Case study: Jones Potato Farm automates bulk product inspection

Oct. 5, 2022
Key Technology’s advanced VERYX B175 digital sorter helps Jones Potato Farm reduce manual labor while protecting product quality and maximizing yield.

Jones Potato Farm is a large-scale, family owned producer of potatoes, green beans, citrus and cattle. Gripped by a tight labor market, the company searched for new automated technologies to maintain its high product quality and production capacities. In 2020, Jones Potato Farm installed Key Technology’s advanced VERYX B175 digital sorter to find and remove foreign material (FM) and product defects on the company's fresh pack green bean line. Processing more than 250,000 bushels of green beans every year, VERYX helps Jones Potato Farm reduce manual labor while protecting product quality and maximizing yield.

“The labor shortage is a major concern for all agricultural operations. It’s become very difficult and expensive to recruit and retain 20 reliable workers to manually inspect our green beans, especially during our peak season when we often operate seven days a week,” said Alan Jones, president and CEO of Jones Potato Farm. “While we’ll always have a place for good employees here in our facility, it’s nice to be able to take some pressure off our people. VERYX is a highly effective sorter that improves our operating efficiencies.

“Before we selected VERYX, we did a fair amount of research. We looked at Key because we’ve had such great experiences working with them in the past. They have a reputation for both world-class equipment and service, and we value their expertise in green bean processing. We visited a Key customer to see VERYX sorting green beans in person. As soon as saw what it was achieving, we knew it was the right solution for us. A sorter is a big investment, so equipment dependability and longevity are super important. We appreciate that VERYX has a proven track record with long-term success at so many facilities around the world.”

VERYX is Key’s most advanced optical sorter and the B175 is the highest capacity model in the VERYX family, capable of processing up to 6.8 metric tons of green beans per hour on its 1,750-mm-wide inspection zone. As the world’s only belt-fed sorter that can inspect product entirely in-air with top and bottom sensors, VERYX achieves all-sided surface inspection of each green bean with no blind spots. The VERYX B175 at Jones is fully loaded with top- and bottom-mounted off-axis cameras, top-mounted laser sensors and Key’s Pixel Fusion detection module to find and remove the most FM and the right amount of defects to make grade and maximize yield.

Equipped with cameras and laser sensors, this VERYX recognizes the color, size, shape and structural properties of every object. Pixel Fusion combines pixel-level input from cameras and laser sensors to produce higher contrasts between objects for better detection accuracy without false rejects. VERYX identifies and ejects all types of FM including insects, animal parts, paperboard, wood, rocks, plastics and glass, as well as extraneous vegetative matter (EVM) such as weeds and other plant material from the product stream.

“Green beans can present a wide variety of different defects, depending on the growing environment. Here in Florida, we grow green beans in light sand, so wind damage and tip rot are common issues. We like that our VERYX can be programmed to focus on the specific defects found in our region,” said Ishmael Hernandez, production and farm manager at Jones Potato Farm. “And it’s easy to fine-tune the settings so we remove exactly what we want and nothing more. It’s totally customizable.”

Jones Potato Farm selected a three-way VERYX that separates product into three streams to maximize efficiency and yield. The "reject" stream is programmed to collect FM and certain defects, which go to waste. The "accept" stream sends good green beans with no clusters or stems on to packaging. The third sort stream gets everything else, including clusters and green beans with attached stems — these green beans are sent to a separate two-way sorter from Key that separates rework, which is circulated back to the beginning of the line.

“Separating rework helps us recover an additional one percent of product, which adds up,” Hernandez said. “Our VERYX is great at handling high-defect loads without sacrificing good product to the reject stream. This means we’re able to consistently achieve our final product specifications, regardless of incoming product quality, while we maximize yield.

“This sorter is very reliable, which is important, because we won’t run our line without it. If we ever need support, VERYX makes it easy. With its remote monitoring capability, a Key service technician can securely access and adjust its settings remotely. Sometimes our shifts run until 4 am, and it’s good to know that Key’s remote service is always available, even in the middle of the night, to help our sorter operate at peak performance.”

“Overall, we’re more than satisfied with VERYX and with Key. Since our VERYX sorter started up, we haven’t had a single customer complaint — that’s a major marker of success. And we’re achieving our consistently high product quality while reducing manual labor and increasing yield,” concluded Jones. “Key is truly an industry leader. That’s apparent both in the caliber of their equipment and the services they provide.”

About Key Technology, Inc.

Key Technology is a global leader in the design and manufacture of automation systems including digital sorters, conveyors and other processing equipment. Applying processing knowledge and application expertise, Key helps customers in the food processing and other industries improve quality, increase yield and reduce cost. Key manufactures its products in Walla Walla, Washington, Redmond, Oregon and in Beusichem, the Netherlands. Key’s USA facilities are certified to the ISO 9001:2015 standard. Key offers customer demonstration and testing services at five locations including Walla Walla and Beusichem as well as Hasselt, Belgium; Sacramento, California, USA; and Melbourne, Australia; and maintains a sales and service office in Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico. Key is a Duravant Company. For more information, visit www.key.net

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