How Red Rich Fruits Increased Productivity

With capacity to house an Airbus A380, Australia’s biggest clear span fruit packing shed has enabled Victorian-based Red Rich Fruits to double production output and significantly improve efficiencies.

Designed and constructed by Entegra Signature Structures in 2018-19 to have no internal columns or posts, the facility gives vehicles unimpeded space to move around its interior.

This is a ground-breaking innovation for the nation’s horticultural sector.

The clear span construction method has also led to Red Rich Fruits introducing latest technologies in conveyor, grading, packing and coolroom storage systems in a bid to further boost logistics productivity.

Key points
  • Clear span technology to remove internal columns or posts
  • the facility gives vehicles unimpeded space and is wide enough for an Airbus A380
  • Standing nine metres high (to the eaves) and at 128m long and 80m wide – with 10m canopies on two sides
  • Red Rich Fruits director Michael Napoleone said establishing the new packing shed had led to big efficiency gains for the company

The company, owned by the Napoleone family, is one of Australia’s leading fruit growers, marketers and exporters and commissioned the new shed at its 400 hectare Yarra Valley property to replace a smaller packing centre it had outgrown.

Situated on the main highway that runs through this prime horticultural and viticulture area, the packing facility is hard to miss.

Standing nine metres high (to the eaves) and at 128m long and 80m wide – with 10m canopies on two sides – it has a footprint of almost 2200 square metres of unimpeded floorspace under one roof.

GROWING CAPACITY: Red Rich Fruits has been able to significantly increase the volumes of apples and pears being packed in the Yarra Valley each week.

Entegra projects team manager Brian White said the shed design brief from Red Rich Fruits was to achieve the biggest clear span area possible.

“It was a challenge, as prior to this project we had built many hay sheds with a clear span of 45m and some sheds with a 60m clear span – but never any wider than that,” he said.

“To push this out to 80m we had to break new ground in architectural design and in our own manufacturing systems.”

Entegra engineered new handling, welding and crane systems for its manufacturing plant in Victoria – using latest global technologies – to make trusses that were 2.7m deep. This is double the scale of what it had ever done previously.

“As a result of this project, we now have significantly expanded capacity to do more of these types of projects in future,” Mr White said.

He said the Red Rich Fruits’ packing shed was Entegra’s biggest commission to date and had set new precedents in logistics in Australia’s horticultural sector.

The ‘turnkey’ project meant the company designed, manufactured and installed all components – from the unique steel work to cladding, concrete panels and roofing – within the specified three month on-site timeframe. It also navigated the regulatory planning and approvals processes on behalf of Red Rich Fruits.

Mr White said the packing shed had a ‘passive box’ design to drive down energy costs.

He said this included capacity to maximise solar loading to produce between 650kW and 1000kW on a roof space of 10,000 square metres, and the potential to harvest 100 per cent of rainfall for other uses at the site.

Red Rich Fruits director Michael Napoleone said establishing the new packing shed had led to big efficiency gains for the company.

He said it had been able to double the volume of apples and pears being graded, packed and marketed through the facility to about 400 tonnes per week – and this could be achieved in significantly less time.

Family business: Red Rich Fruits director Michael Napoleone and his son Jack

Apples and pears are a core part of the company’s operation in the Yarra Valley – where it also has a vineyard and grows and packs stonefruit and citrus – and complements its facilities in New South Wales and Queensland for citrus and the Northern Territory for mangoes.

Mr Napoleone said along with the new shed construction, Red Rich Fruits had fitted it out with latest fruit grading and packing equipment that incorporated state-of-the-art European technologies.

This included photographic imagery systems to check the inside of apples and pears for faults, and then electronically sort the fruit into grades.

Inside Red Rich – Fruit Packing Shed

Leading Maf conveyor belt and packing equipment from France has been installed, along with three coolstore areas for holding: fruit ready to pack; packed fruit ready for distribution; and packed product ready for loading.

Red Rich Fruits grows about 80 per cent of the apples and pears packed through the Yarra Valley facility and the remainder comes from a small group of local producers.

Mr Napoleone said the new shed had not only doubled fruit throughput capacity, but had fast-tracked grading.

“We also improved control systems in cold storage areas to ensure even better quality and longevity of product for marketing,” he said.

“And we now have capacity to grow our business in future, which is exciting for the next generation of the family coming on board,” he said.

Entegra managing director Laurie McCalman said the Red Rich Fruits project particularly resonated with him because both parties were well-established, family-owned and run businesses with a strong background in Australian agriculture and horticulture.

“And it was a great challenge for us from a design and engineering perspective – pushing the status quo,” he said.

“This packing shed is on the scale of hangars that are able to house the world’s biggest aircraft, and no one outside the aviation sector has built a clear span shed of this size.

“We are always looking to outdo our most recent project.

“This attitude means our teams are continually seeking out the latest innovations and materials to incorporate into our own business and, in turn, improve the productivity of our clients’ operations.”

Mr McCalman said for the Red Rich Fruits project, new cranes had to be sourced and installed at Entegra’s Swan Hill plant to safely and efficiently handle the production of 2.7m deep trusses.

“Innovations like this feed our appetite to confidently take on more projects that push the boundaries for our company, and to deliver tailored solutions to meet the specifications and goals of our clients,” he said.

“That applies across our whole product range, including steel hay and machinery sheds for farmers, warehousing and distribution facilities for the commercial sector, aviation hangars and equine areas.”

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