Three miles east of Hillsdale College, Glei’s Orchards and Greenhouses is utilizing the newest technology in apple sorting.
The new technology is revolutionizing the industry with its ability to detect external and internal defects in the produce.The Spectrim does external defect sorting, taking hundreds of pictures of one individual apple.
“The Spectrim works on nine cameras that take 300 pictures of each apple,” packing house manager Mark Seely said. “It gives it a grade based on what I’ve taught it is a good spot or bad spot on the apple.”
Glei’s new machines, the Spectrim and the Inspectra2, are streamlining Glei’s apple production process. The Inspectra2 is the only machines of its kind in use outside of New Zealand. Glei’s acquired the machines from Compac, a crop-sorting company based out of New Zealand. Seely teaches the machine to detect many different kinds of defects.
“I’m looking for rotting, bruising, limb-marks from where an apple grew into a tree and the limb indented it. Sometimes the apple, as it’s blowing in the wind, is kind of rubbing, so we call that a limb rub. That leaves a brown mark on the side of the apple. We cut out anything that gives it cosmetic damage.”
The Inspectra2 detects internal browning in the apples.
“It works on how much light goes through the apple,” Seely said. “The more ripe the apple is on the inside, the less light that will come through.”
Apples with the grades of extra fancy and fancy are sold to distributors, while Glei’s finds other uses for those with defects. The Hillsdale and Coldwater stores sell the utility apples, the grade lower than extra fancy and fancy, while the rest of the produce is ground into cider. Before acquiring the Compac technology, Seely and his crew inspected each apple by hand. They could only remove the fruit with external defects, however, as there was no way to see inside the apples.
“The customers drove us to be able to do internal defect sorting,” Seely said. “Our customers don’t want to give bad apples to their customers. The only way to do that is to see inside the apples.”
Glei’s began looking into different apple graders from companies ultimately settling on one from Compac. While Compac representatives out of Sparta, MI helped Glei’s with the planning, the machines were custom built in and then shipped from New Zealand. While the machines allow for faster production, no Glei’s employee was let go when the new machines were implemented.
“We didn’t actually use less people. We’ve just moved them to other areas,” Seely said. “We didn’t use a machine to take the job of a person.”
The employees say they love the new machine. Supervisor Kendra Webb has been at Glei’s for three seasons.
“It’s running a lot smoother now with the newer machine,” Webb said. “We can tell what the apples are inside and out. It’s 100 percent better. It’s faster and more productive.”
Grader Linda Johansen says the new machine helps her back and makes it easier to bag the produce.
“On the old machine, we had to be down and hunched over to check the bags,” Johansen said. “We’re up and standing now. That really helps everybody’s back.”
Glei’s can now compete with other top apple producers. Seely explained Washington is the biggest apple producer in the United States. Michigan, Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania combined don’t have as many apples as Washington.
“With this machine, there’s no reason to buy Washington apples. We can supply just as good of apples as Washington,” Seely said, “We pick at the same time of year. Their apples aren’t any fresher than ours. Latitude-wise we’re the same. They’re not gonna get done any faster than we are, and Michigan apples don’t come by train. There’s no reason to buy the hype of Washington.”