Innovation, Technology 22 December 2016

Optical sorting technology for various purposes

The Smart Grader quite literally brings potatoes into sharper focus. The modern machine, a fully automated optical sorter, uses cameras to ensure accuracy, efficiency and objectivity. This comprehensive data gathering means the technology also offers opportunities for further innovation. HZPC therefore uses the Smart Grader for determining stock and evaluating promising new varieties.

The technology ensures that measurements and sorting is executed with a margin of error of just one tenth of a millimetre

At HZPC's quality centre in Emmeloord, the Smart Grader sorts sample batches from hundreds of Dutch seed potato growers objectively according to size, shape and number of tubers. This used to take place manually and on a random basis, but now technology ensures that measurements and sorting is executed with a margin of error of just one tenth of a millimetre. "We combine the Smart Grader with an additional production line where we first clean the potatoes", explains quality specialist Peter Verschure. "The camera technology in the Smart Grader then works most effectively."

Peter Verschure
Peter Verschure

Critical parameters

In theory, the Smart Grader is able to detect fungal disorders such as black scurf; in practice, for the time being, it simply flags up deviations such as splits or green spots. "This technology works best when sorting large batches", adds Verschure. "Here in the quality centre, we sort small samples of an average of twenty-five kilos and it is not practical to adjust the computer settings on the computer every few minutes. The software is being constantly refined so I hope we will have greater flexibility in working with critical parameters in the future. Because we would also like to know why the defective potatoes don't make the grade."

3D model

Potatoes are rotated on the Smart Grader. The potatoes are thus viewed from practically every angle and the built-in cameras take around twenty photos per item. On the basis of the data generated, the computer can create a 3D model of every potato and determine dimensioning as well as the external qualities. "Weight is also accurately measured", explains Verschure. "However, we have also linked scales to the Smart Graders as our growers are paid on the basis of kilos and want to be sure the computer weight is correct. This shows how technology in the sector requires different ideas and approaches."

Looking to the future

The quality lab is, in fact, ahead of the curve when it comes to the Smart Grader. "Because of the fact that most growers work with a more robust shock-sorter, we know that the sorting sizes in practice deviate slightly from the absolute square sizes measured by the Smart Grader. HZPC can take this accuracy difference into account when determining stock", stresses Verschure. But there are growers who use the Smart Grader too. "It represents the future because the technology means you require fewer personnel, while the sorting process can go ahead uninterrupted. And it's always rational and accurate. This results in a top quality and homogeneous end product. In addition, the data gathered during sampling can offer valuable insights into the growing process."

“At our R&D location in
Metslawier, we process
pre-harvest samples on
the Smart Grader in order
to examine the benefits
of new varieties”
Pieter Jelte Lindenbergh
Pieter Jelte Lindenbergh

New dimension in research

HZPC Research puts added value of the optical data gathering to good use. "At our R&D location in Metslawier, we process pre-harvest samples on the Smart Grader in order to examine the benefits of new varieties", explains Pieter Jelte Lindenbergh. "Previously, uniformity, colour and shape were determined by eye and the variety specialists then provided a score. The Smart Grader enables us to measure these areas much more objectively and we are also trying to set more characteristics. Thanks to the 3D data, we can already virtually determine how many chips you can cut from a particular potato. Combined with the Soley technology, which objectively assesses the cooked colour of chips, we thus have more data that offers us a good overview of the qualities and options of a new variety."

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