Kumamoto-city Agricultural Cooperative Association Improves Shipping and Saves LaborJapan's largest next-generation fruit sorting facility begins operation, where 260 tons (approximately 2.5 million pieces) of Unshu oranges are handled softly and smoothly.
Kumamoto city is one of the major production sites for oranges. The oranges are grown in mild climate along the Ariake Sea, having a good balance of sweetness and sourness. They are shipped throughout Japan as a “Yumemirai” (means dreamy future) brand.
In September 2010, Kumamoto-city Agricultural Cooperative Association (JA Kumamoto-city) renovated its citrus fruit sorting facility. By constructing a series of systems with the concept of “facility equal to food factories,” the new facility achieves a maximum throughput of 260 tons daily (approximately 2.5 million pieces) or 22,000 tons yearly (approximately 220 million pieces), the largest volume handled in all of Japan.
The sorting lines of the key facility are equipped with cutting-edge external and internal quality sensors, and “Finger Domino Sorter” is employed to softly and smoothly sort oranges. The flow from receiving, sorting, to shipping was highly automated by introducing various AS/RS (Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems) and high-speed sorting equipment. The changes improved shipping quality and achieved labor savings in sorting operation. Considering growers and consumers, the next-generation facility was designed to ensure a superior product.
The citrus fruits sorting facility was built in 1996 and started operating with the latest sorting equipment. However, the facility recently had challenges including aging equipment, labor savings in operations, aging population measures, and quality control improvement.
Therefore, a next-generation sorting system plan was discussed. In 2009 the facility was renovated with the total integrated production project cost of approximately 2,044 million yen. In September 2010 the lines for Unshu oranges started, and in January 2011 the lines for a high-grade orange Dekopon started operating.
Highly automating operations from receiving, sorting, and to shipping Unshu oranges
The new facility has receiving and shipping areas on the first floor, sorting area and carton forming/sealing area on the third floor.
In the receiving area, STVs (Sorting Transfer Vehicles) were introduced as input sorting systems for the AS/RS to reduce the number of manual input stations required. The introduction of the STVs reduced the number of forklift operators that were previously required to transport received goods to the AS/RS.
In the sorting area on the third floor, oranges are sorted manually, waxed, dried, and sorted manually again. After the oranges are set in line automatically, the external sensor detects shapes, colors, scratches, and sizes. Then the internal sensor measures sweetness, sourness, and internal damages. According to the measurement results, the oranges are graded and sorted via Finger Domino Sorter. The sorted oranges are put into cartons and the cartons are sealed automatically to be transported to the shipping area on the first floor.
In the shipping area, the graded cartons in large quantity are stacked onto a pallet by a palletizing robot and stored in the unit load AS/RS until shipping. The cartons in medium quantity are stored in pool lines while the cartons in small quantity and ordered cartons are stored in the mini load AS/RS temporarily. Then they are retrieved, depalletized, and stored in the unit load AS/RS depending on the shipping data. Shipping forms can be carton boxes (4, 5, 7.5, 10 kg) as well as containers for retailers.
Introducing sorting lines exclusively for a high-grade orange, ‘Dekopon’
Sorting lines for Kumamoto’s specialty line of orange, a Dekopon, now include a specialty sorter system known as a ‘Fruit Pot Sorter.’ The system achieves a maximum sorting throughput of 30 tons daily (approximately 120 thousand pieces) or 1,000 tons yearly (approximately 4 million pieces). After sorting, the steps up to shipping are the same as Unshu oranges.
“The long-desired next generation sorting facility has stared operating. Sending sorting data back to growers; we aim to offer products to meet diversified consumers’ needs such as improving quality. Additionally, we provide consumers with information related to production and quality in order to establish a trusted brand and production site, with the principle of safe and secure food,” says Mr. Kazuya Murakami, Administrative Director.