Coming to campus? Visit this page for important information.

Engineering researchers save produce packagers time and money

Angelo Fallone figures he could have spent about 10 times as much on new machinery to help lower costs at his local produce packaging plant, but working with a team of UWindsor engineering researchers provided a far superior solution.

The finance administrator at Clifford Produce, and graduate from the Odette School of Business, Fallone worked with a team of researchers from Hoda ElMaraghy’s Centre for Intelligent Manufacturing Systems in Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, who devised an automated and modular system for sorting and packaging a variety of cocktail tomatoes at the company’s Ruthven facility. If all goes as planned, the system could be up and running by this summer, Fallone said.

“It works really well for a prototype, and it’s a very inexpensive solution,” he said. “It just wouldn’t make sense to spend $200,000 on a new machine, especially if it isn’t reconfigurable. It would take a very long time to recover those costs.”

Dr. ElMaraghy received a grant for the project from the FedDev Ontario Applied Research and Commercialization Initiative. Aimed at addressing the gap between research and commercialization by encouraging collaboration between post-secondary institutions and small- and medium-sized enterprises with pre-market needs, the initiative’s goal is to improve productivity and competitiveness for businesses located in southern Ontario.

UWindsor faculty and student researchers worked on 18 companies on a variety of projects, and an event to celebrate all of the university’s partnerships through the FedDev program was held yesterday in the lobby of the Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation.

ElMaraghy said it would have cost Fallone ten times as much to buy a machine from a supplier in a place like Holland to do the same work her team’s prototype is capable of. And that machine wouldn’t have the same ability to adapt for a variety of package sizes, changing tomato colour mix and production volume, she said.

“It gives them a great deal of versatility,” she said of the new packaging machine, which can pre-mix up to four or more colours of cherry tomatoes in varying proportions and distribute them randomly to fill continuously moving small clam-shell containers.

Tarek AlGeddawy, a post-doctoral research fellow in ElMaraghy’s lab, said the prototype he helped build was made with small, conventional conveyors, and there are only two parts that would require any fabrication, reducing design complexity and cost.

Fallone, who has worked with the university in the recent past on other projects, said this has been an excellent experience and has given him other ideas on how to improve efficiency at his plant. He already has some other ideas he can work on with ElMaraghy’s research team.

“Research and development is such an important link in the overall value chain of any business,” he said. “Working with a university that has one of the finest engineering schools in the country and having government support really made this an outstanding, low-risk kind of project.”