Losing your pistachios can be an expensive proposition.

Paramount’s vacuum system serves more than one function: transporting nuts from silos to the processing area and cleaning silos when mounted on the trailer shown here. The custom-made frame and hopper assembly is shown in the inset photo. Source: Nilfisk.

For more than 30 years, Paramount Farms has been growing premium pistachios and almonds in California’s fertile San Joaquin Valley. Paramount has always embraced technologies that improve yields, speed harvests and streamline processing. But, transfer loss-a somewhat small step between harvest storage and pistachio processing-was costing the company. Besides lost inventory, the problem ate up man-hours and increased workers’ injury risks.

When the harvest comes in, workers deposit pistachios in 1.5-million-pound storage silos to await processing in the facility located just across the street. In the old system, nuts moved from the silos to processing on an underground conveyor system, which spilled nuts onto the tunnel floors. The problem, and its antiquated solution, frustrated Paramount’s Production Manager Nick Sharma. “We were losing about 4,000 pounds of product at a cost of approximately $4 per pound. Recovering the nuts manually, as we had been doing for 16 years, reduced some loss, but our savings were offset by labor costs.” Manual labor averaged about 15 man-hours for a three- to four-man crew, and stooping and lifting heavy buckets increased the risk of injury.

Sharma considered the task’s challenges and realized that vacuum collection could be a solution. Since the nuts are very delicate, an ordinary vacuum wouldn’t do the job. Therefore, Sharma decided to call Nilfisk-Advance America.

Nilfisk’s West Coast Sales Rep Rob Millard had developed a transport solution for another nut producer. After inspecting the site and talking through Sharma’s specifications, Millard proposed using Nilfisk-Advance America’s CFM 3707/10 vacuum system. The unit employs an 8.7 kW motor to create 187 cfm of water lift and is equipped with a 40-ft. length of the company’s CFM 600 food-grade hose with a food-grade nozzle cone.

To recover the nuts undamaged, the supplier manufactured a custom hopper and frame in stainless steel. The frame raises the collection hopper six feet off the ground, so totes fit under the manually operated chute on its conical base. The hose array allows unwanted debris to bypass the nut hopper and go straight into the vacuum’s regular collection bin.

Sharma’s team realized the unit could also be used to clean out residual nuts left in the silos after transfer, so to reach all 150 silos, the entire vacuum and hopper system was mounted on a flatbed trailer pulled by an ATV or pick-up truck.

“The unit is recovering about 2,500 pounds per hour, which is about 180 percent of the projected volume,” says Sharma. “And at that rate, we’re not seeing any significant product loss from breakage.” The task that had consumed 12 to 15 man-hours is now completed in three man-hours or less. “We’re happy about our productivity gains. It frees our people up to focus on other jobs. But reducing the risk of injuries may be even more important, not only on a human level, but on a long-term cost level as well.” 

For more information: Rachel Brogan, 610-232-5469,rachel.brogan@nilfisk-advance.com.