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Key Technology: Optical sorters

Key Technology announces the availability of its powerful potato strips Sort-to-Grade™ feature for all belt-driven G6 optical sorters – Manta®, Optyx®, and Tegra®.

This patented, advanced software-driven intelligence enables sorters to grade by count, accepting or rejecting each defective piece to control the quality of output to a defined grade, as defined by the processor. As the first company in the world to offer this sorting capability, Key puts a valuable new tool in the hands of potato processors worldwide. Sort-to-Grade assures product quality while increasing yields by one to three percent.

All sorters make accept/reject decisions by comparing the size and color of each product defect to predetermined criteria. Until now, those decisions have been made regardless of final in-the-bag quality results. Since final product specifications typically allow a specific amount of minor and moderate defects, the operator has historically had to adjust the sorter’s accept/reject thresholds subjectively in an effort to make grade given inevitable fluctuations in the quality of incoming product. This traditional approach to sorting can result in too many minor and moderate defects being rejected, creating a significant yield loss.

Now, with Key’s Sort-to-Grade capability, accept/reject decisions consider how potentially passing a particular defect, based on its size and color, will affect the overall final product quality in comparison to the processor’s specifications.

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Sort-to-Grade allows the sorter to control the quality of its output to a defined grade, objectively sorting by count in real-time with 100 percent inspection. It increases yield by reducing unnecessary rejects while improving the consistency of final product quality and dramatically simplifying the operator’s experience.

The Sort-to-Grade feature radically changes how processors sort product defects. Sorting foreign material (FM) remains unchanged since every processor is looking to remove 100 percent of FM regardless of count.

“Sort-to-Grade is like ‘cruise control’ on a car. It automates the adjustments needed to maintain a consistent outcome despite the constant fluctuations of input,” said Marco Azzaretti, Advanced Inspection Systems Product Manager at Key Technology. “Even for a dedicated operator, in some situations it can be nearly impossible to perfectly optimize grade and yield given the volume of dynamic data to be considered.”

Simplified-Length-Control™ is a subset of Sort-to-Grade that focuses on the length of French fries. It is also dynamic in that it automatically preserves the length profile of final product despite the length of incoming strips fluctuating as the sizes of whole potatoes vary. Simplified-Length-Control allows potato strip processors to eliminate mechanical length grading methods and the product damage they can cause.

The Sort-to-Grade software can be installed on any new or in-the-field G6 sorter, including Manta, Optyx, Tegra, and select legacy sorters upgraded with Key’s G6 electro-optical foundation.

With the Sort-to-Grade software installed and running, the customer simply sets the sorter to achieve the desired target grade and sets the desired sample size. The software then controls the mass flow of product by making logical piece-by-piece decisions to determine which are passed and which are rejected. If a product piece contains an allowable defect, the sorter adds it to the product flow by allowing it to pass. If a piece would result in product out of grade, the piece is rejected. Thus, accept/reject decisions are based on the sorter’s calculated output, a capability never before available on any sorter.


Target grade can be defined by the user as a percentage of tolerable defects in the bag or a percentage removal of incoming defects. The sample size is also user-defined, according to the grading practice used in the processing plant.

With this new sorting capability, there is no need for the operator to adjust thresholds to ensure in- bag quality meets the processor’s grade standard. By simplifying the operator’s experience, Sort-to-Grade improves the consistency of final product quality and increases yield while reducing training costs.

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