As costs are very high and supply is abundant during the peak of the season, blueberry growers will be looking to reduce their costs as much as possible. According to Piotr Milewski, CEO of Milbor, a supplier of automated production lines, including sorting and packing systems, an efficient, automated sorting line can be an answer.
“The blueberry market experienced very high growth in recent years both on production and consumption side. Especially the production increases in different regions of Europe have led to seasonal oversupply and a consequent decrease of the margins. This is also connected with the inflation of the costs of production especially labour which leave many blueberry growers in the uncertainty about their future. In that environment the automation is a solution to reduce the operations costs of the business. It can result in reducing labour but also optimizing other costs of production such as space, product waste or packaging.”
Milbor PMC’s roots go back to a family blueberry farm: “That’s where our work ethic and understanding of the unique characteristics of fruit production come from. I have experience of dealing with blueberry packing automation on both sides, as a grower managing the packhouse and as equipment supplier implementing such system in our customers’ packhouses,” Milewski explains.
“As an integrator of the soft fruit lines, we have completed more than 200 projects all over Europe, mostly complete lines. Very often our customers implement their first blueberry line and don’t have a lot of experience in dealing with this product. On the other hand, there are a lot of equipment suppliers that are responsible for only part of the packing and sorting process, and no one really wants to take responsibility for the entire line. Consequently, when the line is installed it sometimes occurs that it is underperforming and the vendors blame each other for not providing the right results.”
Milewski states that for Milbor, taking responsibility and actually assisting the growers with their operation, is what sets them apart. “Our approach is different, we take into consideration the business situation of our customers trying to match the proposed solution with their true requirements. For example, there are different equipment requirements for a packer importing blueberries from South America and different for a blueberry grower who packs within 2-3 days after harvest. We look at these variables and propose a solution that will truly help the customer to reduce labor costs, optimize space utilization, and reduce the waste.
“We don’t only supply a sorting line, our offer consists of sorting, packing, grading, traysealing, conveying, labelling, line control systems and such. We’re distributing some of the machines from other suppliers, such as Packaging Automation, A&B Packing Equipment and GP Graders.”
One of the important goals for both the company as well as blueberry growers is to make the packing line more efficient: “The concept of Overall Equipment Effectiveness, or OEE for short, is gaining a lot of attention recently. It explains how efficiently the machines are working compared to their nominal capacity. Unfortunately, we see that very often this number is much lower than 50% due to incorrect integration of machines, production changeovers and break-downs. Having that in mind we started including in our proposals line control systems to manage the entire production line. The operators can manage all machines from one place, the changeover time is faster with pre-programmed profiles. The production is more efficient, stops are identified faster and the OEE of the line is increasing which leads to savings in labour costs.”
The article was orginally published on Freshplaza on 13/04/2023
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