“The fully automatic Aporo packer helps with staff shortage and costs”


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Tilkens Farm Fresh Fruits is the first company in the Benelux to begin using the new fully automated Aporo II product tray filler. Sorma Benelux placed this machine at this Belgian grower at the start of the new apple season. “It’s the perfect solution to the labor market issues,” begins Manu Tilkens of Tilkens Farm Fresh Fruits.

Jonagold apples are this company’s main crop, but it does grow a wide variety of other apples too. “The current situation in the apple sector, as in many other sectors, isn’t easy. It’s tough to find good people. And, around the holidays, most workers, understandably, go back to their families.”

“Yet, companies do a lot of turnover around this time of year. Plus, as costs skyrocket, you start looking at investments to meet these challenges. That’s how we ended up at Sorma Benelux. We already use several of their machines, to our satisfaction,” says Manu.

“At Sorma, we’re always trying to find machines and packaging to make fruit and vegetable processors’ jobs easier,” adds Romke van Velden of Sorma Benelux. “We try to place these in the Benelux. That’s how we found the new Aporo product packer, which genuinely complements our package nicely.”

“Working with Tilkens, we found the best way to integrate the machine into the company. The biggest puzzle was where to put the Aporo II. Do we make it a separate line to process pre-sorted products? Or do we set it up so it’s directly linked to the sorting machine? In the end, we chose the separate compact line,” explains Romke.

No Christmas gifts
“I saw the machine two years ago in France, and it immediately caught my attention,” Manu continues. Developed to automate one of a packaging plant’s most labor-intensive functions – placing the fruit in tray sheets – the machine includes several features. It has a pick-and-place robot with multiple arms to meet throughput rates and size variations.

It also has a built-in vision system to bring produce in the right direction, and can automatically recognize each tray sheet type. “Theoretically, this machine can process up to about 240 fruits per minute. Of course, that’s under optimal conditions with a constant feed and product size, but the arms can handle that,” Romke declares.

These cost and personnel benefits are what made Tilkens’ owners choose this machine. “It’s a one-off investment, but it pays for itself. With workers come wage increases and other variable costs. And, you don’t have to give a machine Christmas presents or time off at New Year’s. We’ve managed to cut back three full-time people on the line who now do other things within the company. And our processing capacity has increased,” explains Manu.

“The machine’s strength? Simplicity. You plug it in, tell it if it should sort by color and which way the stalks should go, and you’re good to go. These days, with good operators few and far between, that’s certainly advantageous. Plus, the fruit no longer passes eight people on the line. There are two sorters, and the machine automatically places the tray sheets in the boxes. There no more thinking involved, which does wonders for speed.”

Belgian fruit
Since each market is different, initially, it took some doing to get the machine to process Belgian apples’ ‘tricky’ color and shape. Manu: “Small apples generally go better; with the larger ones, the machine takes a while to orient itself.” But, says the grower, the machine deals well with even these large apples.

“For example, we also work a lot with Cox apples. These are somewhat flat, lighter-colored apples with tiny stalks. At first, I was fairly apprehensive about whether the Aporo could handle this. The stalks are hard to see with the human eye. Then I realized that if this machine can sort Cox apples correctly, no apple will cause problems. And it did so smoothly,” Manu admits.

Sorma is presently primarily targeting the apple market with this machine. “Eventually, it’ll be suitable for any type of ’round’ fruit, including stone fruit. The market for apples is, however, so large that there’s still a world to be won here. After all, there are a great many different shapes and sizes of apples. It’s fantastic that we’ve managed to help Tilkens in this way,” Romke concludes.

For more information:
Tilkens Fresh Farm Fruits
2046 Lichtenberglaan
3800 Brustem, St.Truiden, BE
Email: [email protected] 
Website: www.tilkens.be 

Sorma Benelux
Tel: +31 (0) 174 610 101
Email: [email protected]      
Website: www.sormabenelux.com

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