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A Peek At Packing Process


July 1 2002

Smart research from an innovative Auckland company is helping fruit packers reduce human error, giving better management practices in orchards and an all-round better deal for consumers.

Istari Systems has created a Quality Assurance software package that aims to identify and eliminate human error, by automating how fruit is analysed for selection or rejection in packhouses. So far, apples and kiwifruit are coming under electronic scrutiny; with the software providing not only better statistical analysis of collected data but also the ability to trace defined reject fruit back to individual orchard blocks.

The research was helped with a $36,000 grant from Technology New Zealand's Grants for Private Sector Research and Development (GPSRD) scheme. According to marketing spokesperson, Karen Lawton, it is one in a line of on-going research projects which will look at extending the company's expertise in supply chain management systems for the horticultural industry.

"We've developed a system that has win-win benefits all round and the feedback from apple and kiwifruit packhouses in several sites in Hawkes Bay and the Bay of Plenty indicates they have significantly improved their sorter performance analysis," she says.

Ms Lawton says this means packhouses can determine which workers are making wrong decisions on rejecting fruit by tracking back rejects to specific grading positions and analysing the accuracy of grading. The system allows for both qualitative and quantitative analysis of the sorter's performance.

"Orchardists will ultimately getting a better deal, because the system provides accurate information on the type of defects being produced on a particular orchard or block which will in turn allow them to take remedial action- whether it is in nutrition, pest control or picking. Consumers will also notice the end result, with fruit of a consistent quality."

The research was a natural extension of Istari's growing competence in the post-harvest horticulture sector, based on its specialty in supply chain management systems.

The two crops (apples and kiwifruit) were evaluated quite separately because of the different reject analysis rules between ENZA and ZESPRI, with apple packers also wanting to extend the defect analysis to other parameters, tracking internal characteristics such as starch, brix and pressure.
Ms Lawton says the Technology New Zealand grant allowed Istari to attempt more R&D than they would have otherwise, providing essential cash injection for the three year-old company. "We had a number of technical difficulties, with the main one working out how to interface with existing sizer software and electronic equipment, while creating a cost-effective means of collecting information about sorter performance that would fit seamlessly into existing packhouse systems."

Industry input helped in the development, and Istari also works closely with industry bodies to ensure system design is in line with proposed new standards.

Istari Systems Ltd has also developed a Carton Management System, which has been installed in several Australian sites. The company is heavily involved in further software for supply chain management within the kiwifruit industry including EAN labelling and bin management and tracking systems.

-ends-

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