UK-based potato packers Cockerill have purchased four additional Key Technology Herbert OCULUS optical sorters for whole potatoes, which automate defect removal to improve production efficiencies while ensuring final product quality.

Before Herbert OCULUS Cockerill was sorting potatoes by hand, which became increasingly difficult as the labor market tightened and extreme weather made product quality more variable. Cockerill wanted to automate sorting to take pressure off its workforce while improving the consistency of its final product quality. The company was satisfied with the results of its first OCULUS, and decided to purchase four more.

Installed at Cockerill’s retail packing facility in York, England, five Herbert OCULUS sorters inspect whole, washed potatoes to find and remove those with defects, ensuring Cockerill achieves its final product quality specifications. The sorters recognize surface abnormalities and diseases such as bumps and notches, skin discoloration, and green colors, as well as defects like mechanical damage, scab, cracks, and black dot. The OCULUS sorters can also be programmed to reject potatoes with dimensions above or below the desired length and width.

Herbert OCULUS conveys product over a series of rollers to present a complete 360-degree view of each tuber to the color cameras. Compared to traditional cascade bulk sorters, this unique method of sorting offers gentler handling and provides 20 percent more surface inspection to maximize defect removal. In addition to capturing images of all “good” and “bad” potatoes, Herbert OCULUS can collect detailed data about the throughput and grading results, including what percentage of the potatoes rejected had each type of defect and the size of the potatoes.

Cockerill produces more than 1,500 metric tons of potatoes in retail packs for supermarkets every week, and more in bulk to food processors. The company selected midsize Herbert OCULUS systems from Key’s five available models to handle its line capacities of 2–8 metric tons of product per hour.

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