Equipment & Technology

Key Has New Integrated Sorting Approach to Green Bean Processing

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Key Technology has introduced a new concept for sorting green beans prior to snipping that involves removing foreign material (FM) and separating easy-to-snip beans from hard-to-snip beans to improve snipping efficiency. The integrated system improves case recovery to reduce production costs per ton, while also producing more consistent product quality with less equipment in the downstream process.

“Processors of frozen and canned green beans have razor-thin margins. They want to lower costs while maintaining their product quality. That’s the challenge we set out to solve here,” said Mark Roedl, a sales manager for Walla Walla, Washington-headquartered Key. “We applied our expertise in green bean processing and came up with a new idea – a different way to process green beans. This integrated sorting system is installed upstream of where digital sorters have always been on these lines, and it’s a game changer. Early adopters are achieving impressive results that warrant the investment.”

The integrated system combines Key’s Iso-Flo shakers, a Rotary Size Grader (RSG) and a VERYX digital sorter to separate incoming product into four streams. Two streams go to waste and two “accept” streams lead to further processing. One “accept” stream is dedicated to green beans that are difficult to snip, which go to downstream equipment that is optimized to snip this type of product. The other “accept” stream takes field-snipped and easy-to-snip green beans and leads to downstream systems designed specifically to handle these beans.

Prior to this development, green bean processors have not separated incoming product into streams – instead, everything has been sent in one mass flow to the rotary snippers after upstream pre-cleaning equipment. When hard-to-snip beans are comingled with easy-to-snip beans, downstream systems are set to handle the hard-to-snip beans. When easy-to-snip green beans are aggressively snipped, good product is lost. Also, when snippers get FM, it’s cut into smaller pieces, which exacerbates contamination.

Now, with Key’s new VERYX integrated sorting system, processors are separating hard-to-snip green beans from easy-to-snip beans to improve snipping efficiency, which increases case recovery and reduces the cost per case. Also, by removing FM and other plant waste before the snippers, product quality improves. All this is done with less equipment than has traditionally been required, which simplifies processes and frees up floor space.

First, an Iso-Flo shaker evenly feeds the RSG, which sizes by length and diameter to remove short and thin green beans as well as other small objects such as insects, corncob pieces and seeds. Next, an Iso-Flo shaker feeds VERYX, spreading product for presentation to the inspection system to maximize sort accuracy. This VERYX is equipped with top-mounted Pixel Fusion cameras and laser sensors to detect the color, size, shape and structural property of objects. It features three-way sorting, with the “reject” stream ejecting FM such as corncob, corn root, frogs, mice and plant stem material as well as color defects and other waste. Hard-to-snip and easy-to-snip green beans are separated to optimize snipping downstream. After VERYX, Iso-Flo collection shakers begin conveying each stream to its next step. The integrated system is available in various widths to satisfy a range of capacity requirements.

Viewing product entirely in-air, VERYX is ideal for products with challenging shapes, such as green beans. LED lighting all around the line of sight minimizes shadows. Positioning the sorter’s sensors and background away from product splatter sustains accurate inspection throughout long production cycles without operator intervention. Key’s mechanical product handling systems also enhance sanitation with open designs, fully-welded frames, stainless steel bed surfaces, oil-free drives and more.

VERYX features recipe-driven operation to ease use and achieve consistence performance day-in and day-out, regardless of personnel changes and across multiple lines and locations. Next-generation 4-channel cameras and high-resolution laser scanners offer twice the resolution of previous sensor technology to find smaller FM and defects.

Key’s Pixel Fusion technology combines pixel-level input from multiple cameras and laser sensors, producing higher contrasts to find the most difficult-to-detect FM and defects. Object-based recognition facilitates advanced shape sorting algorithms as well as intelligent ejection to maximize sort accuracy and minimize false rejects.

VERYX is equipped with Key’s Information Analytics software, which allows users to analyze and share data across their enterprise via an OPCUA-compliant infrastructure. Data about the sort process and about each object flowing through the sorter, whether the data is used to make sort decisions or not, is available to reveal patterns, trends and associations to optimize processes upstream and downstream of the sorter.

Key Technology, a member of the Duravant family of operating companies, manufactures VERYX in both the United States and Europe. It supports customers worldwide through its global sales and service network.