As one of the largest producers of fresh and frozen berries in British Columbia, Blueridge Produce offers top-grade, sustainable fruits for retail, wholesale and food service customers throughout North America, Asia and Europe. In its fresh packaging facility, efficient operations help the company clean and pack millions of pounds of fresh blueberries in the short 8-12-week season. Eliminating bottlenecks is a high priority.
“Prior to 2017, we had six color sorters and six ‘soft’ sorters in-line removing foreign material, berries with color defects and soft fruit," says Rhonda Driediger, general manager of Blueridge Produce. “When a sorter went down, the whole line went down. We wanted to remove these bottlenecks and improve our efficiency.
“Every summer, we do a lot of work in a short amount of time. We wanted a sorter that could handle more than 10,000 pounds of product per hour with at least 95 percent accuracy," she continues. "Looking for speed and accuracy at a cost-effective price, we chose a new Veryx C140 digital sorter from Key Technology.”
The Veryx family of digital sorters includes belt- and chute-fed models of various widths for low- to high-capacity lines. Each is tailored around the product characteristics and production objectives of each processor with the ideal sensor types, sensor positions, ejection system, product handling and software to sort by color, size, shape and/or structural properties, as needed. Blueridge Produce selected Key’s highest capacity chute-fed Veryx equipped with laser scanners viewing the product stream from two sides.
"With one Veryx, we replaced 12 sorters. Now, we sort all of our fresh product at receiving instead of sorting on each packaging line,” notes Driediger. “In addition to eliminating these sorters, we’ve increased our throughput by 35 percent and reduced approximately 30 manual labor positions because we no longer have to rely on hand sorting after digital sorting to achieve our product quality standards.
“Our Veryx removes foreign material, color defects and soft fruit. Soft fruit is the bane of our existence. People can’t find soft spots without touching every berry so hand sorting isn’t effective. Soft sorters with pads or fingers only touch berries in one place, so they’re not completely thorough. The lasers on our Veryx sorter recognize soft fruit accurately, as well as foreign material and color defects, at incredibly high speeds.”
Gentle handling is important to avoid damaging fresh blueberries, and Key brings together its product handling and sorting expertise to minimize impact through the system. First, an Iso-Flo vibratory infeed shaker, designed specifically for Blueridge Produce, spreads and singulates berries for ideal presentation to the sorter. Then, Key’s Chycane chute, a unique concave-shaped slide inside Veryx, stabilizes the product as it enters the inspection and ejection zones, producing a consistent trajectory that improves sorting accuracy.
“We knew Key long before we purchased Veryx. We knew they’d be very engaged with us,” Driediger continues. “We have a Key Optyx sorter in our IQF facility. We bought it used and asked Key to audit it and train us. We were impressed with their commitment. They don’t just sell you something – they have a long term view of engineering, programming and service. Key is highly receptive to our feedback. We’re getting absolutely great customer service.
“We want to be on the leading edge – always improving and looking for innovative technology that will produce our high quality products while saving money and saving labor,” concludes Driediger. “Veryx will revolutionize fresh-pack blueberry sorting with its high speed and accuracy.”