Bühler SORTEX technology is enabling a fifth-generation, Austrian small family business to expand and diversify. Seed specialist Weber is using Bühler’s PROfile shape, colour and InGaAs technologies to sort a wide variety of agri and edible seeds, as well as superfoods, such as quinoa and white poppy seeds, to improve both purity and yield.
The Weber family has farmed land in Mühlviertel, Upper Austria, for more than 300 years and today four generations live together in a Vierkanthof – a traditional style of farmhouse specific to the region.
In 2000, Franz Weber decided to branch out from dairy farming, when he saw there might be a profitable opportunity in producing and selling grass seeds. However, he quickly realised that the reason grass seeds are so expensive is because cleaning and sorting them is a complex process – they are so small and the difference between them and foreign seeds so slight, that discerning between them is very difficult.
Mechanical engineer Franz experimented with different fabrics to see if he could “sieve” the seeds. After testing various textiles, he ingeniously discovered that oatgrass seeds stuck to the petticoat fabric of his wife’s wedding dress, while foreign seeds simply fell away. And so, Weber’s very first sorting machine was based on Mrs Weber’s wedding dress!
Weber went on to employ several types of mechanical sorters to sort not only seeds but a selection of spices, pulses and grains. However, these machines were limited to very basic sorting and not sophisticated enough to distinguish the minute size and weight differences between product varieties, or colour variations. So, for instance, they were unable to remove grass seeds and sclerotia from cumin, ergot from rye or dark coloured and immature grains from millet.
Fast forward to 2015 when Emanuel Weber, Franz’s son, took over the business. He selected Bühler, after comparing various optical sorting solutions, to reinforce Weber’s reputation as a leading, quality supplier and third-party processor for small farmers, agri-seed processors, spice traders and mixers.
Bühler’s SORTEX optical sorting equipment can not only distinguish between common seed varieties, but also difficult-to-sort products. For example, SORTEX technology can detect and remove broken seeds, different shapes of marigold seeds, dark pumpkin seeds, slight colour variations between amaranth and sorghum, sticks the same colour as garlic flakes, ergot from rye, as well as foreign materials, such as glass, wood, plastic, metal, sticks, stones and soil.
Since the installation, Weber has diversified its business, to sort more than 50 different product types, including exotic herbs and spices. They also upgraded to a quick chute-change system, so they could easily swap between the flat, 32 and 64 channel chutes, to suit the product being sorted. The channelled chutes are designed for products that are prone to bouncing and rolling, as they help control and separate them for the best camera view.
Weber recently attended advanced training with Bühler’s technology specialists. “Even though we already use many of the sorter’s pre-programmed modes to process our products, we wanted to ensure that we could fully utilise the highly flexible sorting possibilities. We are now confident that, if required, we can fine-tune pre-set modes or set up additional modes to run new products with unique applications”, said Emanuel Weber. This capability is pivotal to Weber being able to diversify the product range sorted and drive its business into many different areas – serving customers ranging from small farmers through to agri-seed processors, spice traders and mixers and seed trading companies.
In fact, Weber Seeds’ reputation is such that customers now refer to the purity and quality of its products as “SORTEX clean” in recognition of the cutting-edge technology that underpins Weber’s processing operation.
Continues Emanuel: “We are delighted with our SORTEX sorter. It is very easy to set up and operate – plus the support offered by the Bühler team is excellent and they are easy to contact. We can now give our customers the highest levels of assurance that the seeds we supply are of the highest quality. The optical sorter has an intuitive interface and the sorting result was impressive from the first demonstration. Vitally, it is proving to be 100% reliable.”
Johann Hoegler, Sales Engineer at Bühler adds that the sheer complexity of Weber Seeds’ operations posed a difficult challenge, but one that Bühler SORTEX technology rose to with ease. “We invited Emanuel to watch one of our sorters in operation at another plant in Austria, where he could see for himself its accuracy and efficiency. Another critical issue for Emanuel was our wide service network and the fact that our engineers could be on-site quickly if there was ever an issue. Thankfully, in the two years since our machines were installed, Weber hasn’t needed an engineer call-out.”