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How can automation help growers in the soft fruit sector?

Updated: Aug 2, 2021

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and with a decline in seasonal workers following Brexit, soft fruit growers are facing an unprecedented shortage of picking and packing employees.

Can Packaging Automation help with the labour shortage in the soft fruit sector?

We appreciate that the soft fruit sector is facing challenges never seen before and can understand that growers / soft fruit packers are naturally hesitant to invest in new machinery, but we believe that automation may just provide the solution.

Packaging Automation and our distributors worldwide provide weighing, sorting and packing lines which can significantly reduce the number of people required inside the pack house freeing up labour to be transferred to picking fruit in the field.

The more widespread adoption and use of automation is being driven by the current pandemic.

We are certainly seeing more demand and interest in our Revolution range of high-speed tray sealers from the soft fruit sector which we believe has been driven by the need to automate processes.

A reliable high-speed tray sealer reduces the need for labour on the line with users also reporting a decline in downtime from the resulting reduction in unplanned stoppages.

Put simply, packing quicker reduces the number of hours and therefore labour costs in the pack house – the quicker and more efficient the line the lower the number of hours needed – it is simple really.

These machines are highly efficient and future proofed too. They use proven, patented, motion control technology to maximise output by providing a continuous flow of trays from infeed to outfeed without the need for pausing or buffering.

This also means that the infeed of the pack is always smooth and stable reducing fruit movement in the trays with a seamless transfer prior to seal and causing little or no bruising or damage to the fruit.

The addition of a Mi Weigh intelligent weighing system improves weight compliance and management, giveaway can be reduced below 0.1% against the nominal weight maximising yield from the batch. Settling time on the scales can be as low as 100m/s. We log every portion which has been weighed into the system so everything from in-feed to check-weigher, to packers is inline and there is no discrepancy. Speeds of over 40 packs/min can be achieved per person with pre-filled punnets on good quality fruit.

As companies across the sector are looking to reduce overheads and costs, automated technology can save growers money.

At this difficult time many businesses are looking to reduce overheads and cut costs so an investment might seem unwise but there are long-term benefits and clear payback from investing in factory automation machinery.

For example, one of our customers, J.O. Sims, since installing the Revolution tray sealer for packing cherries, are now achieving steady, consistent speeds, rather than stop start feeding which they were used to previously. Their Overall Equipment Effectiveness / Efficiency has improved, and they have benefited from an up lift in output of around 30% from each machine since installation. This in turn reduces their cost per unit and allows them to be extremely competitive in the market and grow.

A rise in demand for British produce, both domestically and overseas, has led to increased orders for many growers. Here is what solutions Packaging Automation suggest to scaling up to meet this demand.

The Revolution range is fully electric so there is no need for compressed air, resulting in significant savings, additionally the pod design of the tooling reduces downtime in the event of damage to either heater mats or blades.

We see increase in packing speeds whilst minimising machine footprint as a major priority for the produce sector and this is an area, we are currently developing our technology in.

A high-speed efficient line can pack up to 120 packs per minute, this has given a recent client increased outputs of 15-20% coupled with giveaway reduction from 2-3% down to 0.3%. With the speed of the weighing system, they have managed to reduce line staffing from 8 people to 6 people and still retain the same over all capacity.

We also like to reassure our customers that irrespective of which machine model they currently use, we can accommodate their existing film layout and design and manufacture tools as required.

Solutions can be tailored to the needs of individual fruits, for example cherries to help solve the common ‘stalk in seal’ problem.

For cherry packers in particular, “stalk in seal” is a common problem when transferring and sealing on most tray sealing machinery caused by the aggressive movements of the pack on transfer, stepping and sealing.

PA’s high speed, fully electric tray sealers incorporate patented motion control technology which means that the in-feed of the pack is always smooth and stable reducing fruit movement in the trays with a seamless transfer prior to seal.

Packaging options also include the ability to interchange pulp punnets with plastic punnets on the same sealing tool.

Through the work that our Seal and Packaging Technologist has carried out with all of the key packaging suppliers, we can now accommodate a variety of punnets from different suppliers in the same tooling and this includes pulp trays in a tool designed to seal plastic punnets.

Obviously, this significantly reduces the cost to the packer if they are changing between plastic and pulp and sourcing packaging from a variety of suppliers from one season to the next.

Join us on Wednesday 18th November 2020 at 11:30 AM (UK) for the Packaging Automation Soft Fruit Virtual Open Day.

We will share with you our experience in soft fruit packaging and how Packaging Automation have supported businesses just like yours to improve business performance and reduce giveaway.

Please register your attendance at:


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