Tauranga startup signs global deal for robotic apple packers
New Zealand agricultural robotics and automation company Robotics Plus, today announced it has signed an agency and distribution agreement with GlobalPac Technologies which will see the company’s robotic apple packers go global. The deal, which will initially target the US, Australian and New Zealand markets, is fuelling a period of accelerated growth for Robotics Plus as industry demand for its innovation grows. GlobalPac Technologies is a joint venture between United States company Van Doren Sales and New Zealand-owned Jenkins Group. Robotics Plus CEO Steve Saunders says between the two companies, Van Doren and Jenkins have a presence in almost every packhouse in New Zealand, Australia and the US. “We see enormous potential in our new relationship with GlobalPac Technologies. “Naturally their global packhouse relationships offer exciting opportunities for us to expand distribution of our apple packers to markets beyond New Zealand, but more importantly, they share our vision for the future of packhouse automation.” Jenkins general manager Jamie Lunam says, “Apple packhouses already use automation extensively for sorting and grading, but the process of arranging apples in trays for export is still highly labour intensive. “Labour shortages are a major and growing concern in New Zealand and many other food producing countries. We see Robotics Plus and their packing technology as game-changing for the industry. It is a very exciting time to be involved in helping to affect this positive change.” Van Doren CEO Brett Pittsinger says the global apple industry has been packing apples the same way for decades. “Labour shortages are now causing major headaches for packhouses in the United States. It’s exciting to see the enthusiasm amongst packhouses when they see the potential of this technology.” The Robotics Plus apple packer identifies and places apples in their trays, and has the ability to safely handle up to 120 fruit per minute which is the equivalent of two people. The robotic apple packing technology was originally developed by Massey University graduates, Dr Alistair Scarfe and Kyle Peterson. Saunders saw the technology early on and agreed to provide investment that would lead to them to building their first commercial prototypes in 2016. Robotics Plus chief technical officer Dr Alistair Scarfe says Robotics Plus carried out our first commercial trials of the packer last season and were delighted with the results. “Our scaled commercial trials were mostly carried out in New Zealand, but we also sent a packer to the United States, where it was trialled in their huge packhouses. “As a result, we now have huge demand from both markets, with production underway to fulfil the orders.” The packers are the first of a suite of horticulture automation technologies in development by Robotics Plus, who recently secured investment from Yamaha Motor Co. (Japan).