Apr 5, 2024
Robot packaging system introduced

A robot cardboard folding system cuts carton folding time and expense.

Small farmers can hand fold the boxes and – for larger growers buying millions – an expensive full-size automated forming machine.

The FoldBot robot packaging system streamlines hand folding of cardboard.

Mid-size growers, however, were stuck in the middle. They didn’t have time to fold thousands of boxes nor the money to buy the big machine.

The billions of plastic produce clamshells ending up in landfills drove Verona, Kentucky, tomato grower Linda Fritz of Sun Sugar Farms to create an alternative.

Fritz’s “FoldBot” sustainable produce containers use a flat paperboard design that helps her company compete with plastic on price. The package is also easy to stamp or print on, eliminating unrecyclable labels, according to a news release.

After researching ideas, Fritz reached out to a University of Cincinnati engineering student group that through a senior project challenge built an affordable tabletop folding robot.

Sun Sugar FarmsAfter their design won first place, she hired the student who’d come up with the main concept to help her build the different size robots, now dubbed “FoldBots”. The result is a sleek folding process using simple components in a cost-effective 3D printed shell.

While it might have taken half a day to individually fold a thousand containers, with the FoldBot it can be done effortlessly in less than an hour. The machine costs $2,500 vs. $55,000 for a larger machine, according to the release.

The very first FoldBot was built for a commercial organic blueberry grower in Washington.

“It’s been a game changer,” Ezra Ranz, owner of Bow Hill Blueberries, said in the release. “Everyone is excited not to hand fold anymore. We also don’t have to apply labels since our containers are custom printed, plus the boxes fit into our automated fill line. Best of all, we’re getting great customer feedback about the switch to plastic free packaging.”

The Sustainable Produce Containers are popular with gourmet mushroom growers across the country. Avery Hughes of High Country Fungi in North Carolina is happy for the help packaging the hundreds of pounds of mushrooms they sell weekly.

FoldBot, a robot cardboard folding system, cuts folding time and expense.

“For the past 4 years we’ve folded every single one of our boxes by hand and at times it was overwhelming,” Hughes said in the release. “Linda has worked tirelessly to create a box folding robot, it’s already saved us ample time and it works flawlessly.”

Fritz enjoys supplying to companies committed to sustainable packaging and offers a solution that makes their jobs easier. In development is a hopper to stamp and feed the flat containers into the FoldBots.

Sun Sugar Farms is a small grower that specializes in sustainably grown cherry tomatoes.

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