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Automation and robotics in fresh horticulture produce packinghouse

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Purpose of review: With the fast development of automation and robotics technologies, their applications in horticulture are becoming feasible, yet there seems to be a gap between research and its implementation in this industry. This paper reviews the potential applications of these technologies in horticultural packinghouses, especially in three major steps of grading, sorting and packing. A conceptual design of the robot is proposed which might be used to replace the labours and current equipments.

Findings: Assembly lines emerged in horticultural packinghouses early in the 1900s, but little improvement has been made since then. Many studies were recently conducted to detect the produce's colour, defects, size, shape, volume and density, with new technologies such as machine vision, near-infrared radiation, X-ray, acoustic response, etc. Among them, 3-D machine vision is the most promising technique that can potentially be used in automation lines in the future.

Limitations/implications: Unlike industrial products, horticultural produce are variable in size, shape, volume, density and orientation. This requires the automation and robotics to be modified to adapt to these variations. This may increase the production cost of these systems. Unconstructed and tough environment in a packinghouse also challenges the operation and safety of the machines. However, the simple machines and tools currently used in packinghouses have the advantage of low operation and maintenance cost which make them well accepted by users. Directions for future research: Future research may focus on transforming industrial automation and robotics systems into horticultural packinghouses, with adequate modification and adaption. Manufacturing of these systems in a large volume is encouraged to reduce individual cost. A universal robot for grading, sorting and packing may be a good research direction in the future.
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Document Type: Research Article

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