A manufacturing company that can rapidly adapt to changing technology and best practices may be considered “smart” manufacturing.
McDougall & Sons
By Dr. Richard Strand
McDougall’s currently operates packing facilities that have been recently modernized. McDougall’s owns or are partners in five packing lines, allowing them to pre-size or commit to pack all varieties of pears, apples and cherries. Per Scott McDougall, President and our tour guide for the visit at the new processing facility just outside of Wenatchee, they have capacity to produce over 5 million packages (boxes/bags) a year.
The new facility was built between 2013 and 2014 and offers 24 controlled atmosphere (CA) rooms of storage, each for 1,850 to 2,000 bins. One large room of racked storage can handle up to 80,000, 40-pound packed boxes of apples ready for shipment. The adjacent 300,000-square-foot packing plant has storage for an additional 320,000 boxes. The packing line features a new, high-tech, fruit sizer and internal-quality, defect sorter.
These new technologies are increasing efficiency and production.
Smart energy in manufacturing
By Dr. Richard Strand
Their website states, “The world’s freshest apples and cherries grow here,” and Gebbers may be able to attribute that freshness to their smart use of energy in manufacturing.
Gebbers Farms operates an extensive fruit growing (Apples/Cherries) and processing company in central Washington with one of the newest and most technologically advanced fruit processing and packing facilities in the state and beyond.
Gebbers Farm harnesses the ground’s energy to support its 100,000 square foot facility in Brewster. Keeping apples fresh and cool is a significant challenge for many processing facilities. It consumes considerable energy in a conventional facility.
Gebbers sorts, processes and pre-sizes thousands of apples daily. The company revolutionized the field-to-table process in 2008 when they installed a geo-exchange system.
The system takes advantage of the earth’s naturally stable temperatures to cool the water and rooms used at the Gebbers facility. Geo-exchange heat pumps are hooked up to a series of pipes in loops, which run through a large holding pond built at the site. Excess heat is transferred into the pond in summer and pulled from the pond in winter. In essence, it is the same heat-exchanging process used by a household heat pump.
A three-story streamlined mass of pumps, valves, HDPE pipes and metal refrigerant condensing units form the “brains” of the facility. Together, these elements run a geo-exchange energy process that may be the first of its kind in the fruit-processing industry.
Inside the apple pre-size processing plant, forklifts deliver wooden bins of unsorted apples to a dunk tank, where the apples are cleaned and sanitized, and then the fruit is inspected for defects first electronically and then by human hands.
The state of the art facility is staffed with as few as 16 full time employees, down from the 320 that used to staff the more conventional processing plant some years ago. Since labor represents 60% of the company’s cost structure, leveraging new technology has allowed Gebber Farms to pay-off the cost of the facility in 5 years, half the pay-back time that was first envisioned.
Using the latest technology to process fruit products also raises the training requirements to service and support the facility.