d’Arta and Bühler work together to develop high capacity sorting solution

d’Arta, a frozen food company, has been working collaboratively with key suppliers to address sustainability issues and its needs for a flexible sorting solution that is capable of handling very high capacity throughputs of frozen vegetables with no loss of efficiency.

The Belgian food company offers a range of fresh frozen products including vegetables, fruits, herbs and ready-made side dishes that are produced in its four European factories.

The company’s slogan, “It’s a green green world”, relates to the fact that sustainability is a fundamental part of the way in which the company manages its daily activities.  In common with all d’Arta operations, the UK-based CO2 neutral Yorkshire Greens facility is a joint venture; in this instance with GWE Biogas and Swaythorpe Growers, a 40-strong farming co-operative. This collaboration enables waste from harvesting and production processes to be transformed into sustainable energy which is used in the plant to ensure a greener product with the lowest possible carbon footprint.

d’Arta’s co-operative ethos extends to its equipment suppliers. The company has a longstanding, and mutually beneficial relationship with Bühler Group. For many years the two companies have worked collaboratively to solve the challenges typically faced by the fresh and frozen foods sector and to help improve the efficiency of optical sorting equipment to ensure food safety.

Stefano Bonacina, global head of market segment fruit and vegetables at Bühler Group, said, “Our relationship with d’Arta remains strong because both companies are willing to communicate and share information at all levels across the business. We work with d’Arta at a European level and have helped throughout the company’s expansion into Portugal, the UK and most recently into Italy.”

Commenting on the collaboration, Pieter De Backere, co-CEO at d’Arta, said, “Some time ago we were given a demonstration of the prototype SORTEX FA2 and its capabilities exceeded our expectations. This resulted in us ordering two of these optical sorters for a packaging line in our facility in Portugal.”

The hygienically-designed SORTEX F range has the ability to accurately detect even subtle colour defects, extraneous matter and foreign materials in frozen fruit and vegetables. The SORTEX FA2 is able to handle processing capacities of up to 14 tonnes per hour.

“Our good experience with the SORTEX range led us once again to turn to Bühler when we needed a sorter with more processing capacity at our Yorkshire Greens facility,” continued De Backere.

The process
During the annual harvest, peas arrive already shelled at the Yorkshire Greens facility. They go through a series of washing and cleaning processes before being blanched and then move through an individual quick freezing (IQF) process to rapidly bring their core temperature down to -20°C. The frozen peas are then spread out across a vibratory tray for presentation to an optical sorting machine to remove any out-of-specification product. The accepted peas are placed into large tote boxes and stored in a freezer until the harvest is completed.

The totes then come out of the freezer and are sent to the packing hall. Here they are presented to another optical sorter to remove any missed out-of-specification product and any other material which may have found its way into the batches between the first sorting operation and packing.

Higher capacity solution
Because the IQF line at Yorkshire Greens is capable of producing 15 tonnes of product per hour, a correspondingly higher capacity sorting solution was needed.

Bühler was already in the process of developing such a solution for the frozen product sector when it was approached by Yorkshire Greens for a solution.

David McCambridge, Applications Specialist at Bühler, explained further, “Yorkshire Greens needed a solution before the start of the next pea harvest so when they heard that we were developing a higher capacity sorter they expressed an interest in helping with the development process.

“Yorkshire Greens installed our prototype machine in the processing hall and then went on to help us test and validate it. D’Arta shipped frozen products of varying qualities to the site to see how the optical sorter coped with a wide variety of different products – including cauliflower and broccoli florets, diced carrots, peas and diced potatoes.”

The SORTEX FA3 has been developed to offer a solution for applications which require high capacity sorting but with no reduction in sorting efficiency. With a throughput of up to 20 tonnes per hour, the compact new SORTEX FA3 also offers flexibility, featuring three individual chutes while new software enables clearer visualisation of defects and new operator interfaces simplify machine set up and allow for even greater sorting accuracies.

Commenting further on this collaborative venture, De Backere said: “Because our need for a larger capacity sorting solution was so great we were more than happy to help Bühler test the prototype SORTEX FA3. It passed with flying colours. This really was a win/win situation for both d’Arta and Bühler as the machine was rigorously tested and we were rewarded with improved frozen product, following the testing process.

“We are convinced of the quality of Bühler equipment and this is a much more important consideration for us than cost. We take a long-term view when it comes to partnership arrangements with our suppliers because we want to ensure that equipment technology will develop alongside our changing process requirements. We know that we have the best machines today, but we also need assurance that we will continue to have access to the best machines in the years to come. We have absolute confidence in our partnership with Bühler and will continue to work with the company to find the best sorting technology solutions as we update plant and equipment at our new Italian facility and carry out a project for 3 new FA2 machines in our new packing department in Belgium.”