Ray Products Co. Inc. applied creativity in helping Sunkist Growers Inc. upgrade the housing of its SunSort optical citrus sorters.
Vacuum formed of virgin and recycled ABS and replacing boxes of aluminum sheet-metal, "the new housing allows us to have a more modern design," said Aaron Gorsky, general manager of Sunkist's research and technical services division.
Ray Products and Sunkist connected at a trade show in Anaheim, Calif., in February 2016. Sunkist was contemplating an updated design for SunSort housings, traditionally made in a beige shade of brown, and liked the appearance of some medical-related equipment in the Ray booth.
Ray Products provided Sunkist with the services of an industrial designer.
Sunkist issued its first purchase order on the project in August.
The new modular design enables Sunkist customers to install — and as needed, expand — a SunSort unit's capabilities for sorting lanes from two to as many as eight.
Citrus growers' cooperative Sunkist, based in Valencia, Calif., has about 6,000 members in California and Arizona and operates about 20 packing plants that ship product globally.
The Sunkist division provides high-speed vision-based packing and sorting technology for both internal and external uses.
The division was created in 1953, introduced its first electronic sizer in the mid-1970s and offers expertise in fruit and vegetable packing, sorting, labeling, conditioning, storage and transportation.
"Over the decades, the technology has progressed" with some older software and electronic components becoming obsolete or unavailable, Gorsky said.
Earlier, the Sunkist division would receive a SunSort order, build a customized aluminum enclosure incorporating current technology and apply the beige paint.
"The old housing was plain and basic," Gorsky said.
Now, Sunkist maintains an inventory of the new plastic housing panels and assembles each SunSort unit to meet a customer's needs.
With the modular design, "we have enough plastic to do 50 sets of these units," Gorsky said. Storage of the aluminum units was much more demanding on space.
The new enclosure's durable virgin material outer layer contains a compounded blue additive, while the recycled inner layer's matte black minimizes reflection is conducive for operation of the advanced optical scanners.
Sunkist introduced the new design at the October 2016 Fresh Summit exposition of the Produce Marketing Association in Orlando.
By comparison, the new system takes more pictures, is shaped a little wider and a little taller and has a nearly identical footprint. "The cost is similar to what our old housing was," he said.
The size variations do not impact belt conveying systems that can extend up to 150 feet with as many as 40 different ejection points.
"Every installation is unique depending on the customer," Gorsky said. "Potentially, there could be multi-million-dollar installations."
The U.S. market — particularly southern and central California — accounts for about 55 to 60 percent of the active SunSort machines with the remainder operating in other countries. "We have a lot of equipment in Spain," Gorsky said.
In southern California, seven miles separate the Ray Products plant in Ontario and the Sunkist research and technical services division's facility of almost 50,000 square feet in Rancho Cucamonga.
The Sunkist division competes with operating units of three international equipment makers including entities in Italy and New Zealand.