Oct 08, 2017

Automation: When and how do you make the jump?

When and HOW do you make the jump?

Across the nation, as far as packhouse efficiencies go, it’s generally accepted that automation is the inevitable “way forward”. It’s not a case of if, but when.

Over the past 12 months I’ve visited sites handling and packing carrots, cherries, stonefruit, apples, kiwifruit, citrus, tomatoes, berries, potatoes, kumara, leafy veges… the list goes on. From Invercargill to the winterless Far North almost all owners / managers agree that “one day” they’ll need something bigger, better and less reliant on manual labour. A minority ponder the possibility and quietly hope they’ll retire before “it happens”, while others spark up and emit a certain excitement. Overall, the resounding notion is one of certainty.

It can be an imposing decision considering all the contributing factors. The rapid advancement of technology means you have to weigh up your options and decide how far “forward” you think, the current and future scale of your operations will also factor into what level of automation you jump at. Do you start from scratch or do you add advanced levels of automation incrementally? There are pros and cons to both!

This perspective from El Dulze in Spain on process mechanization is pretty clear – embrace technology today and enjoy the efficiencies of consistent throughput and less labour reliance today.

Here in NZ, while the scale of most operations is relatively small by international standards, we’re seeing more and more interest in packhouse robotics and automation outside of the grading and sizing of produce where most investments have been made historically.

Only time will tell when and how things progress, but based on the projects coming across my desk at the moment I know we’re on the cusp of something pretty exciting.

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