Pacific Coast Cherry Packers (PCCP) is located in the heart of fruit country in the Pacific Northwest. The operation grows, harvests and delivers millions of pounds of cherries worldwide. As a division of Sage Fruit Company, PCCP farms thousands of acres of orchards throughout Washington and Oregon.
“PCCP was started as a partnership between a group of cherry growers,” said Peter Verbrugge, President of Sage Fruit Company. “We needed to install new technology on a cherry packing line about 10 years ago, and so we got together and invested together in this new technology.
That new technology allowed the company to keep up with its efficient and effective growing methods. PCCP ships around 1 million boxes of cherries in a good season. In 2017, the company sought to update its material handling system to automate the case flow of pre-packaged cherries and accommodate future production line volume. Hytrol and its integration partner provided a solution.
“Our last equipment upgrade was about nine years ago,” said Verbrugge, “and technology had advanced in a couple areas—primarily in the sorting technology. And so to reduce labor costs, as those have been dramatically increasing, we needed to invest in new technology to try and just keep those from growing out of control. So, that’s what drove us towards the remodel and investing in new technology.”
Above: PCCP’s cases are justified, gapped, scanned, tracked, and diverted into assigned lanes where they are then prepared for shipping.
PCCP uses cases to convey cherries quickly during peak season. Cherries must be harvested, packed and on a retailer’s shelf in a matter of days. The solution needed to be cost effective, utilizing Sage’s existing material handling equipment while creating a robust sortation system that could handle the increasing throughput rates and number of SKUs.
Because of a project on Sage Fruit’s apple picking line, Verbrugge knew he wanted to utilize Hytrol’s accumulation conveyor. The company soon found an integration partner that could implement the system.
“When we looked at implementing this new technology, we knew that Hytrol was good equipment,” said Verbrugge. “But to be serviced locally and to have people who understand our industry and be able to design a plan that will work for us, execute it, and service it, we needed a very strong IP that could come in and be able to implement Hytrol into our packing system.”
“The design of the packing line was to have the throughput to be at least similar and no less than what we had before, but also with the ability to increase the throughput with just some smaller incremental investments,” he said.
Above: PCCP ships around 1 million boxes of cherries in its growing season, which is only a few months long.
Cases at PCCP are manually inducted into two lines with five merge points each. Using logic to control the pressure of the product, individual break meters release cases into the takeaway lines and into the stampers. They’re then consolidated into a single line using a 2-to-1 merge and travel into the sortation area. In the sorter, cases are justified, gapped, scanned, tracked and diverted into their assigned lanes, where they are palletized and prepared for shipping.
“It’s very important that everything is running, and there’s multiple pieces of equipment that have to be communicating with each other, adjusting the electronic eyes for fruit flow, and all of those things I cannot slow down, because if I lose an hour packing cherries, I don’t get that hour back,” said Verbrugge. “Downtime is really detrimental to me, so it’s very important that we have a good supplier who can step in with a good plan, and be able to execute it and follow up with service.”
PCCP spent time researching systems and partners in the industry before choosing the Hytrol integration partner.
A supplier’s reputation can very quickly be substantiated by the work they’ve done in the past, he said.
“I look at dependability. I look at service, reliability in terms of them being able to follow through with what they say they can do, and also [do so] on a budget—so that people can come in on time, on budget and back up what they do with reliable service.” – Peter Verbrugge
The relationship between Hytrol and the integration partner spans back over 50 years and 3 generations. The shared focus on service between the PCCP growers, Hytrol and the integration partner was a natural fit.
“It’s their reputation in our industry and in this valley that they’ve been able to build upon their business, and that’s why it was chosen—it just wasn’t on price, it was on service and quality. And that’s how I build my business, is on service and quality to my customers in my fruit and I understand that, so I look to that in my suppliers.”