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Customer: Sweet Lions
Crop: Specialty Cherry Tomatoes
Acreage: 8 hectare
Location: Grubbenvorst, The Netherlands
A third of the time
In the 25 years Jack has worked for Sweet Lions he has experienced many changes, all aimed at working more efficiently and improving the quality of the end product. “When I started here the standard was an hour per row. Now it's been cut by two-thirds, to just 20 minutes per row,” Jack tells as an example of a positive development within the company. “This achievement boils down to a number of factors, such as choice of crop variety, plant spacing, you name it. And automation is certainly a key one.”
The fact that automation is so important for Sweet Lions is clear from the fact that they’ve been using Ridder software for over 20 years. They started with P-Plus and then switched to Productive in 2015. With the switch from P-Plus to Productive, the application has become much more user-friendly, according to Jack. “Because it now runs on SQL server, there are all kinds of ways to present charts and figures. We used to do this in Excel. I was the one who was always fiddling with data in Excel. But when I was away on holiday or on sick leave there was no one else who could do it. And that's a situation we wanted to avoid. That’s why Productive is so beneficial for this company; the data can simply be extracted from the system directly through the software. You can compile the reports any way you like. You can move columns and that makes it much easier to analyse the data values.” The level of quality and the ‘regular’ productivity results achieved by workers are the most important values for Jack. “Because those hours represent the costs. You try to reduce them as much as possible.”
Quality and quantity
In 2017, Sweet Lions expanded the system with Ridder’s iManager., enabling them to assess the quality of the work even better. “We used to do this by putting lines on a sheet of paper and then we processed those lines in an Excel program. We wanted to manage this from one location, so we could also combine the data on the quality and quantity of the work.” Jack chuckles and adds, “Then there's also the fact that I'm not getting any younger. So we had to look for another, simpler solution so everyone can work with the data, not just me. This way you can also bring all this data together in one report, to create a clear overview.” From Jack's perspective, iManager has achieved all this over the past year. “We now use the application exclusively. The Excel program we used to use is now completely out of the picture, and we can use the system exactly the way we want to.”
What he also likes about iManager, is real-time information about the status of tasks. “The supervisors can simply check their smartphone to see how the work is progressing, which rows are finished, which rows have been skipped, etc. And I see that as essential. You have up-to-the-minute data on production volumes. That is completely different from the old situation in which you didn't know the status of production until you sat down at your computer in the evening. By that point it was often too late to take action, such as calling in extra personnel for the next day. Now you just look at your phone during the day and you have real-time insight into the current status.
Jack sees the ability to immediately evaluate the work in progress as the main improvement from using iManager. “We're no longer taking corrective action after the fact. Now we can get things back on track the moment we see something is not going exactly as it should. Everything is real-time, so you can intervene immediately and discuss things with the people responsible straight away so they learn from their mistakes.”
What Jack is particularly proud of is the mobile weighing scale he developed in cooperation with Ridder. One mobile weighing scale for the old carts with a narrow track and one for the new carts with a wide track. He helped Ridder develop the procedure and the protocol embedded in the weighing scales. “The scale features a cart recognition system. Each morning everyone choses a cart. Then when you roll the cart onto the weighing scale all you have to do is enter the row number and everything else is done automatically. That makes a huge difference in terms of preventing mistakes. If you have to enter the cart number, personnel number, weight and even the row number yourself, there are many opportunities for errors.” Sweet Lions has been using the system since 2000, and they are still very happy with it. It works great.” Very few mistakes are made entering the harvests.”
Significant time savings
In addition to significantly reducing the chance of errors, Jack says another big advantage of the mobile scales is time savings. “It saves a tonne of time that would otherwise be spent manually entering data into the computer. Besides that, we have a lot of workers. Sometimes we have 60 pickers working at the same time. The last thing we want is for queues to form at the weighing scales. That kills your efficiency. With the mobile weighing scale, pickers can weigh straight away, and that makes a big difference.”
The cultivation data collected during those 20 years is invaluable for planning. “Thanks to the production tracking software, our planning has improved a lot compared to the past and we don’t have to worry about the labour at all,” says Jack from experience. “In 2013 we expanded the greenhouse area by 60% and that went very smoothly, all based on the data that was available.” Currently Sweet Lions is expanding their operation with an additional 5 hectares of glass.
“Eat more tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes”
Even though Jack regularly jokes that the bulk of his career is behind him, he has no plans to retire any time soon. “I'm still very happy working here. Sweet Lions is a great company to work for and there’s still a lot of potential, including the upcoming expansions.” When asked if he has anything he'd like to add to the story, his response is not unexpected: “I would say eat more tomatoes, especially cherry tomatoes!" referring to the sweet Red and Yellow Lions cherry tomatoes. A great tip and a product that Jack and his colleagues can rightly be very proud of!
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