The Yakima Herald-Republic has a story today about the technologies being used by fruit packers. It illustrates how industries faced with increasingly high labor costs adopt technologies that automate the work to some extent, reducing demand for low-skill workers. Some excerpts:
The job used to be done only by people with knives.
But these days on the packing line at Allan Bros. Fruit, a light spectrometer wired to near-infrared scanners checks organic Fujis for internal defects at the rate of about 2,400 apples per minute. . . .
Washington Fruit in Yakima, Valicoff Fruit in Wapato and E.W. Brandt and Sons in Wapato all have similar upgrades in the works, driven by quality expectations as well as tightening food regulations and increasing labor costs. . . .
With the new equipment, [Valicoff Fruit] will be able to roughly double its capacity and still shave up to 25 employees from its workforce of 100, saving more than $500,000 a year in wages and payroll taxes, said Rob Valicoff, president of the company. . . .
All the developments will allow [Allan Bros.] to maintain staffing levels to keep up with extra volume. Over the past seven years, the company has more than doubled the volume of fruit packed.
However, don’t expect machines to completely replace people in the packing sheds. Companies now need a new kind of technical employee to operate the computer-controlled systems.