Have you ever tried to remove the core of a lettuce or a cabbage? Or chop the stem off a broccoli so that you’re left with those lovely vibrant florets? Or even tried to neatly slice all those little brussels sprouts off the stalk?

Maybe you have. But have you done it 100 times in a row? On your feet, in a cold factory? Unlikely.

Now if you’ll have done even one of these things, you’ll know it’s not the easiest task. Just type it into YouTube and you’ll see pages and pages of kitchen whizzes showing you exactly how to do it with their very own home grown produce (and a very expensive and very intimidating knife in hand!). Even Google’s search engine is full of questions like:

“How do you remove the core from lettuce?”
“How do you cut lettuce hack?”
“How do you break up a head of lettuce?”
“How do you remove the stem from a head of lettuce?”

And there is a reason for that. These brassica vegetables are fiddly, the stems are often very thick and hard and with a sharp knife in your hand, a momentary lapse of attention can be costly. Now imagine that on an industrial scale.

According to a journal article in Front Microbial, 96.4 million tonnes of vegetable brassicas were produced globally in 2020. This means there are hundreds and thousands of agricultural produce farmers and processers across the globe who have a vegetable de-coring step as a part of their daily operations. And unsurprisingly, finding enough workers to do it is yet another challenge they face.

With so many of these vegetables being processed every day, the number of staff needed to keep up with this manual workload is also high. Unfortunately, willing individuals can be hard to come by. The long hours (often ten-hour shifts), uncomfortable working conditions and remote locations for minimum wage payslips don’t make for an attractive job. This, in turn, results in an unstable and costly workforce for the company. Not ideal when you they have tonnes and tonnes of produce to process.

No room for wonky veg!

There’s also the question of consistency and quality. As we know, every human being is unique, and we all do things with a degree of difference. This means that with a team of 10 to 20 workers, each cut, slice, and removal will differ from the last. Sadly, we’re not yet at an age where all consumers are happy to buy inconsistent or even wonky veg which means that supermarkets are looking for consistency and uniformity in the produce they stock. Variable quality and consistency just won’t cut it.

What can be done?

In this day and age, there is plenty of technology to help us improve our processing and manufacturing operations. AI is improving rapidly, and robotic machinery is very often the solution. There are robots and machine vision systems that can be trained to analyse a vegetable such as a broccoli, a lettuce, or a cabbage, calculate its measurements and position a cutting tool at the exact right angle to remove the stem or core with remarkably high accuracy and little to no wastage.

This is exactly what we did at Scorpion Vision for our client, a large-scale farmer that grows and processes thousands of lettuce for the wholesale market. Using a selection of cameras, vision systems and computers from our range of technologies, we designed a system to de-core the lettuce heads quickly and efficiently. This, in turn, increased throughput and productivity. Not to mention the money it saved!

Find out more about this de-coring project here: 3D Vegetable De-coring.