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Fyffes Bananas: Overview of their Optimised Pallet Process

07 Jun 2015

Fyffes, the leading international banana distribution company, has optimised processes for moving and ripening bananas at its depot in Normanton, West Yorkshire, by installing a 100-metre-long pallet conveyor.

This is part of a £520,000 project, installed by Leicester-based LB Foster Materials Handling, to automate processes at this facility and improve health and safety for employees.

Fyffes sells over 44 million cases of bananas throughout Europe annually and is also a major force in the distribution of pineapples and melons.

Fyffes has banana-ripening and distribution centres at four sites in Britain: Normanton, Coventry, Basingstoke and Livingston. The 60,000 sq ft Normanton depot replaced an older facility in Wakefield that had been used by Fyffes for a quarter of a century.

Taking Time on Specifications

Company executives decided to take their time to plan the new facility. The task was to find the most efficient method to process about 70,000 bananas per week. This involves the safest and most efficient method for sorting and reloading consignments of bananas that had been transported on pallets from a number of unloading bays located around the depot’s production space and then to ripening rooms.

The plan was to install six production lines that also include roller conveyors and belts. There also had to be a provision for packing benches where 160 staff would work.

LB Foster was chosen for the project, as Fyffes executives believed the contractor had a willingness to learn and understand the nature of the banana-ripening and packaging process.

Ripening Process

Bananas arrive at the Normanton depot from growers worldwide, packed in boxes and on pallets. The fruit is picked when mature, but it remains green and unripened. The bananas are transported at temperatures of around 13 degrees, suspending the ripening process in transit.

The bananas are first unloaded by forklift truck on to an automatic turntable located in a corner packaging area. The turntable corrects the orientation of the pallets so that they proceed smoothly to an offloading point and then to the ripening rooms.

The fruit-ripening process takes around five days, until the skin acquires its familiar yellow colour. At this point, the fruit passes through the six-line production process for quality control and grading.

Sorting, Packaging and Reloading

Bananas that pass through these controls are later bagged according to retailers’ weight requirements and other specifications. The bags are returned to the conveyors, which transport the fruit to loading bays to be placed on pallets and then dispatched to supermarkets and other retailers.

Sub-quality fruit is separated from the main load at the start of the control process and sold to other markets.

The main purpose of the Normanton production installation was to improve health and safety for employees. However, the new process has also cut operational costs and increased the depot’s production capacity by 50 per cent.

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