Chilean Quelen Fruit easily exceeds European category 1 quality standards with TOMRA Food

28 June 20245 min reading

Quelen Fruit is a holding of fruit companies that owns Packing Merquén, a fresh fruit and nut processing company that has been in operation for four years.  Together with TOMRA Food, Quelen Fruit designed and installed a cascading sorting process to achieve the perfect sorting program.

TOMRA Food offers solutions to optimize sorting processes in a variety of sectors, including walnuts. It has been installing and supporting its sorting equipment in Chile for almost 20 years, receiving excellent responses from companies that, like Quelen Fruit, are delighted to benefit from TOMRA’s advanced technologies and outstanding local service.

The Merquén plant is part of the Quelen Fruit holding, where TOMRA Food has also installed a line for processing many types of fruit, from apples to avocados, kiwis and stone fruit. From the beginning, Quelen Fruit wanted to incorporate TOMRA's solutions in its Quelen Plant, located in the commune of Paine, on the outskirts of the Metropolitan Region of Chile. TOMRA Food supplied a total of 3 sorting machines: two NIMBUS 1200 (one with BSI+ technology) and one GENIUS 1200.

The 10,000-square-meter facility sits on a 55,000-square-meter plot of land where the company is now also constructing a state-of-the-art, 11,000-square-meter packing facility.  Here there is the capacity to process up to six million kilograms of in-shell walnuts and 3 million of shelled walnuts annually. Approximately 90% of these nuts are of the Chandler variety and 10% of the Serr variety. 

Carlos Sánchez

From the outset, the company looked to TOMRA Food for the best possible processing of its production. Carlos Sánchez, Quelen plant manager of the company’s nut division, had extensive experience with TOMRA’s sensor-based technology and knew its advantages well. “I worked for 8 years in another company where I did market research on sorting equipment, and we chose TOMRA. So, when I started this project, I had this background and knew what to implement – and it has been a success,” he says.

“Europe is one of the most important regions we export to: France, Greece, Italy, Germany and Spain – with a particular push in the latter two countries,” explains Carlos Sánchez.

“Europe is a demanding market for quality, so almost everything we export there is Category 1. This requires us to have only one shell in every 200 kilograms. Even so, thanks to TOMRA’s technology, we have been able to achieve one shell in every 500 kilograms. Considering that the last three years have been turbulent and that shelled nuts have not yet recovered to their pre-pandemic level, it is more important than ever to have the right equipment. TOMRA was our winning choice from the beginning,” continues Carlos Sánchez.

After analyzing its objectives and discussing them with the TOMRA team, Quelen Fruit decided to integrate two NIMBUS and one GENIUS, installed in cascade, into its sorting process. “Focusing on sorting out defects, color and shape, we found the perfect formula. By adding double aspiration of the shell and septum at each of the input hoppers on the line has allowed us to achieve optimal performance,” adds Carlos Sánchez.

TOMRA FOOD step-by-step solutions to meet each objective

TOMRA offers a range of solutions that, combined, optimize the nut processing line. The standout benefits include the high efficiency of the process, significant cost reduction, and high productivity. “The current configuration, with three TOMRA units in cascade has allowed us to reach 2,700 kilograms per hour, which was the goal we had set ourselves. Of this throughput, 98% is finished product, but we don’t throw anything away. The discarded material is packaged in another type of category that is of interest to specific customers. There is a destination for all our products,” he explains.

Counting on TOMRA is an advantage, a reference in Chile and abroad.  “The truth is that, when a customer who understands processes, visits us and sees the TOMRA brand, they are reassured knowing that the product is in good hands,” says Carlos Sánchez.

As for the process, the product first passes through a 1200mm-wide NIMBUS sorter with BSI+ technology. This unit detects the biometric characteristics of the nuts and their defects and sorts them based on these clearly distinguishable patterns. The advanced technology BSI module detects even smaller defects than conventional spectral imaging technology and improves sorting quality by retaining almost all of the accepted product, resulting in a better quality of the final product. This solution also reduces the number of passes required and the amount of product breakage. The sorter detects and eliminates foreign matter, such as sticks, stones and glass, as well as the shell and septum of the nuts (the tissue that separates the two halves inside the shell). It also detects and discards structural defects, such as dehydrated and rancid nuts.

The nuts then pass through a second NIMBUS, also 1200mm wide. This machine sorts the nuts by color, distinguishing the extra light and light, which are of the best quality. Nuts that are somewhat darker in color (amber or light amber) are assigned to second quality product. The dark or black nuts are assigned to a third quality level that can be sold to other customers for other uses or applications. 

Finally, the product goes through a GENIUS machine (again 1200mm wide), which receives the fairly clean nuts. It carries out a final inspection to reject any remaining foreign material and focuses on sorting by shape, separating the nut halves from the quarters, thirds, and incomplete nuts. Every part of the walnut can be sold, supplying different parts to different clients.

“In addition to their advanced technology, I would like to highlight TOMRA’s excellent service. You can always count on them, both for training our team and to resolve any unforeseen issue. Based on my experience, I recommend the brand without hesitation. With TOMRA we significantly reduced the need for manual sorting, which is truly useful for those of us working on the process,” concludes Carlos Sánchez.

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