The Karsten Group, one of South Africa’s largest growers, packers and exporters of table grapes, is the latest company to reap the benefits of a MARCO Trac-IT Yield Control Module, installed at their pack house near Koneneiland. The group has also installed a MARCO pack house system at their UK facility where imported table grapes are packed and distributed to UK supermarkets. The system has brought increased automation and provided managers with vital production data to improve the productivity of Karsten’s grape packing operations.
Grape packing requires a blend of speed, dexterity and care to ensure pack quality is maintained and weights are within packing legislation. MARCO’s YCM deskills the packing process and ensures punnets are consistently maintained within very close tolerances. As they pass down the packing line, the weights of pre-packed punnets are individually checked at the YCM smart scales, staggered either side of the line, to see if they are under-weight, over-weight or within tolerance. The operatives then adjust punnets accordingly by adding or removing fruit according to an easy-to-use lightbar system. This removes the need for packers to focus on numerical values and leads to greater pack speeds and overall quality.
A key feature of YCM is its innovative automatic optimisation (AO) software, which constantly monitors individual packer’s punnet weights. Based on this real time data, the software continually adjusts the target weights for each scale within the pre-set tolerances to optimise the average pack weight for the entire packing line. The packers are unaware of these subtle changes and continue to pack according to the lights. The result is that punnets are continually packed within less than a gram of target weight. Minimal training is required and the lines can be readily reconfigured as per the managers specifications.
Group Director Pieter Karsten Jnr is very pleased with the installation and as he explains: “The multi-station system is already bringing significant improvements to the grape packing line, reducing over-pack (giveaway), improving productivity and reducing labour overheads. Collectively this is contributing directly to our bottom line profitability and is expected to provide a return on investment within 4-6 months.”
The UK installation at Karsten’s packing facility in Spalding was commissioned after the initial installation in South Africa. The Spalding installation provides Karsten with key data on the so-called ‘mass balance’ of the operation. Essentially the system provides a comprehensive measure of the total weight of product issued to packing lines from the pre-pack area. The system then compares it with the weight leaving the pack house as finished product. Other metrics such as waste production are also collected at different stages in the packing process.
Karsten’s MD Herman Engelbrecht is delighted with the second installation:
“The MARCO systems are making a significant difference to the productivity within our operations and our working relationship is going from strength to strength. Grape packing requires a unique blend of speed and operator efficiency, plus finished pack quality must be consistent. The ability to know the mass balance of our pack houses provides a detailed insight to our operation, allowing us to measure individual operator performance. Our packs leave the pack house looking very appealing to the end customer with virtually no costly overpack.”