Electronic apple helps prevent food waste

By Gwen Ridler

- Last updated on GMT

The electronic apple (seen here in blue) can help reduce food waste by identifying potential causes of damage during packing
The electronic apple (seen here in blue) can help reduce food waste by identifying potential causes of damage during packing

Related tags Fresh produce Technology & Automation

A new electronic ‘apple’ could help prevent delicate goods being damaged in transit and prevent food waste, according to its developer Brillopak.

The apple is actually a shock and temperature logger encased in a shell that mimics the shape, size and density of the real thing. When inserted in a pack in place of a real apple, the device can monitor and locate sources of damage during handling and transportation.

Brillopak’s engineers are using the data to assist in the development of its UniPAKer robotic crate packer for fresh produce – by measuring the forces applied to the ‘apple’ during the packing process, engineers can make design enhancements to minimise damage and bruising to delicate fruit.

Technical director Peter Newman said: “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.

Reducing waste

“This is a major benefit to fresh produce packers, for whom waste as a result of bruising is a considerable and largely avoidable cost.”

Tests using the apple in both pick-and-place and flow-wrapper systems have allowed Brillopak to identify areas of improvement, such as limiting how far an apple has to fall when it’s rejected from the production line and improving its chances of being reworked.

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,” ​Newman explained.

Speed and delicacy

“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 produce.”

Brillopak’s UniPAKer robotic pick-and-place cell was originally engineered for packing bags of potatoes and apples into crates. The UniPAKer has been specifically designed to improve productivity and improve pack presentation on-shelf.

Using a parallel arm delta robot on a compact footprint, it will load up to 85 VFFS (vertical form-fill-seal), tray-sealed or flow wrapped packs per minute and is suitable for vegetables, fruits and salad up to 1kg.

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