Increasing automation while reducing plastic usage is a very valuable service and if you can do this while also increasing the use of recyclable materials then its a definite win-win all round.
“We provide a fully automated pallet wrapping line where the client can palletise the fruit and wrap it with our ventilated film, with or without corner boards. It can then be taken for dispatch for transport or into the cooling, nobody needs to touch it so it goes straight from the palletising system or by forklift,” explains Garry Sandercock from Propak Industries.
“We have different systems around Australia in various sectors and we have sold some into New Zealand too.
ProPak have agricultural machines for closing cartons in citrus packing sheds in Australia and have also started to do it for lemons in Tucuman, Argentina. It is used in horticulture for specialised companies. “The cardboard blanks will come through and are mechanically erected, filled with fruit and automatically put through to be sealed so they go out the other end without being touched. A lot of people in horticulture are still taping and erecting carboard boxes by hand. Our tapes are also becoming more biodegradable.
“Improving recyclability and biodegradability are very important in the sector as well as in the world, growers need a product that can easily conform to the retailer’s requirements now and in the future."
ProPak are are also working on a fruit liner which is biodegradable, made from corn starch which can protect fruit in the box during transit.
“We have put in a system on a farm where they were using 300-400 grams of plastic per pallet and we got it down to 140 grams. This also reduced the cost and is good for the environment. Because it was all done automatically it also reduced labour, before they had someone standing there to wrap the pallet and cut it at the end, so you don’t have that need any more and that worker can be utilised elsewhere.
“We can offer fully automated system for the smaller growers to, one is a remote-controlled system. An automatic pallet wrapper, no conveying - you just put it on and can control it remotely.”
Labour and COVID
Labour has long been an issue in Australia and the COVID situation has exacerbated that.
“In Australia when COVID hit people were wanting to automate because they didn’t know whether they were going to get any labour to do the work, so we had an influx of enquiries and sales. We are still getting those enquiries and sales coming through. No one is sure when this is going to end or what will happen in the future. What we are also seeing is a lot sales coming via word of mouth. One person has an installation from us and someone else see it and sees how well it works then is interested in having one too.
“I must admit that when COVID first struck I though oh my goodness what is going to happen, but I found that farmers were talking to each other and we were actually getting more enquiries through that. We are suppling a wide range of growers including onion, potato, strawberry, blueberries, banana, paw paw and mushrooms. We have worked with the biggest mushroom grower in New Zealand. Enquiries have also come from overseas but due to the current travel restrictions we are concentrating on the Australian market just now.
“I think having people on the ground in Australia certainly helps and possibly gives us an advantage over foreign machine companies at the moment, but that said we have assisted overseas companies here in Australia when they couldn’t send technicians here because of the travel restrictions. I think it is important to create good partnerships in order to assist our customers and give the horticulture sector the best service possible.”