Townsend: For the past 5 years, I’ve been the Group Sales & Marketing Manager with Oryx. Before that, I ran the fresh produce operations at a pack house. I led the transition there from cardboard containers to reusables.
RPA Editor: That’s pretty interesting. What were the challenges of the transition?
Townsend: It was a really big transition; it created changes in a lot of processes all over the pack house. We did it because we wanted the benefits of improved quality of produce. The extra stability and ventilation provided by the RPCs decrease damage to the produce. It took time for everyone to adapt to the changes, but we were successful.
RPA Editor: Describe what Oryx brings to the reusables market.
Townsend: We automate a lot of the manual processes involved with collapsible, nestable, and stackable reusable containers. For example, a company will have several employees doing nothing other than opening and setting up collapsed crates. It’s a lot of repetitive work that doesn’t add any value, and it can create worker safety issues. Our machines open the collapsed crates, and then stack them on pallets where workers can move them to the areas they are needed. Or we can hook up a conveyor so that the opened crates are automatically integrated into a production line. And we don’t just supply the automation equipment. We work with companies to show them how they can be more productive and efficient.
We also bring automation to the in- and out-phases of wash plants. Our machines take collapsed crates off a pallet, open them, remove the trash, and deliver them on a conveyor to the washroom. After washing, our equipment can dry, sort, collapse, stack, and palletize the containers. Our equipment can also be integrated with stretch wrappers. So we remove all those manual and costly processes from unloading (depalletizing) to erecting, conveying, drying, sorting, redirecting, and palletizing.
RPA Editor: What are your biggest markets?
Townsend: In Australia – our headquarters – we are strong in fresh produce and dairy, and we are entering the meat industry, too. In the US, we are working with bakeries, egg producers, and other dairy industries.
RPA Editor: Compare the market in Australia to the US.
Townsend: There is stronger adoption of automation in Australia because the minimum wage rate is higher than in the US, so companies quickly see the ROI. Most of the major pack houses and a lot of supermarkets in Australia use some form of RPC automation. The recognition of the need for our product comes after companies have been using reusables for awhile. First, they need to focus on other process changes. Then after a bit of time, they realize they can move some workers away from the repetitive tasks and on to a different position that can add value. We are starting to see more growth in the US now.
RPA Editor: How long have you been in the US market?
Townsend: We’ve been in this market 5 years. We’ve developed a really good service network with a US company. We entered the market just before the financial crisis and that hurt us initially. But we’ve sold more machines over the last 18 months than we did in the first 3.5 years so it feels like the market is coming back. Also, more companies in the US are adopting reusables so that is a good sign, too.
RPA Editor: What benefits have you gained by being a part of the RPA?
Townsend: We joined because we wanted to find a supplier network to tap into, and the RPA helped us accomplish that. We’ve done quite a bit of networking and also gotten to learn more about the reusables packaging industry in the US. It’s a very accessible network.
RPA Editor: You recently volunteered to be on the RPC Food Safety Standards Committee. What prompted you to get involved?
Townsend: I’m already on the Supply Chain Council at United Fresh and the RPC committee seems like a good fit. I think food safety is a really important issue, and Oryx is committed to staying abreast of new standards and issues.
It is very powerful and very useful that the RPA can bring together companies that cover a wide spectrum of the food supply chain into one committee. You need all the parties – grower, washer, end user, etcetera – to come together to talk about quality assurance and have a common understanding on all levels. There’s nothing worse than having four different committees working on an issue and coming up with four different standards.
RPA Editor: You travel often between Australia and the US. What is that like?
I live in Sydney and I travel to the US every 6 to 8 weeks. It’s a 14-hour trip so it can be pretty grueling. But there is no phone or internet service, and I kind of enjoy having a stretch of time when no one is calling me and I get to watch movies! I really enjoy visiting and working in the USA. The people are friendly, hard working, and polite. It motivates me.