FR Vincent Boulbes and Fabrice Blanc, MAF Agrobotic

Vincent Boulbes and Fabrice Blanc, MAF Agrobotic

UK vegetable producer Elveden Farms is benefitting from a new turnkey optical sorting line for onions, the result of a collaboration between UK vegetable handling equipment manufacturer Tong Engineering and French machinery manufacturer MAF Agrobotic.

The line enables Elveden Farms to minimise labour requirements while boosting capacity and yields across its onion processing operations.

Located on the Norfolk-Suffolk border, Elveden Farms markets more than 45,000 tonnes of onions a year to supermarkets, wholesalers and processors, handling up to 300 tonnes of onions a day.

Andrew Francis, farms director at Elveden Farms, said that the company's requirements were very specific. 'We employed an independent, specialist consultant to research the market and determine the optical sorting machine that would provide the highest quality results on our onion crop,' he revealed. 'As the UK distributor of MAF Agrobotic equipment, Tong presented the optical sorting capabilities of MAF, which could be integrated within a complete Tong line. Working closely on the project with Tong and MAF for almost two years, performing many tests with Elveden onions, it was clear that the turnkey optical sorting solution they could offer was going to be the best. We were very impressed by the scale of MAF Agrobotic expertise and development resources which provided confidence that the bespoke solution would fulfil our current and future requirements.”

The new optical sorting line at Elveden features custom-built in-feed equipment from Tong, with a focus on effective topping of onions to guarantee the best presentation of the crop to the MAF sorter, for optimum sizing and defect sorting.

“For maximum flexibility, the Tong design includes both conventional fan topping alongside scroll topping equipment with bypass options,” a press release stated. “Once the onions have been received and topped, MAF’s flagship optical sorting machine, the Pomone, weight-grades the crop, as well as externally and internally sorting. The 10-lane model of the Pomone is capable of sorting over 30 tonnes of onions per hour at an average onion weight of 130 grams.”

High performance

The MAF Pomone sorter features high-performance optical sorting technology. “The G7 is MAF’s exclusive LED external optical sorting system, which uses cutting-edge imagery to detect any blemishes or defects to the onion’s skin finish,” the company revealed. “Its ability to identify blemishes on both white and red onions is a unique, unrivalled attribute of the MAF Pomone. In addition, highly efficient artificial intelligence algorithms can be used to allow the G7 technology to progressively learn defect specifications for even better categorisation. The G7 camera system rapidly captures multiple images of each onion, enabling extremely accurate and consistent external sorting.”

According to the company, this, coupled with accurate size grading, ensures “near-perfect” sizing of the crop.

“Even more impressive are the internal defect detection capabilities of the MAF-designed and patented IDD8 internal defect technology (previously known as IDD4),” the press release continued. “The IDD8 detection system effectively identifies internal defects within the onions including accurate detection of translucents, base rot, neck rot, fusarium rotten core and several other internal issues. Any internal defects within the load are easily recorded and directed to the correct outlet. The new and advanced IDD8 is very easy to use and is managed from a user-friendly interface connected to MAF Ophea software, which is seamlessly integrated with Elveden’s ERP system for detailed data management.'

The MAF Pomone also uses Insight 2, a halogen, near infra-red optical sorting system. “The unique MAF external, and particularly internal optical defect technology sets the MAF Pomone sorter apart from other optical sorters on the market, detecting defects that are not visible with standard optical vision,” said Charlie Rich, sales manager at Tong Engineering. “Our long-standing relationship with MAF allowed us to work in close partnership to design and manufacture a completely bespoke optical sorting facility for Elveden. It incorporates state-of-the-art handling technology to ensure the most advanced and automated processing, with minimal labour requirements.”

Labour reduced

“We have significantly reduced the number of inspection staff required to process our onion crop,” added Andrew Francis, “so much so that for some customers we are able to process their onions without any inspection staff on the line. The MAF sorter has noticeably increased our throughput and our yield of saleable onions. We are now able to sort crop so effectively that we are often saving good onions that may have previously gone to waste. This means we are utilising our crop more efficiently than ever before, knowing that the right crop is directed to the right outlet for sale.”

Vincent Boulbes, export sales manager at MAF Agrobotic, commented: “We are delighted that Elveden chose the optical sorting solution from MAF and Tong. Elveden’s independent consultants evaluated all options for onion grading currently available on the market and identified MAF as the best supplier for a robust and reliable optical solution that offers superior inspection of crop that meets the high standards of UK retailers. The intense development work that our team of engineers have dedicated to ensuring highly effective onion quality sorting has really paid off.”

Fabrice Blanc, MAF Agrobotic general manager and director of MAF South Africa, added: “With a focus on innovation and reliability, MAF will continue to develop new solutions in onion grading for the highest standard optical grading. MAF’s success with Tong in the UK will help to lead the way in expanding this market throughout the world including in the USA, Europe and South Africa, where I work closely.”