Good Fruit Grower

November 2012

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New Technology Growers try it out L ike happy kids with a new toy, growers swarmed down the tree rows and climbed over a vacuum-powered apple harvester, in a hands-on demonstration of the DBR Conveyor Concepts machine. About 50 people—growers and their employees—attended a late-September demonstration in the Jonagold orchard owned by David Rennhack in Hart, Michigan. Two days earlier, another demonstration had taken place at Applewood Orchards in Deerfield, and others were held later at Evans Brothers near Frankfort and at Riveridge Packing near Sparta. Mike Rasch, the R in DBR, said the goal was to give growers hands-on experience with the machine. About 200 people experienced it during the Michigan demonstrations, before the machine moved on to Pennsylvania for more demonstrations. Rasch predicted the machine would be for sale the next year— They giggle and laugh on the DBR apple harvester. Is picking apples fun? by Richard Lehnert "barring any serious setbacks"—and would probably cost between $90,000 and $95,000. Two slightly different versions of the machine may be available, one catering to the needs of eastern growers and one better suited to the West. The harvesters will be built by Phil Brown Welding, Conklin, Michigan, the B in DBR. Since work on the prototype began about three years ago, the machine has undergone several improvements, Rasch said. In early versions, pickers placed apples directly into vacuum tubes that had small, funnel-like openings. In the newest version, conventional metal picking buckets were cut down and adapted to fit on the tubes. A picker wears the bucket in the conventional manner, with its harness, thus freeing both hands to pick. No need to hold or move the tube. The apples placed in the bucket quickly disappear, sucked into the vacuum tube. "Look, it's grabbing my shirt," one grower exclaimed as he admired the vacuum. The picking buckets were implemented at the suggestion of growers and Karen Lewis in Washington State. "We'll probably put the buckets on all the machines," Rasch said. "Everybody who tried them liked them. The whole idea was to give mobility to the pick- ers and not create work stations. This is definitely faster." Chuck Dietrich, the D in DBR, who usually stays behind the scenes, was at the Rennhack demonstration to supervise a part of the machine he designed—the foam- padded decelerator wheels that instantly and safely stop a swiftly moving apple, grasp- ing it and moving it away before the next apple arrives that might hit it. In a process Rasch calls "singulation," the apples are kept from touching and bruising each other as they move from the picker, through the tube and the decelerator wheel, onto the rotating fan distributor, and into the bin. An electric eye keeps the distributor just over but not touching the apples in the bin and moves it up as the bin fills. The decelerator wheels have been redesigned to put apples into cups in the foam, instead of merely between two foam layers, Dietrich said. Rasch said the change also makes it easier to deal with the kaolin clay western growers use to control sunburn, but which eastern growers don't much use. The clay powder was affecting the wheel's performance, he said. A key feature of the decelerator design is it maintains the vacuum as the apples leave S the vacuum stream. They also doubled the number of foam wheels, so that each of the four vacuum tubes ee a video of the pruner at www. has its own separate wheel, encased side by side in two housings. A trash eliminator has been added that can take leaves and small branches out of the vacuum stream before apples reach the bin. In the West, researchers and growers said they wanted safety harness restraints for workers on the platform and didn't much care for the safety rail eastern growers seemed to prefer. Also, Rasch said, the westerners didn't like the toe board that easterners use to keep track of where their feet are relative to the edge of the platform. "The tethers work well in the tighter working spaces in western orchards," Rasch said. "But if you have to lean and reach, you feel like you're swinging. Eastern growers like the belly rails, and we'll make them height adjustable so they won't interfere with the bucket." 14 NOVEMBER 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER Mike Rasch outfits Choki Hernandez from Shelby with the picking bucket.

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