Since investing in Bühler’s ‘three-machines-in-one-solution’, the SORTEX F optical sorter, leading exporter of nuts and dried fruits in Chile, Pacific Nuts, has reduced its input shell contamination from 5% to 0.4%. The company has also successfully adhered to the strictest quality export standards of a maximum of one shell per 250 kg of walnuts.
Often cited as the best quality walnuts in the world, Chilean walnuts are renowned for their distinctive light color, rich flavor, and long shelf-life. Loaded with proteins, fatty acids, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, regular consumption of these walnuts is believed to maintain the brain’s cognitive function, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, and boost heart health and metabolism. In tandem with the ongoing healthy eating trend that’s gripping consumers across the globe, demand for Chilean walnuts is increasing.
As one of the largest exporters of nuts and dried fruits in Chile, Pacific Nuts decided to invest in the SORTEX FB2 optical sorter with BioVision technology from Bühler to meet this growing demand and to maintain its high-quality standards in walnut processing.
Pacific Nuts has approximately 400 employees working across four processing facilities, each dedicated to a different commodity: walnuts, almonds, prunes, and raisins. The company works hard to connect nut and dried fruit growers with consumers from all over the world. 20% of the products processed are grown from their own orchards.
Cristian Infante, General Manager for Pacific Nuts, says, “We studied the FB2 machine, and we liked its performance and versatility; it was the perfect fit to fulfill our goal of having the greatest quality walnuts in the market.
“The Chilean walnut industry as a whole is expecting a harvest of between 140.000-145.000 tons of walnuts in 2021, a volume that will, of course, be confirmed once the season is over. But so far, it looks to be greater than the 130.000 tons we recorded in 2020. So, we look forward to putting our FB2 to good use!”
Last season, the company exported 6.500 tons, but it is hoping to dispatch around 9.000 tons to its main European market and growing markets in Asia and the US next year. Subsequently, strict quality export standards must be met. “We must adhere to a maximum of one shell per 250 kg. With our SORTEX FB2 machine, we can meet this requirement. Our 5% input shell contamination is reduced to 0.4% after just one pass through the SORTEX F sorter,” Infante states.
The SORTEX FB2 can smoothly handle walnut halves of up to 8-ton capacities per hour in a 1200 mm tray. With Bühler’s unique ability to ‘split’ its machines for multiple re-sorting, both mechanically and at a software level, Pacific Nuts has benefitted from a ‘three-machines-in-one-solution,’ consisting of 600, 400, and 200 mm independent partitions.
The primary partition is intended to quickly and efficiently process an average of 1.5 to 2.5 tons of walnuts halves per hour, removing not only color defects, septum nuts, and foreign material such as sticks and stones, but also sorting the halves by shape – this allows Pacific Nuts to remove any large, medium or small pieces from its main product flow.
The remaining two partitions are used to re-sort the rejects online, helping to reduce good product losses and unnecessary bins/grain containers handling and optimizing logistics and processing times within the plant.
Unique shape technology
“After the cracking process, a mixture of halves and quarters is obtained, which are separated by sieves and also by the SORTEX F. Having a system for the separation by shape and size is really helpful since it allows us to keep more than 85% of our halves. Reaching these values simplifies the task at the selection tables, which increases our efficiency and allows us to produce a high-quality product,” Infante says.
This is all thanks to Bühler’s PROfile shape detection software. Unique shape recognition algorithms can detect any misshapen halves (3/4, large, medium, and small pieces), as well as sticks and foreign material. “PROfile technology ensures that we have minimum product waste and maximum profits,” Infante mentions.
“Uriel Tosco, Managing Director at Sortechnology SpA says: “The SORTEX F is a popular choice amongst nut processors in Chile due to its incredible versatility. With the ability to solve up to three different processes in the same sorter, the SORTEX F simultaneously combines our cutting-edge color, texture, and shape technologies for unmatched FM detection.”
Challenges and opportunities
Like many businesses, in 2020, Pacific Nuts faced challenges that they could never have anticipated: a world pandemic. Infante states, “Fortunately, the food industry and, in particular, our business did not stop. On the contrary, consumption of our products increased throughout the year, which allowed us to end the year on a positive note.
“In 2021, we will be taking the opportunity to update our machinery and increase our production capacity by 30%, meaning in this coming season, we will have more and better-quality products to offer our customers.”