The Californian firm Jessee Equipment Manufacturing is one of the world's leading companies in the manufacture and design of processing equipment for the walnut industry. Peelers, dryers, calibration machines of different types, mechanical cracking lines and suction systems are some of its main products.Two of its top executives spent a few days in Chile meeting with walnut entrepreneurs, directors of the Chilean Walnut Commission and Ceres SPA. They were its CEO, Rick Simas, and its commercial manager, Steven Smallwood. Ceres SPA represents Jessee in Chile.
One of the leading processing lines offered is the mechanical crackers. In this regard, Rick Simas explained that mechanical cracking is important for the companies and producing countries, as it allows them greater flexibility in the supply, especially in a market like the Chilean one, which has high rates of growth in its exported volume and rising needs in the primary stages of walnut peeling and drying.
"When the market for cracked walnuts is attractive (better than for walnuts in shell) you have the option of cracking and selling the kernels, just as it's done in the US. In Chile, there are companies that sell only walnuts in shell, but we are currently setting up machines for them, because they need the flexibility to supply both products," said Simas.He also stresses that mechanical cracking is much faster than the manual one, which is useful when it comes to working in greater scales and competing in the international markets. "In Chile, the cost of labour is high and in the United States even more, so we don't crack anything by hand and everything is carried out by machines. As labour becomes more expensive and less available, you will see less and less manual cracking," he added.
Adaptation of equipment to the needs of client and country.According to the representatives in Chile, there are currently several operating systems which had to be adapted, namely Double Suction Systems, AirKnife Systems or High Pressure Air Curtains, Empty Walnut Vacuums, Galvanised Dryers, Pre-cleaning Systems, Horizontal calibration systems or Rotary dryers developed in partnership with a major Chilean producer, as well as the control panel interface type PLC or touch screen.
Some differentiated aspects that required the equipment to be adapted were derived from facts such as the Chandler variety having a thinner skin in Chile than in the US, "which means that we double our efforts to ensure a more careful treatment of the nut. Our equipment has the ability to change the flow rate by means of a touchscreen computer, but we also work very hard in the whole peeling process. It is important for us not to damage the product," explained the professional.
On the other hand, "before shipment to Chile, whether we are dealing with peelers or crackers, we invite our clients to travel to the United States to see their equipment pre-assembled and working. We want the customer to see it in operation, to try it and become familiar with it. We offer a complete service, so that when you receive it you won't need much more than just assembling it; and it is easy to import, since everything is adapted to be transported in containers."
As regards the plans of the company to expand in Chile, especially after the industry's production increase and the sector's need to have more machinery to speed up the process, Simas clarified that "the United States also suffers a lack of capacity to process; we are producing more, and as Chile grows according to its projections, there will continue to be problems to keep up with the peeling and drying that will get worse in time, making it compulsory for investments to be made in a timely manner."
The professional also spoke on the differences between the walnut industries of California and of Chile, specifying that, in his opinion, there are no great differences. "The difference, more than anything, lies in the size of operations. California is obviously a much more mature market, working in a larger scale, which requires greater efficiency and speed," he added "Chile is growing and I could perfectly imagine some of its companies being in California. You are doing well; you are becoming increasingly more efficient. I see a lot of potential since the last time we were here; we see more professionalism and sophistication," he added.
At the same time, the representative pointed out that, as far as the harvest is concerned, "there are some differences, but in general, the varieties are the same. Chileans harvest the nut a little greener, while in the United States we wait for them to start to fall, so they are drier. In Chile, we see wetter fruit being peeled, which also entails longer drying times. And if we add bad weather to that, the problems can multiply," he noted.
New technologies soon to arrive in Chile
"The new equipment to arrive in Chile will be characterised by a greater degree of innovation. For example, our dryers and peelers can be opened and closed with an iPad. There is no need to operate them manually; you can do that from your bedroom if you want. We have developed the technology to remotely control, operate and troubleshoot the equipment. It would be possible to operate them remotely via the internet from California with a phone or iPad, achieving better processes and precision. We are technologically more advanced than our competitors, at least when it comes to touch screens."
He added that "our equipment is more robust; it is made for a highly demanding use and lasts for a long time (25 years). Some of our components are galvanised and others are made of stainless steel, so they won't need to be repainted and they do not rust. Our conveyors are very wide, so we can move a greater amount of product slowly, thus preventing breakage."He also commented that other innovations have to do with the handling and drying of the nut, "with availability of pre-cleaning systems for use before the peeling and dryers built in galvanised iron," he stated."Thus, we offer solutions suitable for the market with fairly simple interfaces in all our equipment. In the United States, and increasingly in Chile, our peelers and machines have a PLC, which is a touch screen, with icons similar to those of an iPad. It is very user-friendly, and with just a touch you can operate the entire system," he concluded.