The Dutch company, Finefield's latest harvester is called the Harvy 500. This machine has been nominated for the Horst aan de Maas Entrepreneurial Award's Innovation Award. "Sadly, due to the new [COVID-19] measures, this award ceremony was postponed. So we'll have to wait a little longer to see if we've actually won,'' begins Finefield's Business Director Marcel Beelen.
The worldwide labor shortage is intensifying the demand for automation. That is leading to all kinds of machines being developed. These are meant to help with harvesting and, so, solve the labor shortage issue. Finefield specializes in building blueberry harvesters. This young company is a forerunner in this field. ''The agribusiness sector is just entering the automation war. And due to the current situation, it, too, will have to take the step towards robotization.''
The Driessen brothers' desire for efficiency led to Finefield's creation. "Marcel and Leon are in the blueberry business. Because of its growth, in 2012, they wanted to streamline their harvesting process. The idea was a mechanical harvesting aid," explains Marcel.
"It was to optimize the berry picking, collection, and transport. That led to the collaboration with engineer Mike Janssen. He transformed this idea into a working prototype. Then designer, Peter Geurts, joined the team. That was so they could bring the first model - the Easy Harvester - to the market.''
These entrepreneurs decided to make their partnership official in 2018. Thus, Finefield was founded. Marcel joined as Business DIrector in 2019. By now, the business is a recognized name. They have recently acquired clients all over the world.
And, this ambitious company's latest feat? Its newest brainchild, the Harvy500, has been nominated for the Innovation Award. ''This machine is a newly-designed platform for harvesting blueberries," says Marcel.
"We based it on our earlier model, the Harvy200. That used to be the Easy Harvester. Unlike its predecessor, the Harvy500 steers itself through the rows completely autonomously. You don't need a driver for that."
The sustainable machine is fitted with solar panels. These provide power to the 100% electric harvester. You don't need to charge it during the season. Nevertheless, Finefield supplies a generator for growers who want to work at night. ''A fully charged battery sometimes doesn't quite cut it. It can keep the machine running for about six hours,'' Marcel continues.
The machine can harvest up to 1,000kg/hour. That amount depends on what is hanging on the bushes. However, these huge volumes are not achieved at the expense of quality, Marcel assures. ''On the contrary. We've supplied several growers who say the blueberries' quality is sometimes even better than those picked by hand. Also, with competing machines, we often see a harvest loss of about 20 to 30%. With the Harvy500, we've managed to cut that to five percent."
Besides having this innovative machine, the company wants to have a distinctive service concept. ''We collect data with this machine that we can access in real-time. With this, we can do three things."
"Firstly, we want to be able to provide remote service. If the harvester stops, we can immediately see what's wrong. That's via the data link and we can help the operator solve the problem as quickly as possible," says Marcel.
"That means the machine is non-operational for a minimum amount of time. The service technicians also have minimal traveling distances. Remote service may not be possible due to, say, a mechanical problem. We then ensure that critical spare parts are always nearby. The 'local blacksmith' can even replace these."
''Secondly, we practice preventative management. We know a certain engine will fail after x number of hours. We can then advise replacement when that engine nears its limit," Marcel explains. "Finally, we can provide harvest data. We can see exactly how much can be harvested in each part of the field. And the customers have an app. So, they can always access the harvest and breakdown data."
Finefield wants to be a fresh market blueberry harvester market leader in five years. ''At the beginning of next year, there will be a branch in North America. And we're also looking for a location in Asia. We don't want to keep expanding the branches. But we do want to be in the best strategic locations."
"Then we can provide optimal remote service anywhere in the world,'' Marcel concludes. The company has seen that moving large groups of people is not the solution. The pandemic and other world events have proved that. They consider data-driven automation as the industry's future business model.