When projected growth surpassed manual palletizing capabilities, Paramount Citrus turned to Intelligrated for a solution that combined the speed of automationwith the flexibility to accommodate multiple packaging types.

Paramount Citrus, Delano, Calif., is part of the Roll Global LLC family of companies. Roll Global LLC is a $3 billion, Los Angeles-based company focused on healthy brands for healthy lifestyles. Its products include fresh fruit and tree nuts, floral delivery and premium beverages such as artesian water, California wines and pure pomegranate juices and teas. Paramount Citrus is said to be America’s largest integrated grower, packer and shipper of fresh citrus, including mandarins, navel oranges, Valencia oranges, lemons, limes, Texas red grapefruit and other citrus varieties.

More than 26 million fresh cartons of citrus are processed at its San Joaquin Valley, Calif.; Rio Grande Valley, Texas; and Mexico facilities and then shipped around the world. The company is best known for its sweet, seedless, easy-peel California mandarins, marketed under the Wonderful Halos brand. Paramount Citrus is also a larger grower of mandarins, which are processed in what is said to be the world’s largest citrus packinghouse in Delano.

With a well-established market on the West coast, in 2011, Paramount Citrus launched its mandarins nationwide. To support the eastern expansion, Paramount Citrus planted an additional 6,500 acres of mandarins, bringing its total acreage up to 14,000. A majority of these orchards are currently being harvested, and its acres in development are expected to be mature and ready to pick by 2015.

Handling challenges drive automated solution

With the additional acreage, the groves yield up to 15 million pounds of fruit per week during citrus season, creating a logistics challenge for the manual processing facility. The material handling answer for Paramount Citrus was to design and build a new solution adjacent to the groves and its existing facility in Delano.

Paramount Citrus designed the facility from the ground up by evaluating best practices in manual and automated processes against productivity goals.

“In order to process the volume of fruit coming in the facility at our target throughput rate, we needed a fully automated process throughout the facility, which meant an automated end-of-line palletizing system was a major requirement,” says Jason Blake, vice president, California packing operations, Paramount Citrus.

Vendor selection

Paramount Citrus required a system that could deliver the speed of automation with the flexibility to handle multiple packaging types originally designed for manual palletizing. Paramount Citrus needed a vendor with the product offering, engineering knowledge and experience to offer a complete end-of-line palletizing solution. After a lengthy bidding process that included more than a year of design and planning, Paramount Citrus chose Cincinnati-based Intelligrated as its preferred supplier and integration partner.

“We looked at the overall design of the equipment, speed, efficiency, productivity, safety and reliability,” says Pete McKenzie, director of design and startup for the Paramount Citrus Halos facility. “Intelligrated’s Alvey 910 system scored the highest on all of those, and that’s what drove them to the top of our list.” 

Design collaboration: flexible handling, efficiency and speed

Paramount Citrus presented a unique set of design challenges for its end-of-line operation. The equipment needed to gently and securely handle multiple packaging types, and the overall system had to handle 40-50 cases per minute. It was also necessary for the solution to be scalable to accommodate increases in production.

The legacy process of column stack nesting corrugate tabbed cases was designed for manual palletizing, but needed to be adapted for automation. Through design collaboration with third-party corrugate suppliers and Paramount Citrus purchasing and engineering teams, Intelligrated custom engineered the Alvey 910 palletizers with package handling modifications to ensure the cases could be positioned and securely nested at speeds that met target throughput rates.

Intelligrated completed the end-of-line installation ahead of schedule and was ready for acceptance testing. Paramount Citrus required Intelligrated to complete 30 days of testing to evaluate throughput rate, reliability, uptime, quality of pallet formation and safety. The customized Alvey 910 lines met or exceeded all performance benchmarks and testing requirements for all five units.

“We did 30 days of testing on the first three palletizing lines, but by the time we got to the fourth and fifth, Intelligrated was doing such a good job that we felt confident that all lines would deliver without going through acceptance testing,” says McKenzie.

Training employees to handle the harvest

Intelligrated instituted a thorough training program to ensure Paramount Citrus employees would be ready to handle the influx of fruit once the mandarin season began. Senior technicians were dispatched to educate employees through classroom and hands-on training on equipment operation, safety, troubleshooting and maintenance, and provided specialized training manuals to supplement face-to-face instruction. To conclude their training, employees were required to pass written and performance examinations to become certified equipment operators.

“Intelligrated exceeded our training expectations,” says Gaby Beasley, production manager, Paramount Citrus. “The training and materials provided became the benchmark of what we expected from other vendors.”

The Paramount Citrus system at a glance

Following harvest, the mandarins are washed, sorted and put into cold storage. Once an order is received, mandarins are assigned to one of five fully-equipped production lines where they are inspected for imperfections. The fruit then goes through a second wash to ensure only the highest quality produce is packed, while lower-grade and non-standard product is diverted to juicing. Workers then place the preferred bagged fruit into a variety of cartons. From here, Intelligrated’s end-of-line solution takes over.

Cartons are loaded on to an Intelligrated Accuglide accumulation conveyor leading to a dedicated Alvey 910 palletizing station. The palletizer orients the cases into patterns that will properly nest accordingto packaging type. Once the cases are in position, bi-parting apron clamps open and drop the finished layer onto the pallet. After a pallet is fully loaded and discharged from the palletizer, corner boards and zip ties are applied to ensure pallet load structure. Pallets travel on Intelligrated multi-strand chain conveyors and through motor-operated turntables to an automatic stretch wrapper. Wrapped loads travel over pallet conveyor to a chain-driven live roller pick-up station. Forklifts retrieve loads and deposit them in a refrigerated staging area, ready for distribution.

Results create model for future implementation

Intelligrated provided a comprehensive end-of-line solution that met or exceeded all business goals and increased line productivity by 15%, according to Paramount Citrus. The installation was completed ahead of schedule and system operators were trained in time for the first day of the mandarin season.

The shift from manual to automated palletizing resulted in what is said to be the highest degree of secure and stable nesting at the fastest throughput rates. The facility’s rate of 40-50 cases per minute is a level of throughput not possible through manual processes. The automated palletizing process developed for mandarins can be adapted to any fragile fresh fruit packaging operation, and breaks the assumption that packaging designed for manual palletizing cannot be handled by automation.

In anticipation of future growth and expansion, the facility and system design is scalable to accommodate greater fruit volume.

“As the rest of our mandarin acreage matures into production, we’ll add three more lines of Intelligrated palletizers and conveyors,” adds Blake. “We will also introduce pallet conveyance to our refrigerated staging areas to alleviate excess forklift traffic.”