For about a year now, Dutch hydrangea grower Vicini has been working with the IRISS hydrangea sorting machine from 4More Technology (4MT). Before, they sorted manually; the only option as there was no machine for their production quantity. Untill they came in touch with the team of 4MT.
For the majority of the cut flower growers, there have been sorting machines on the market for years. However, for the hydrangea, this is not the case. When Johan Zwinkels started growing hydrangeas in 2004, the crop was not the most innovative and not much automation was used, he tells us.
Johan Zwinkels, Tim van der Elst and Wouter Vreugdenhil
During the winter there are still no flowers, but the market definitely changed. It has grown significantly. In Holland, the crop is grown on about 200 ha and with 120 suppliers at the auction, competition has grown too. Automation is desired, but quality standards are high.
4MT, which is already strongly represented in roses and is one of the leaders in the field of vision technology, were eager to meet the demand. But how should the flower pass the camera? Hanging vertically or laying down horizontally? Both were not possible, so what could be the solution? A v-shaped belt that is positioned at an slightly upright angle. When the belt stops, the head of the hydrangea hangs freely in the air and a photo can be taken. Then, the flower falls onto a horizontal belt that runs just below it. The stem is cut to length and delivered to the correct sorting exit, according to the set parameters for color, length and size of the head.
Getting used to it
That system works very well. And that was also what impressed Johan when he came to see a prototype at 4More Technology in Moerkapelle. “We've got to have it,” he said right away. In the middle of the season - 'not really the best time because we were processing a lot of flowers' - everything was installed. And after a chaotic day, he started to get used to it.
The advantages are evident: labor savings, uniformity and peace of mind in the process. Johan: “Everyone can sort, but no one can be sharp for a whole day, that's just not possible.” In addition, he is particularly pleased with the structure of the process; there is a clear division of tasks and there is much less chaos. And finally, 'you can easily walk away from it', something that the men of 4MT also heard a lot from fellow growers. “The growers often do the bunching themselves, because they want to know what goes out and thus have full control over the quality. Now they no longer have that worry and their hands are free to do something else.”
Ready for the future
After Peeters Hortensia, another Dutch hydrangea grower, Vicini was the second grower with an IRISS Hydrangea sorting machine. Since its launch last year, the machine manufacturer, which also offers their vision technology and logistics automation solution for other crops, has sold almost a dozen of them. For a nursery with the size of Vicini - 2 hectares, in the high season up to 6 or 7 thousand stems are harvested per day - the machine has more than sufficient capacity. “Now we can easily grow 10 hectares,” Jack, Johan's son and current owner, said enthusiastically. That may be a bit too ambitious, but for the 3,5 hectare new nursery in De Lier, where father and son will move in a few months, it should be sufficient.