Tong Engineering has added a new and innovative piece of handling equipment to its latest range with the development of an automated broccoli trimming machine to improve the efficiency, consistency and safety of broccoli handling operations.
The trimming system provides fast and gentle handling of crop and is fed by a stainless steel box tipper, and closely integrated infeed conveyors that deliver broccoli heads to a smooth plastic crop belt. Each broccoli head is manually placed into individual crop location holes on a plastic modular belt that runs through the trimming machine. A concealed spinning blade located underneath the crop belt, in a guarded area of the machine, cleanly cuts the stalk of the florets as they pass over the blade. The automated system ensures the size and length of the stalk is consistent, completely removing the need for any manual trimming.
With a throughput of up to 80 heads per minute with one operator, the new broccoli trimming lines have been designed to work efficiently on the high volumes of crop handled by M Baker (Produce) Ltd.
“In an average week, we process over 150 tons of broccoli for the supermarket industry” explains Ian Baker, Managing Director at M Baker (Produce) Ltd. “Previously we were trimming stalks manually which is a very labour-intensive process, and one which was not offering the consistency of finish and throughputs we increasingly need to achieve.”
“Providing our customers with high quality fresh produce is paramount, and we were keen to improve the aesthic quality and finish of our broccoli whilst removing excess stalk from the florets prior to packing for store. In addition, the safety of our operations is always a key consideration and, when handling such high volumes, it became increasingly necessary for a machine that could trim crop automatically,” said Mr Baker.
Tim Young, Projects Manager at Tong Engineering said: “We have worked with M Baker (Produce) Ltd for many years on a range of projects within their vegetable handling facilities. We were very pleased to work with them again on this project, and deliver a machine that is not only improving the efficiency of their broccoli handling operations, but also safety for their employees.”
“The advancements in our Auto-Touch HMI touch-screen controls means that the machine is not only very easy to use but the safety module within the controls means that the guarded blade area cannot be accessed unless the machine is set to a ‘safety-stopped’ condition within the controls, and a password is entered. Even then, to remove the blade, a blade-guard must be fitted before the blade can be removed from the machine. It’s exceptionally safe and means that the blade is only ever accessed under cleaning, maintenance or blade-changing situations,” explained Tim.
“The throughputs we are getting from the new trimming lines just wouldn’t be achievable under our previous manual processes; the trimmers literally cut as fast as our operators can place the florets into the crop location holes. The machine is very easy to clean and maintain, and the operators don’t come into contact with a cutting blade, meaning the whole operation is much more efficient, productive and safe. Not only that, more efficient, faster trimming means orders can be packed closer to point of dispatch in response to actual orders. This means lower product residency times, less time out of chill and therefore improved freshness and shelf life,” added Mr Baker.