Plant City, Fla.-based VirtualOne has filed a patent for an invention that combines robotics and laser marking to provide cost-effective case-level identification that meets the Produce Traceability Initiative.

The machine is the brainchild of Plant City berry grower Gary Wishnatzki and robotics engineer Bob Pitzer.

“This machine is designed not just for strawberries,” says Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Wish Farms. “It’s designed for widespread industry use across a wide variety of commodities.”

Users simply place a stacked pallet of cartons on a conveyor or short roller bed. The machine, guided by a vision camera, quickly moves around the pallet. In a matter of seconds, a Masca Laser marks each carton with a bar code and accompanying text.

The camera also will identify the location on each carton where the markings should be placed.

The system is designed for bulk commodities, such as cantaloupe or celery, that are packed in cartons.

Wishnatzki says they plan to test a beta unit this summer.

Since its inception last summer, he says the technology has drawn a lot of interest within the industry.

One of the benefits Wishnatzki says this type of green technology has over labels that carry PTI information is the lack of waste. You only mark the cartons once they’re packed.

“This solves one of the major challenges of printing massive amounts of labels,” he says.

This type of technology also allows you to customize the types of information that are placed on the carton. When the PTI was first introduced, Wishnatzki says he was afraid that different retailers would require different types of information.

Those concerns are coming true, as Kroger already has unveiled its own version.

“Every different retailer is going to come up with their own version of what they want the PTI labels to look like,” he says. “With this, you can customize the information. This will be a big help for shippers. This system will help facilitate custom marking because it is built to work within a cooler environment.”

He and Pitzer plan to fine tune the unit so it also will work on waxed cartons.

This type of technology also will provide opportunities for case-level identification of wooden cartons, such as those used for hydrocooling sweet corn. Currently, Wishnatzki says, there is no viable labeling method.