Gerber Poultry processes and packages chicken products for retail distribution across the Midwestern United States under the Gerber Amish Farms Chicken label. To meet increasing demand, officials at the company’s processing plant in Kidron, Ohio, planned to enhance and optimize their tray-sealing line. Key to the project’s success was the ability to correctly sort tray packs to different wrapping machines, depending on their product.
Gerber Poultry had several goals for the tray pack sealing area upgrade, including:
• Limit labor needs in the area
• Reduce product waste from damage or errors (e.g., wrapping the wrong product)
• Enable higher throughputs of up to 150–187 trays per minute (depending on tray size) with 99.9% system accuracy
• Safeguard product quality by ensuring gentle handling and no cross-contamination
To achieve their goals, plant officials determined they would need an automated, multilane tray-pack sorting solution that integrated a camera-based product recognition system. They opted for an Intralox® Active Integrated Motion™ (AIM™) Multilane Sorter combined with an InVISION Camera Grading System from Foodmate. The combined AIM/InVISION system is available commercially as the Foodmate TraySort Packing System.
The AIM Multilane Sorter ensures increased tray pack throughput with faster line speeds, reduced product damage, and reduced downtime. Washdown capable, the automated AIM system provides gentle product handling at high speeds, eliminating the need for manual workers to sort, restyle, or reorient trays. Labor expenses are eliminated, as are the cross-contamination risks associated with manual tray handling.
Using advanced camera and lighting technologies, the InVISION Camera Grading System recognizes and grades tray packs according to specified production requirements and determines their distribution (or other actions). It then communicates the distribution or action to the sorter—all without the need for labels, barcodes, or additional processes. The combined solution—the Foodmate TraySort Packing System—optimizes the capabilities of both components into an uncompromised, fully automated system.
Working closely with Gerber Poultry and Foodmate, Intralox provided layout consulting, product testing, and support before, during, and after installation of the system in May 2018. Since then, the combined AIM/InVISION system has enabled Gerber Poultry to exceed its goals for the project.
The AIM Multilane Sorter-based solution accurately sorts tray packs of varying sizes and product types automatically. This helps Gerber Poultry safeguard product quality and food safety, minimize waste, and achieve its desired throughput targets. Most significantly, Gerber Poultry has eliminated labor needs in the area by four full-time equivalent (FTE) positions, thereby saving upwards of $280,000 per year. The company plans to include additional AIM conveyors in later phases of its project.