Birds Eye, part of Iglo Foods Group, says that the new sorters are allowing a far greater number of contaminants to be detected and removed (up to 99.5% efficiency for most defects) while reducing the overall yield loss of each production run by as much as 50%. In addition, overall throughput has risen by 33%. As a result, the sorters are delivering a return on investment of less than one year.
The Birds Eye factory processes and packs 36,000 tonnes of peas each year. The peas are frozen within two-and-a-half hours of being picked and then called into the factory as required for cleaning, grading and packing. Typical contaminants that need to be removed include caterpillars, snails and stones from the soil, and pods and other parts of the pea plant.
The Helius uses laser technology to detect all types of colour and structure defects in a stream of good product. In addition, thanks to its patented FLUO technology, the machine is also able to spot contaminants by assessing biological characteristics that are invisible to the human eye.
For the sorting of peas, it can detect the slightest shades of chlorophyll to distinguish between good products and defects. This makes it far more sensitive and accurate than previously used camera-based systems using UV light.
“Caterpillars were a major weakness with our old system,” said quality assurance manager Paul George, “since if they were rolled up into a ball, they were not easy to distinguish from the shape of pea. Similarly, small parts of the pod could be missed as they were very close in colour to the pea.
“The Helius sorters, by comparison, have an efficiency rate of 99.5% for caterpillars and minerals, and 98% for pods. This level of accuracy means we can harvest more of the crop initially. Equally important, the reject system is more accurate so that we lose fewer good items during the process. This has allowed us to increase the quality of the product while also increasing the overall yield.”
The two Helius machines have replaced four of the older models from a competitor and this has freed up staff to carry out other duties on the line.
“Our old equipment needed regular monitoring, but the Helius sorters are far more reliable,” said Paul George. “We also find the freefall sorting system works better than a belt in achieving more accurate rejection rates.”
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