Camera technology sorts by color and shape, lasers by structure
“Food safety is becoming an increasingly important concern. Fifteen years ago, optical sorters to compete with freezers and launderers were considered a good investment. These machines represented efficient production. Today, every chip processor in Europe has an optical sorter,” says Steve Raskin, partner and CSO of Optimum Sorting in Belgium.
Alexander Dewilde and Carl Verbist
Optical sorting detects as many foreign bodies and defects as possible without unnecessarily eliminating good quality products. Verbist Aardappelen is a Belgian family business that peels and processes potatoes into frying products. It recently replaced one of its two Concept Engineers Focus sorters with a new Novus 1200 from Optimum Sorting.
One sorting technology company becomes another
Business partners Paul Bergmans and Steve Raskin founded Optimum Sorting in 2017. Both had previously worked at Best Sorting, a company that focused on sorting technology, for many years. Paul and three other engineers started it in 1996. Paul and Steve went their separate ways a few years later, but they picked up where they left off with Optimum Sorting.
Paul specializes in laser technology, with which Concept Engineers was active in the market. Discussions between the two parties resulted in Optimum Sorting taking over Concept Engineers. By joining forces, these companies could accelerate the development of optical sorting technology.
Lasers and cameras
“These technologies are complementary,” explains Steve. “Camera technology sorts color and shape, lasers use structure. For example, hazelnuts: the nut and the shell are brown but have different structures, which a laser easily detects. Laser technology is the most often used to rid fruits and vegetables, such as freshly harvested potatoes, of foreign material. Some of these may be the same color as the potatoes, which is why laser technology is used to sort by structure .
Laser light reflects differently on the surface of objects with different structures. “A potato is soft and contains a lot of water. If you shine a focused beam on it, the potato almost lights up. The tiny laser dot expands. If the laser hits metal, the tiny dot stays The combination camera/laser technology is used a lot in the french fry industry these days, and wanting optimal food safety is the driving force behind that,” Steve continues.
Double Sorting Moves
French fries processors use a sorting machine to remove foreign bodies brought in by potatoes. Laster technology is useful here. After the potatoes are washed, peeled and sliced, a second sorter uses camera technology to divert poorly peeled or discolored fries. These are corrected and sent to the machine a second time.
Fresh fries trend
Verbist Aardappelen provides vacuum-packed fresh fries. “Neither Dutch nor Belgian fries restaurants want pre-fried fries anymore. Fresh is so much better, and consumers want quality. We process between 600 and 800 kg of fries per hour. One person operates both machines. if it weren’t for the optical sorter. With today’s labor costs, our industry simply cannot live without technology. A machine costs money, but manual work is even more expensive,” says Carl Verbist.
He says he has no choice but to charge more for his fresh fries. “Electricity costs have tripled, aluminum foil has increased by 50% and fuel for transportation to the customer is significantly more expensive. What if summer gets as dry as we already expect? French fries will get even more expensive.”
Don’t mess with a winning team
The new Novus 1200 Verbist purchased from Optimum Sorting is the successor to the older Concept Engineers machines that Carl already uses. “I was thrilled with the Concept Engineers gear, so I saw no reason to change technology. I could have upgraded the older machine with new cameras and gear, but I chose to buy an entirely new one.”
“Then I was able to benefit from an investment deduction under the Belgian government’s COVID-19 relief measures. I would not have obtained this subsidy with an upgrade, which, of course, also costs money. Thanks to this grant, it made more sense financially to buy a new optical belt sorter,” says Carl.
New development fits older models
“Verbist has opted for a new machine, but you could give an existing Concept or Optimum sorter a second life. When we develop something new, we guarantee that it will fit previous models. new equipment, we never start from scratch but use the configurations of existing machines – that’s our vision of flexibility,” says Steve.
Alexander Dewilde of Sortindus, also in Belgium, sells sorting solutions to fruit and vegetables and other food segments. He oversaw the sale and delivery of the new Novus 1200 to Verbist Aardappelen. “Carl told me he was happy with his two Concept Engineers sorters, so he knows a bit about the Novus 1200.”
“But there is no shortage of innovations. Its special cameras configured in 2×3 allow the machine to see each fry perpendicularly, from all sides and in real size. Nothing escapes the camera lens. Huge progress have also been realized at the software level.The Cumulus platform, which all Optimum Sorting machines have, is based on artificial intelligence,” explains Alexander.
Object-related optical sorting
“We use images and AI to teach the software the difference between a good fry and a bad fry,” adds Steve. “You don’t have to color every pixel anymore. We also used to consider pixels exclusively. Yellow meant it was probably a good fry; black, that there might be a stain But we didn’t know where that spot was – three pixels close together meant it was probably the same spot, if they were further apart it was probably different fries. “
“Today’s optical sorting is object specific. The cameras show the whole object and can we count the dots on the same object. We can even enter a minimum defect size, such as 0.5 mm. Then any dot smaller than this size is allowed. But, if we want a fry with several small dots to be rejected, we can configure the software to reject them. And if we want to allow three fries with little black dots for 100, we ask the machine to do it. The possibilities are endless,” he says.
“I don’t use everything the software has to offer,” admits Carl. “Right now I’m using the new machine the same way I used to use the old sorter. Keeping it simple. They trained us well, but if you’re not very tech savvy it takes some effort to upgrade. My staff is “I’m not very computer savvy either. It will take time to fully utilize this advanced device.”
Twee reject flows
“You can also sort by length,” Steve continues. “You can have two reject streams. Fries that are too short are discharged through a valve bar, for example, to the flake line. A second reject stream examines the tips, eyes, and black and brown discoloration. The machine cuts those rejected fries. and feeds those processed fries back into the sorter to be rescanned. But, fries that are too short must also be rescanned for discoloration. We call them “non-trimmable”, and they are immediately discarded. That’s what makes our unique software,” he concludes.
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