SHARE
Glei’s Orchards and Green­houses acquired new apple sorting machines. Regan Meyer | Col­legian.

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.”