- Vacuum System

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PB/DBR – With the vacuum system, the apples are places into a small, lightweight bucket-style inlet with no apple-to-apple contact all the way into the bin.  This reduces bruising, as one entire handling/operational procedure is eliminated. Others – With a picking bag, apples are placed on top of other apples and then dumped into a bin.  With conveyors, apples are transferred from one conveyor to another and into the bin.  Both of these create apple-to-apple contact, and standard bruising results.

B/DBR – “Pickers only need to pick.”  The self-propelled platform has two individually-operated hydraulic work stations with controls, giving pickers maximum tree access and allowing the entire tops of trees to be picked from one side in plantings from 8’ to 14’.  Apples are placed into small, lightweight bucket inlets, allowing four pickers and one person performing quality control and exchanging bins to fill and exchange a 20-bushel bin every 10 minutes.  This equals 24 bushels per man hour for the five-man crew.  With some night picking, one machine can cover 200-plus acres in a season.  The harvester can also be hitched or unhitched in approximately 15 minutes, leaving the four-wheel drive hydraulic platform available for year-round use in any conditions, including snow, mud, and hills.

Others – Apples are placed into standard picking bags or onto conveyors; these operations take time for pickers to look and place the apples into the picking bag or onto a conveyor, then turn around and dump them into the bin.  It takes approximately 10 seconds to turn around, empty the bag into the bin, and rehook ropes.  This is done 30 to 40 times per bin, adding up to about six to seven minutes of lost time for each bin.  Pickers on these harvest assist machines pick 6 to 10 bins per day or 14 to 20 bushels per man hour.

PB/DBR – “Pickers only need to pick,” with a 45-second to one-minute break every 10 minutes (during the bin exchange) and roofs for comfort in sun and rain (roofs also reflect light at night with fewer shadows).  These features, along with the elimination of the weight of full picking bags, allow pickers (both men and women) to pick day and night without tiring.

Others – Pickers need to turn and look to see where they are placing apples into conveyors or wear a picking bag and support the weight of the apples.  They must also turn around, move to the bin, bend over, and empty their bags 30 to 40 times per bin.  They then return to picking with no break, increasing fatigue.

This vacuum harvest system has been in development for the past eight years, and many improvements were implemented in 2013 and 2014 to reduce bruising and increase efficiency.  Extensive trials and tests were conducted in commercial orchards and with university personnel in Pennsylvania, Washington, California, and Michigan on apples, peaches, and pears. (The vacuum harvest system can also be used on many other round, firm fruits and vegetables.)

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