Grape Alliance was formed in 2009 as a marketing agent for table grape producers across Southern Africa, namely South Africa and Namibia. MARCO were commissioned to install a large-scale grape packing solution to increase automation and streamline the packing process at their facility in Aussenkehr, Namibia. This installation not only provided challenges due to its large scale but also the need for the system to be transported and reinstalled half way through the season.
When packing fruit, it is important to have the weights and quality spot on for your customers, but it is also important to motivate your employees who pack for long periods of time each day. In Aussenkehr, Namibia, Grape Alliance has found a way to do just that with a complete grape packing solution from MARCO. Grape Alliance installed the new system in 2016 and have already seen a 35% increase in pack house productivity for its first season in operation. In November 2016, Arjan de Kock, took FreshPlaza for a tour around the pack house to have a look at this new system in action.
“We expanded this facility from last year and now have a full packing system from MARCO,” he explains. “There are 300 new scales at the packing stations and overhead screens in the pack house which show people their own, as well as other people’s performance, this motivates the workers as you can see by comparisons to other stations. It is also a much more personalised system, as each person logs into the scales, the wages are determined by individual performance and not on that of the whole pack house.”
“We can also display the pack and technical specifications which takes away any confusion the workers may have. If the specs change we can immediately display it on the screen, or if there is a problem we can instantly flag this up on the screen.”
During the design process, Arjan worked very closely with Murray Hilborne from MARCO, to tailor the system to Grape Alliance’s needs.
“Murray and I talked about the structure of the software and screen display and worked to implement custom screens to immediately import any QC problems, informational videos and tutorial pdfs to ensure that the entire pack house is immediately informed. This is really important as we pack multiple specs on a line, The packers have to make the decision themselves on what spec to pack. Not all of the workers can read but they can all understand the videos and images. We display pictures of, for example, a green box or the correct bag or the picture of the actual type of grape to be packed.”
“You have quality from the field and quality produced from the pack house.” says Arjan. “Most QC systems are designed for the end of the line, which involves a lot of different readings, e.g. ten brix samples, ten size samples, etc. It is a standardized structure, but this is a very tedious process and from this you only get data from a very small sample. You do get a fair reading on those boxes, but this is not real-time data that you can really react to.”
“In some pack houses we have CCTV in case of suspect behaviour, we don’t have that here. People can struggle to count, but some will also try to cheat and with this instant data we are able to take them aside and let them know that we know what they are doing. This is usually enough for them to stop and, on the whole, our Namibian workers are very trustworthy.”
Grape Alliance have the MARCO system in Aussenkehr for the season and then move the entire installation to the Hex River, which has a later region.
“It is very well built and easy to move,” explains Arjan. “We only pack in Aussenkehr for 6 weeks so it makes total sense to move the equipment.”