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Rockit Global is expanding thanks to the helping hands of world-leading robotic technology.

The New Zealand company, which exports snack-sized apples, has a brand new packhouse with four H&C apple tube filling machines containing three robots to work alongside 120 permanent staff and 300 seasonal contractors.

These robots were custom made by global food processing technology company, MHM Automation, and automate the picking and packing of apples into Rockit’s signature tube packaging.

Rockit global chief executive officer, Mark O’Donnell, says as the biggest innovation in the new packhouse, the robots are equipped with specially designed tooling to receive the tube and then place the apples into the tube.

An integrated vision system identifies the height of each apple to allow the robots to select the right sized apples to perfectly fill each tube.

“While packing apples into tubes sounds simple, in reality it is incredible technology. The robots are reading the size and shape of each apple as it goes past and working out which apples to put into their tube to maximise the fill of that tube; it’s really clever stuff,” says O’Donnell.

With sales of the snack-sized apples growing each year, the company acknowledged automation was the way to go to grow and meet customer demand.

“MHM Automation was a natural choice as they are a global leader in their field. As an added advantage, they also happen to be just down the road from us,” O’Donnell says.

MHM Automation chief executive officer, Richard Rookes, says his team rose to the challenge to develop a system that met Rockit’s needs.

“Our product development process included design, prototyping, testing and proving, and then fine-tuning the design, before producing the final machines now installed at Rockit Global,” Rookes says.

“Working on a unique challenge like this, where we are automating a task that has never been automated before, is what gets us really excited. The apple tube filling machines are one-of-a-kind and as such are world-leading technology.”

The apple tube filling machines has meant Rockit Global’s packing throughput has increased three-fold to 20 tubes and 100 apples per minute.