Integration of 2 Sortop Potatoes optical sorters into an existing line at Warnez in Belgium

Project in collaboration with Deprez

Deprez installed a new system with two Visar Sorting optical sorters at Warnez, while the production line continued to operate and the location had previously been inaccessible. Read on for details of how it all went.

Description of the entire project
and testimonials

The starting point

At potato-packing company Warnez, the washed potatoes were sorted by Newtec Celox optical sorting machines. The potatoes are then put into crates and stored in the automated warehouse until being packed. If necessary, the potatoes cross the inspection table for a final check just before being transferred to the packing line. “At present, this is done on five inspection tables, each manned by two people, so we have ten people busy in that area at all times”, says Mathias Mergaert, Sales Engineer at Deprez. “Originally, we were asked to suggest an automated alternative for just one of the inspection tables. There was also a mechanical grader available, but it wasn’t always sufficient for what Warnez needed. We wanted to improve that as well and that’s why we launched a new project with broader possibilities.”

The solution

To better monitor the quality of the end product, the decision was made to replace the existing shake grader, and two Visar optical sorters were installed in the production line. During the inspection stage, it is possible to run both the Visar Sortop Potatoes simultaneously, or just one of them. “We are always pleased when our partners make suggestions for ways we can optimise better. Our story was taken on board immediately and we were able to take large steps straight away”, says Kurt De Nys, CEO of Warnez.

The installation of the Visar optical sorting machines opens up additional possibilities during grading. Mathias Mergaert explains: “While the shake grader could only grade into five different sizes, these optical machines can sort into five different classes, taking into account the quality and the calibre. We can also define flexible combinations, or there’s an option to just set good/bad.” All this means that integrating optical sorters into the system helps to ensure the quality of the end product. The speed at which the installation can perform the inspection is dependent on the characteristics of the potatoes, with a sorting capacity of 20 tonnes/hour for relatively large potatoes.

To ensure the working environment for the Warnez workers remains comfortable, each of the two Visar Sortop Potatoes machines has been built into its own chamber, for maximum noise damping. The zone is cleaned daily, so stainless steel was a natural choice.

The process

“The biggest challenge for the implementation was the area where the work was carried out. It wasn’t possible to reach it from the inside with the current installation material. The solution was the roof”, explains project leader Yannick De Geeter. “The work zone was cordoned off with tarpaulins to ensure the production hall was kept free of construction site dust and rain. Then the roof panels were removed. That’s how we planned to extract the shake grader and bring the new machinery in. Even with this plan, we still had trouble with access. The crane needed to have a certain lifting capacity, and even the widest point of the open roof only had a narrow opening. So we had to look for the right tower crane.”

Kurt De Nys, CEO of Warnez Potatoes, continues the story: “However, we’ve been partnering with Deprez for many years and we know how much experience they have, so we were feeling confident. And we were right”, he says. “You could say that we were doing open-heart surgery on the production line and giving it a rejuvenation cure simultaneously. That meant open communication was very important – with the Deprez team, and with our own safety and quality departments. We have technical people in our company as well, and the handover to them was equally smooth.”

Opening up the roof certainly wasn’t without its technical challenges. There were solar panels there, which meant it wasn’t really possible to make a hole in the obvious place. “We couldn’t fully open up the zone where the installations needed to end up. We had to hoist electric forklifts inside so that we could install at the inaccessible areas”, says Yannick. “With the working location being so cramped, and the fact that we were building at multiple levels, it was essential to ensure all the work was done in the right order. The system is fairly complex in itself, so it was important to think through how we approached it.” The production line already had crate-fillers. The outputs of the Visar connected perfectly to the existing system.

Suitable weather was also needed to be able to keep working without interruption. “Work was still going on steadily in the production hall. We could do without rain for production as well as for installation! Sadly, two nights before everything was complete, we had some showers. We were pleased to find that the tarpaulins successfully protected our production environment from the rain. The installation itself was designed to be sprayed down with water, so it had something of a baptism of fire, you might say.”

A few of the dismantled machines were sent back to our site in Kortemark for updating and modification. Thanks to careful planning, the implementation of the new installation went very well and in fact we managed to get ahead of schedule! We took responsibility for all the installation work. It took two weeks to complete the work and then we sealed the roof back up.
“When we realised that the only way to install the new system efficiently would be to take the roof off, I started to wonder if the project was going to work out,” reports De Nys. “However, as it turned out, the project was delivered three weeks before the deadline, so in fact the plan worked brilliantly!”

The result

Everything was installed within a relatively tight schedule. The effective, efficient dismantling and installation process ensured continuity for the client’s production. Deprez succeeded in delivering added value for Warnez through this challenging project. While the packing line remained operational, the internal systems were scaled up. The mechanical grader will be retrofitted by Deprez at the potato arrival point.

“During the first weeks of the production process, we soon realised that the capacity for small or baby potatoes was quite a bit more than the 2.5 tonnes/hour we had been planning for. In fact we were getting 4 tonnes/hour quite early on!”

“The optical sorting works so well that we’re now convinced we want to replace all the inspection tables when we can. This might be a precedent in potato packing, but tests have shown that if we switch to optical sorters we can reduce waste by 30%”, says Kurt De Nys. “Thanks to all the good work that our operators at the inspection tables do and have done, it won’t be a huge step to switch to full automation. From both the human and business standpoints, replacing the inspection tables has been a real optimisation for the production process. It’s only been a very short time and we’re already seeing cost savings”, concludes the CEO.