A Compac Sorting Equipment line sorts fruit at a Goede Hoop Citrus plant in South Africa.
A Compac Sorting Equipment line sorts fruit at a Goede Hoop Citrus plant in South Africa.

New Zealand-based Compac Sorting Equipment has entered a $15 million contract to design a sorting and packing line for Paramount Citrus Association, Delano, Calif.

“This is the largest project we’ve ever done,” said Nathan Soich, sales and marketing coordinator for Compac.

About a third of the amount will go to Fruit Handling Systems, Hastings, New Zealand, in which Compac holds a 50% stake. Compac is based in Auckland, New Zealand.

Various machines, including a sorter the length of a rugby field, will be built for Paramount Citrus’ planned 57,000-square foot packing facility, under construction in Delano.

The Compac equipment will sort about 2.7 million mandarins hourly and run 20 hours daily during the citrus packing season.

The project will last five to six months and fill more than 40 container loads leaving Compac’s Onehunga, New Zealand, factory at a rate of about two per week. About 20 installers and project managers will then travel to California to reassemble the machines on site. Installation is expected to be complete by the end of September.

The company’s machines can sort mandarins based on size, shape, color and surface blemishes. Compac’s InVision software sends them to packing destinations based on scan data.

Digital cameras take up to 30 images of each rotating mandarin and build a three-dimensional model of it within seconds.

Compac has more than 100 U.S. customers, and has been in this market since the 1990s. Most installations are in Washington. The company’s machines sort about 70% of the state’s apple crop, Soich said, plus the majority of California mandarins. Some of their U.S. clients include Fowler Packing Co.; Rainier Fruit Co.; and Riveridge Packing. They have business in several other commodities.

Compac had assistance from both the New Zealand Ministry of Science and Innovation and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. The ministry, formerly the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, invested more than $4.25 million. In 2010, Compac matched $3.7 million of that to develop its sorting and grading machine.

The company is adding about 20 staff. Some will work only for the duration of the project; others will be service staff in California.

“We’re also currently recruiting for new sales team members to be based in California as we want to grow our market share in the U.S. significantly,” Soich said. The company has an office in Visalia.

Before the Paramount deal, Compac’s single biggest project was for a Chilean avocado and lemon packer. Compac has supplied clients in South America, Europe and Africa.