Chipping potatoes are notoriously sensitive things. Coming out of the ground, they have to be treated gently to prevent bruising. The thin skin on a chipping potato is easily rubbed off, so it offers little to no protection against abrasions. With that in mind, at our potato packing shed we’re always looking to find ways to prevent secondary bruising so our customers get the very best chipping potatoes possible. And that is where this red, rubber ball comes into play! About the size of a softball (if you don’t play softball, think croquet sized ball), the Techmark Impact Recording Device (IRD) is our newest tool in bruising prevention.
Matt Thompson, one of our shed managers, has been dropping the Impact Recording Device at various points in the packing shed’s processing line to get an idea of where secondary bruising is occurring. “You can time and actually mark each impact point,” Matt explained. After giving it an intentionally hard bump to indicate when the IRD’s ride through the shed begins, the ball simply travels through the line, collecting bumps, drops and other impacts to be displayed later. Meanwhile, Matt watches the red ball as it makes its way through the section he’s testing while keeping an eye on a stopwatch. After it has ran its course, the IRD is taken into the office where Matt can analyze the data and pinpoint where potential bruising is occurring.
Once connected to a computer via a data cable, Matt is able to pinpoint where bruising and rough handling is occurring. The software comes with several graphs, but the most important details can be distilled from two – the Time Travel Graph and the Scatter Graph. The Time Travel Graph shows the length of time the IRD was ran in a specific area as well as the G-force and velocity it did so. The Scatter Graph, on the other hand, shows specific impacts in relation to set point of data (which is why Matt bangs that expensive red ball against something before dropping it in with the potatoes). He can mark those data points and see where damage is potentially happening.
Has the Impact Recording Device uncovered anything? Matt said it has, but what it is finding is along the lines of “nitpicking”. Overall, the chipping potatoes encounter very little major bumping and falling in the shed as it is today. But there are a few areas where a small drop to a hard surface may be a problem – especially for chipping potatoes that are headed to our customers overseas. For export potatoes secondary bruising can result in a loss ranging from 1% – 5%. By making small corrections in how the potatoes go from conveyor belt to belt, Matt indicated he believes those changes will reduce that number drastically.
The IRD is also going to save Gold Dust money by showing where damage is not occuring. “It’s surprising to find places where you think there would be an impact, but there isn’t,” Matt said. There had been discussions about addressing suspected problem areas, such as the evenflow tank, where it was believed potatoes were getting damaged by falling into the tank. However, the the Impact Recording Device showed the impact at that point was minimal and there was no need to spend the time or money to soften the landing for spuds.
Though the processing plant will be addressed first, when harvest rolls around the IRD be used to test the harvesters as the potatoes while they’re being dug as well as the pilers that test them when going into the storage cellars. Hopefully, if the problematic areas can addressed during harvest, cellar loss will decrease and the quality of the chipping potatoes (which is already very high!) our customers receive.
Matt is happy with what the Impact Recording Device is finding. “It’s a great tool for decreasing secondary bruising,” he said. In the end, the investment in the IRD will result in happy customers and a higher quality product once the improvements are made. From the field to the packing shed, these changes will effect our bottom line as well. All that with the help of a bouncing red ball!