In today’s sophisticated market where access to premium fruit and vegetables has never been easier for consumers, it is absolutely essential that producers are able to meet stringent safety and sustainability demands. Not forgetting taste, of course! Added to that is the need for protecting the precious harvest from the inevitable loss of quality between picking and market. There’s no substitute for speed when it comes to fresh produce handling and that’s where automation can make a huge difference.
There is a common misconception that automation is “only for the big guys”, but nothing could be further from the truth! You don’t need to install a huge, expensive “all or nothing” packing line to obtain some benefit from partial or semi-automation.
Benefits of Automation
This is probably the most obvious. The quicker you can get your produce from the paddock to the plate, the higher its quality will be and the better it’s going to taste. With the rising costs of – well, everything! – consumers have become more discerning about what they spend their money on. You want them to trust the quality of your broccoli and know that your potatoes aren’t going to be mushy. Good quality produce also looks more appealing and again, that’s got a lot to do with how quickly it can be processed. At EQM, we are able to design partial or semi-automated systems that will help you meet high safety and quality requirements and make sure your produce is the freshest at the market!
No-one wants workplace accidents, and the fresh produce industry isn’t immune. Outdated equipment can be both dangerous and inefficient and, in many instances, you’d be better off modernising and automating at least some of your processes. In addition, if your staff are lugging heavy cartons and boxes around, there may well be systems which EQM is able to suggest that will help to eliminate back injuries.
Better Use of Staff
The produce industry is, by nature, extremely labour-intensive. From planting and weeding, to picking and packing, it’s hands on. Or maybe not!
It doesn’t always have to be having a full or partially automated system could help shave hours of labour from your workforce. You could then be utilizing your staff in other high-value areas of the business. When you turn on an automated system, you want the same result every time and you want the same result consistently from the minute you turn it on, to the minute you turn it off. Humans tend to mess things up occasionally, so adding some automation to your factory helps to reduce the “human factor” to more manageable levels.
The main purpose of automation is to make things easier and more efficient. This doesn’t just mean that the guys out the back are getting a cushy job if you automate! There’s a labour shortage in the industry from the fallout from COVID-19, and not needing to employ so many people can improve your bottom line (and reduce your headaches!) Automation can also make it easier to budget and plan expenses, because you’re packing or producing line is now consistent in output and the quality of your goods will command a premium price. Are you currently getting your cherries to market in 24 hours? That’s amazing! But what if you could do it in 8 hours? Read here to find out how one of EQM’s customers managed to GUARANTEE that their cherries would leave the farm within a 24-hour window.
It’s For Family Businesses Too
For family businesses, automation means they can increase productivity without adding to their workforce. In fact, after automation, some producers are able to run with very little external labour. For example: you need to fill an export container within a very short period. Do you hire (expensive) temporary staff, or will your automated system help cut down on the time and the staff required to do so? It’s much easier to coordinate overtime as well; instead of needing 10 guys to fill the container, you may only need 2 or 3. For the small operator or family business, this can make a huge difference to profitability. But don’t just take our word for it, check out our recent case study at the Pharmacy, Hastings Health Centre to see how automation has changed their back of house procedures.
It Won’t Work For Me
Well – maybe! For the experts at EQM, automation is kind of second nature. We come and look at your current systems and work out where you can improve, without spending a small fortune! Automation isn’t just for the “big boys”, sometimes simple tweaks can make a big difference. Just because you have a smaller farm or packing shed, doesn’t mean that automation won’t make sense – and cents – for you too. Even if you’ve looked at it before or always done things a certain way, it’s time to check out what’s new in the industry. Automation is not a static thing, it’s a journey from where you are now, to where you want to be in the future. One step, one conveyor belt, one system at a time.