16 Sep

New packing line equipment helps produce supplier improve revenue

We recently helped North Carolina produce supplier, Corey Produce, with weighing issues that “cropped up” after they established their own packing facility. The company had been sending sweet potatoes and watermelons to be packed elsewhere, but decided to cut out the middleman last year. The Robersonville, North Carolina farm was using a simple (but inaccurate) eyeballing method to fill boxes. To ensure it did not short its customers, Corey wound up overfilling the boxes and shorting itself instead!

The new facility ships in two box sizes: a 40 pound carton box and a 500 kilogram (1100 pound) box. In a bulk line, the sweet potatoes are washed, graded, and sized. As they are sized, workers fill up the 40 pound carton boxes, “guesstimating” their weight and then putting on the lid.

For this application, Fairbanks recommended that Corey install a Fairbanks Series III general purpose bench scale with built-in rechargeable battery and integral pillar-style instrument. A roller ball top was recently added to this popular scale, so workers never have to pick up the boxes.

Operators placed the Series III bench scale with roller balls at the end of their conveyor line. They fill the 40 pound carton box and slide it down the scale. The scale will weigh up to 150 pounds in increments of .05 pounds. If the box weighs more than 40 pounds, operators remove potatoes to get as close the target weight as possible. The scale is used with a large 1-inch backlit LCD display enabled with auto shutoff timer and an RS232 serial interface.

For the first six months, Corey packed the large 500 kilo boxes, visually estimating the contents, filling them up to the top to make sure each box held more than the required amount. They knew they would be giving away some product, but wanted to make sure there was at least a little extra. Most of the sweet potatoes are being exported to the Netherlands, so they felt it was important there be no question of accuracy.

After six months of “guesstimation,” they began to be concerned they were really shorting themselves. After all, each box could be off by as much as 20 kilos (44 pounds), so they were potentially giving away about 1000 pounds of sweet potatoes in each 25-box shipment!

For this application, Fairbanks recommended the use of an Aegis 4-foot by 4-foot, 5,000 pound industrial mild steel floor scale. The scale is equipped with an FB 1100 Series instrument, which comes with a highly visible 2-inch backlit LCD. The instrument is mounted on the wall above the scale. It can sit on the forklift, so when the box is set, operators can see what it weighs from the forklift.

Corey says that instead of packing 520-540 kilos per box, they can now get it down to about 503-504 kilos, just enough overage to ensure they meet the required weight. They estimate that removing the excess paid for the cost of the floor scale in about one week.

This year Corey also began packing watermelon in a separate packing facility within the same building and purchased new scales for this operation. The watermelons are fed down a long belt, past brushes that clean off the sand from the field. After that they go down another long belt with seven scales that are used to weigh them and separate them into three different sizes, which makes it much easier to ship the sizes required by specific customers.

In addition to supplying the scales, Fairbanks also handles setup and calibration. This has proved to be a great benefit to Corey, especially given the rigorous scale calibration process required by the food safety audit they have to conduct for watermelon and sweet potato operations. Fairbanks also performs calibration once a year before the sweet potato and watermelon seasons start just to check the scales and make sure they are ready for the season.