Village Nurseries Ltd is a company that has changed direction in the last nine months from growing cucumbers for the salad market to packaging soft fruit. The main factor behind the switch over to a completely different crop was the rising energy costs to heat the ten acres of greenhouses the company operates.
The company therefore decided to turn its production capacity over to less energy-consuming crops. This began in 2006 when Village Nurseries sacrificed part of the cucumber crop for that year to plant raspberries in some of its greenhouses instead.
The company now grows both raspberries and strawberries under glass for the UK supermarket retailers.
However, to merely grow the fruit and produce a quality product is not enough. It must also be packaged well enough to transport and be well presented. For this the company decided to invest £500,000 in a state-of-the-art packaging system and a series of improvements.
The company has found that soft fruit growing is much more labour intensive than the old cucumber business used to be.
Because of this, during the two main harvesting and packing periods from March to May and October to December, the workforce increases from 15 to over 75 to meet demand. Part of the investment has been into facilities for the temporary workers.
To bring the Keyingham facility up to date Village Nurseries had an eight-station Packhouse System installed by Marco. The Packhouse system is a module from Marco’s TRAC-IT MES solution. This forms an integral part of the packing line that consists ofthe LineMaster workstations, conveyors and labellers.
The system uses automation but it still relies to a significant extent on manual operation. This is because the check weighing must be done by hand for the highest accuracy; giveaway is to be avoided because it reduces profits and the weight cannot be under that stated either.
The Marco LineMaster has specially designed workstations which are designed for the operators to rapidly check-weigh punnets on an integral scale. The scale has a coloured bar indicating if the punnet unit is over or underweight; this is remedied by the addition or removal of fruit and the punnet is passed to the next packing stage.
Following check-weighing the punnets are positioned on a conveyor at weigh-station level and passed to the high-speed labeller and then finally onto the packing area
The LineMaster system records the weight of every punnet of fruit passing through, along with the identity of the packer responsible for checking. The system uses Automatic Optimisation (AO) software to help in the capture of data in real time.
The pack weights are constantly monitored and can be adjusted according to the ongoing trend, to maintain the pack compliance within the weight parameters required.