Electronic apple eliminates bruising

Brillopak has come up with an innovative way of using an electronic apple to inform and assist development of its award-winning UniPAKer robotic crate packer for fresh produce. By measuring the G-forces that an apple is subjected to during the crate packing process, this intelligent logging device has enabled Brillopak’s engineers to make design enhancements that will minimise damage and bruising to delicate fruit.

The electronic apple is a shock and temperature logger encased in a carrier shell that mimics the shape, size and density of a real apple. The dummy apple is inserted into a pack in place of a real apple to monitor and locate sources of damage to apples during handling and transportation. Force and temperature measurements are recorded by the device and sent via bluetooth to an app that presents them in easy-to-read formats.

Brillopak saw the potential to deploy the apple as a machinery development tool for its UniPAKer apple packing system. Using the instrument’s shock-testing capabilities, the company has redesigned the UniPAKer’s reject system and optimised the picking and placing operation to reduce G-force stress on fruit. By minimising damage-induced waste, these incremental enhancements translate to improved economics for fresh produce customers.

Brillopak Technical Director Peter Newman explains: “The electronic apple allowed us to pinpoint where the maximum force was. Armed with that knowledge, we were able to redesign the system to reduce that force below the damage threshold. This is a major benefit to fresh produce packers, for whom waste due to bruising is a considerable and largely avoidable cost. When lifting a pack of apples, the robot arm accelerates strongly upwards into a curve, then decelerates down into the crate, so the pack is tightly controlled as it reaches the bottom of the crate. Other packaging machinery manufacturers might be able to design a robotic system that picks and places apples into crates at high speeds, but what sets us apart is our ability to perform this task at high speed without bruising the product,” explains Peter.

Measuring the G-forces on the electronic apple during the pick and place process, Brillopak was able to verify the system’s ability to lift bags of apples and lower them into crates without subjecting them to force that would result in bruising.

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