the solution. InGaAs was originally developed by the military for satellite surveillance to find hostile encampments hidden in green jungles.

Frozen fruits and vegetables absorb energy at certain wavelengths whereas foreign materials reflect it. The foreign materials appear brighter when seen with InGaAs cameras, allowing these difficult packing defects to be identified and easily removed.

Two new machines were added to the Buhler Sortex Range
The first development was the Sortex E. This was designed to match the capacity of traditional packing lines and to be compact enough to fit into a small footprint with little height loss. It is supplied with its own transfer vibrator and reject conveyor. Sortex E uses enhanced InGaAs technology simultaneously with high definition cameras and PROfile shape ejection.

Working with Virto Group in Spain, trials were carried out at their headquarters in Azagra, Navarra. It became possible to sort all types of FM and EVM from frozen single vegetables products and complex vegetable mixes including added proteins, all at capacities from 4-6 tonnes per hour.

After a short trial period, the Virto Group decided that the new technology out-performed their existing sorters and a multiple machine order for more than twenty machines combining both Sortex E and the new Sortex KBR units was placed for delivery during 2009 to their plants in Spain and to their new venture in the USA.

“A feature particularly appreciated by the Virto Group was the Total Care Gold Contract. This gives them a fixed price for customer support and spares into the future” says Carlos Cabello, Sales Manager of Buhler Sortex in Madrid. “The confidence that the Virto Group have in Sortex technologies allowed them to make this commitment”, continued Cabello.

The second development was the Sortex KBR, a variant of the highly successful Sortex K. By using the same enhanced technologies as the Sortex E, sorting at capacities up to ten tonnes per hour were possible.

D’Arta from Ardooie in Belgium installed the first Sortex KBR on trial to compare it with their existing sorters in the packing department for foreign body removal. A four-day trial convinced them that they were able to produce safer and cleaner products and achieve good product recoveries.

The biggest advantage was the ease of setting the machine and its stability. As the Sortex KBR looks solely for FM, it is not necessary to change machine settings with each product change. This is a huge bonus as there are a lot of product changes in a packing department so downtime and human input is dramatically reduced. D’Arta ordered two Sortex KBR machines for their new packing hall.