Antarctic Foods relies on VERYX digital sorters to maximise production efficiency and vegetable product quality

15-01-2020

Selling frozen vegetables to baby food processors and others throughout Europe, Antarctic Foods has grown 25% annual over the last few years. As they expand, the company turned to Key Technology. In 2017, Antarctic Foods installed Key Technology’s VERYX digital sorter to remove foreign material (FM) and defects from product prior to blanching. And in 2019, they added another VERYX prior to packaging. Now, with two VERYX sorters on one production line, Antarctic Foods has the capacity to maximise efficiency and elevate food safety levels.

Herwig Dejonghe, director general at Antarctic, explained: Because we sell our frozen vegetables as ingredients to other food processors, many of our customers also use digital sorters, so they know the technology. Having two VERYX sorters on one line differentiates us. We’re demonstrating our commitment to producing top quality product.”

Antarctic selected a belt-fed VERYX B140 sorter on the wet-end of their processing line, where product is a slightly sticky. They chose a chute-fed VERYX C140 for final inspection, where frozen product slides down the chute. “Product handing is extremely important to achieving the best sort accuracy,” Dejonghe stressed. “That’s why both of our VERYX sorters are integrated with Key’s Iso-Flo vibratory infeed conveyors, which have been customised specifically for our products.” This line prepares carrots, green beans and salsify of different types and various cut shapes and sizes.

VERYX is designed for processors, such as Antarctic, that manages multiple seasonal products. The sorter’s recipe-driven operation allows it to be changed over to handle a new product in seconds with only a couple of taps on the touchscreen. “Saving sort recipes to VERYX’s memory eases use and helps us produce consistent results,” said Dejonghe.

He continued: “On the wet end, the primary objective of the sorter is to remove foreign material and defects before we consume the energy to blanch and freeze. Also, our belt-fed VERYX features three-way sorting, so in addition to having one reject system that leads to waste and one accept stream that leads to the freezer, we also have a third stream for product that’s below grade or needs rework.

“By separating this third stream prior to blanching, it has more value because we can do more with raw product. Of course, the primary objective of sorting frozen product immediately prior to packaging is to ensure final product quality.”

To maximise food safety, Antarctic selected two fully-loaded VERYX sorters. Their belt-fed B140 features top- and bottom-mounted off-axis cameras as well as two-sided laser sensors and Pixel Fusion to achieve all-sided surface inspection. The bottom-mounted sensors, in addition to light sources and backgrounds, are positioned away product splatter so all-sided surface inspection is sustained throughout long production cycles without operator intervention. Similarly, Antarctic’s chute-fed C140 features front- and rear-mounted cameras and laser sensors as well as double-sided Pixel Fusion.

With next-generation four-channel cameras, VERYX recognises colours, sizes and shapes. With high-resolution laser sensors, VERX detects structural properties, including the presence of chlorophyll. Key’s Pixel Fusion detection module combines pixel-level input from cameras and laser sensors, producing higher contrasts to find the most difficult-to-detect FM and defects without false rejects. These sorters remove FM such as insects, animal parts, paperboard, wood, rocks, plastics and glass as well as extraneous vegetative matter (EVM) such as weeds from the product stream. They also find and remove product defects to make grade.

Dejonghe concluded: “Weeds like nightshade and datura are a much bigger problem than they used to be. With farmers using fewer pesticides and herbicides on conventional crops and, of course, the enormous growth of organic farming, we see a lot more weeds coming into our factory with raw product. We work hard to be sure we get all the EVM out. We use mechanical systems to remove as much as we can, and then we rely on our optical sorters to remove what the mechanical systems miss.

“Since we installed our VERYX sorters, we’ve seen a big improvement. We measure the good-to-bad ratio and the defect removal rate in addition to tracking customer complaints. These sorters enable us to achieve our quality objectives virtually regardless of the quality of the incoming material. That level of quality control – that improvement in quality – would be impossible without this technology.”