Huelva Spain-based CORA one of Europe’s leading strawberry grower cooperatives requires high-speed handling and packaging equipment to accommodate rapid turnover of its delicate and perishable fresh fruit. The strawberries must be sorted packaged and shipped as soon as possible after harvesting to ensure fresh quality at the marketing and consumption levels.
The conveyor belt system in place at the packaging facility was aging and not performing sufficiently to meet CORA’s needs. So the co-op commissioned a systems integrator Construcciones Mecanicas Santa Gema S.L. (Phone: 011/34.959.38.4656)—located in the city of Lepe Huelva Province—to construct a new transport system replacing large sections of the old conveyor. The new system is a “VarioFlow” VF90 chain conveyor from Bosch Rexroth Corp.(www.boschrexroth-us.com) with a 90-millimeter chain width that allows optimal transport of the strawberries in curved sections of the conveyor.
According to CORA’s production manager Manuel Piedra Chaves “We knew about Rexroth’s quality and reliability. Santa Gema also reported past positive experience with the chain conveyor system.”
The wide range of standardized curves and arcs available with the VarioFlow system enabled the conveyor to be customized for easy installation into CORA’s available floor space. Santa Gema manager Juan Manuel Cruz Soler explains “Because the chain conveyor system was to be integrated in the middle section of the existing installation the flexible and modular construction of the VarioFlow was a real benefit. We were able to adapt the system to the existing conveyor belt parts without any problem at all set up discharge points to individual work stations and link the automatic labeling and packaging stations.”
Santa Gema constructed a conveyor system that corresponded to the available space incorporating a number of inclines and some declines—which is why two different types of chains from the VarioFlow modular assembly system were combined. The standard flat chain is used to transport the strawberry baskets on the horizontal sections and a static friction chain accommodates vertical transport. On the CORA line these inclines/declines can be as much as 30 degrees in some places. Both the standard flat and static friction chains are easy to clean and maintain.
Within hours of being picked the strawberries are routed through a procession of manual and automatic work stations—from infeed through palletizing. The VarioFlow chain conveyor system links the manual work stations and outfeeds the filled baskets to the weighing station where fruit is added or removed to meet target weights. The new system transports three basket sizes (from 250-g to 1000-g) at speeds up to 50 meters per minute. In a 24-hour operation as much as 1100 tons of strawberries can be conveyed.
The speed and flexibility of the VarioFlow were decisive factors in choosing the conveyor system according to Piedra Chaves. He emphasizes “With fresh produce time is of the utmost importance to be able to remain competitive. We were immediately thrilled by the modular construction and the resulting flexibility in the entire system. In our field we have to be able to quickly react to changing market demands and be able to adapt our production. The VarioFlow plus the modular aluminum profile components provide us with the best basis for this.”