Ripening is a must when it comes to commercial climacteric fruit although what is behind the good practice of professional ripening? How can quality products be guaranteed? Is there a key determining factor for uniform batches of perfect ripe fruit?
Non-climacteric fruits can only ripe fully when remaining attached to the parent plant; by contrast, climacteric fruits such as banana, avocado, kiwi, papaya, pears,…keep on maturing once harvested, which provides good opportunities and benefits on a trading level. Greater access to fruits not produced locally is now feasible thanks to the development of transport and modern ripening facilities. However, this democratisation of the consumption should come about through quality product; homogeneous airflow distribution is the actual key for a successful process.
While other determining factors as temperature, humidity, carbon dioxide or even ethylene are normally well known and managed nowadays, air circulation is too often a pending subject in professional chambers around the world…pending from both performance and efficiency points of view. Hot areas, insufficient aeration and finally lack of maturation uniformity come along with energy-intensive facilities frequently demanding unreasonable service levels.
Reversible airstream is one of the preferred solutions to achieve equivalent distribution through the boxes from both sides. Unfortunately, it goes together with very low system efficiencies and the inconvenience of motor and brackets in the way, which prevents these fans to provide real equivalent airflows on both spinning directions; weight could be a handicap also both for the chambers structure and for the maintenance operations. Nevertheless, even based on reversible impellers, there is great room for efficiency improvements in the other main components of a ventilation system; the optimisation of motors (EC technology), supports and housing aerodynamics can reduce energy consumption and weight by 30 per cent in most of the current ripening fans worldwide.
Tens of billions of kWh are spent globally on ripening chambers every year, mostly on air movement and climate control, not always getting the expected results. Functional Effectiveness and Energy Efficiency entail the dual objective of future ventilation in fruit ripening chambers, avoiding ambient stratification and implementing integrated low-maintenance smart systems integrated in the room aerodynamics as a whole.
All this above can only be possible through a consistent and accurate supervision and operation system that leverages the optimised performance of structure plus equipment, enabling rather than just controlling. The ripening management must harmonise climate parameters, sensors, ventilation systems and channels, air movement speed working together; wireless technology already provides the opportunity to collect and handle all the potent data from expertise on the ground to manoeuvre on time today and learn for tomorrow, empowering the advancement in the future.
Intelligent motors and fans, smart sensors, interconnection of networks, internet of things, clouds, predictive analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, the future is already knocking the door!
The main question of ripening is ignoring what happens to the fruit before it arrives in the chamber. What if we knew? What when we actually know? Luck will not be part of the equation anymore; those ripening chambers capable to integrate data from all along the supply chain, analyse and predict properly in the market context to take coordinated, timely and decisive actions and learn for the future will succeed.
And this business model will radically change into higher operational efficiency (automation, remote monitoring and control, better workforce productivity and satisfaction, optimising decision making, no routine tasks, qualification) and enhanced customer experience (accessible, transparent data and communication, integration of the physical and digital for tailored communication and devoted service); getting the work well done, ripening to perfection!
Will we be prepared for this scenario?