Owned by the Rix family, Stourgarden has been growing and supplying onions since 1968. Three generations of the family have overseen the company's growth. Tesco was Stougarden's first customer, taking 45 tonnes of onions each week from the family farm on the Essex Suffolk border. Today, the company handles well over one million packs of onions every week! This amounts to over 75,000 tonnes of onions, all of which are grown in Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk and Kent.

Haith's relationship with Stourgarden began in 2016, when it installed a new Rota-Tip XL, capable of handling three-tonne boxes and offering fast and gentle tipping with minimal maintenance, all controlled through an easy-to-use HMI touch-screen.

New packing line weigher feed elevators and a heavy-duty in-take conveyor were added by Haith two years later as Stourgarden looked to increase the efficiency of its factory.

Stourgarden's investment programme continued at pace as the demand for the company's onions continued to grow. In 2018, the Rix family asked Haith to look at how it could increase Stourgarden's capacity, improve intake and unloading, and critically, reduce produce damage.

Rob Highfield, Sales Engineer at Haith, led the project. Working with Haith's experienced design team, they developed an integrated solution. A bespoke intake system capable of handling up to 45 tonnes per hour was designed to feed a high capacity multi-lane optical grader.

Haith designed and installed an extended 2400mm wide bulk hopper which allows HGV bulkers, farm trailers and one tonne bins to be unloaded. The intake area also features a Haith Rota-Tip XL which allows fast and gentle tipping of three tonne bins into to the line.

"It might not seem that significant but by using the extended 2,400mm wide bulk hopper, instead of the more common bulkers, we have been able to improve crop flow dramatically and significantly reduced unloading times," says Rob. "We also opted for a 2,400mm high-frequency web after the hopper. This has greatly improved the removal of soil, and loose skin before the onions pass into the inspection area." Once inspected, the onions are then divided onto four triple-blade fan toppers and onto a 2,400mm Haith screen grader, which Rob's team set up to remove onions smaller than 50mm in diameter. By doing so, Haith maximised the efficiency of the Optical Sorter that follows the grader.

The Haith evenflow hopper, which follows the screen grader, connects seamlessly to the eight-lane Optical Grader and ensures a uniform and complete supply, maximising output and efficiency. Once graded, the onions then go into one of 12 outlets and into bins via automatic box fillers. The bins are then labelled and transported automatically to a single location, minimising forklift movements. The latest line has increased productivity and throughput speeds, an essential element given the increased demand the company is currently enjoying.

"We have undertaken lots of successful projects for onion growers, including Moulton Bulb Co, whose glowing feedback played a part in Stourgarden choosing to work with us. The project for Stourgarden though, was one of the largest that we've worked on!"

The scope of Stourgarden's investment spanned more than the intake area, and Rob and his team worked closely with JongeJans Dust Collectors to ensure that the machinery used in the inspection area of the factory and the dust extraction system operated in that area worked together effectively.

As well as delivering a 125% increase in capacity, the flow of onions through the factory has improved at every stage. The team at Stourgarden say that lorry intake and unloading is simplified and much safer than before for staff. The whole line is far gentler to the product, reducing damage. Furthermore, the dust extraction is significantly increased, which has created a cleaner facility and a better and safer working environment for staff.

In short, the concept of marginal gains is evident in many places, and it would seem that Haith's approach is bringing similar improvements to how production lines are operating.

"The build quality and detail in the design is evident, and this is a testament to the experience and understanding of the product by the Haith team," says George Rix. "The small details that allow easier management, operation, cleaning, etc. all add up and will hopefully ensure the facility is fit for purpose for many years to come."

For more information about Haith and Stourgarden, please visit www.haith.co.uk and stourgarden.com.

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