The fruit then passes through a color sorter that separates greens and breakers from red fruit. The reds are diverted to a gondola that goes processing, while the greens and breakers are conveyed into a separate tub for transport to the packinghouse.
A crew of about a half dozen workers also hand sorts, removing culls and material other than tomatoes that have made it past the electronic eyes.
Even details, such as operator comfort, have been incorporated into the unit, Maconachy says. The cab is completely heated and air conditioned, and a screen hooked to cameras focused to the rear and on adjacent trailers allow the operator to monitor operations without craning his or her neck.
Maconachy says they’ve passed the beta-testing phase and are in what he described as the “gamma-testing” phase.
“We really see the end of the tunnel, and we only have very minor things we have to button up,” he says.
The next step is full production mode, “but we are always continuing to make small little tweaks to continue to improve them.”
In California where the machine has been tested, producers grow a bush-type tomato with a concentrated crown fruit set on bare soil.
Having to deal with plastic-covered beds could create a challenge, Maconachy says.
“Pieces of plastic could be an issue because they would come up the conveyors,” he says.