Exclusive Interview: Key Technology Celebrates 70 Years!
In this interview I talked with Jack Ehren, Key Technology’s president, we discussed the evolution of the company, now that it is celebrating its 70th anniversary, but also about the challenges and future prospects of one of the most important potato equipment manufacturers, now a member of the Duravant family.
How would you characterize the evolution of Key Technology in the past 70 years? Please describe the most noteworthy moments in the company’s development.
Key Technology has been at the forefront of revolutionizing the food processing industry since its inception in 1948. One noteworthy moment for the potato processing industry came in 1978 with the invention of our patented Iso-Flo®, the world’s first two-mass vibratory conveyor with an indirect drive. This innovation improved not only the way processors move potato products but how they size grade, feed, collect, transfer and distribute to make the equipment around it more efficient. Another notable moment was our development of the legendary ADR® (Automatic Defect Removal) system for potato strips, which was commercialized in 1982. Taking on the active role of defect removal by trimming the strips, ADR transformed optical inspection and made it possible to produce the perfect potato strip, free of defects, while significantly reducing labor costs. Key’s entry into optical sorting in 1985 was pivotal for the company in that it led to many important technological advancements, including the first Chip Sorter in 1987 and, most recently, the next-generation VERYX® digital sorter in 2015.
How has the market for equipment targeting potato processing evolved in the last 70 years? In turn, how has the company adapted to market changes and demands?
Quality, yield and labor have been consistent driving forces behind the demand for new equipment in the potato processing industry over the years, with differing degrees of pressure on each of these areas at different times. Evolution has come from raising the standards of performance on each of these fronts through the continuous improvement of technology. To be at the forefront, we forge close collaborative partnerships with our customers – we listen closely as they describe their challenges, and then we work to develop new solutions that solve those outstanding problems and ultimately strengthen their competitive advantages.
Which equipment categories have been the most successful in terms of sales for Key Technology?
Both our Automated Inspection Systems and our Specialized Conveying Systems groups have been very successful. In fact, we’ve dropped products such as steam peelers, metal detectors and some processing systems for niche markets to focus our energy as a world leader of optical inspection and vibratory conveyor systems.
Referring to R&D, what should your clients and potential business partners expect, with regards to new equipment currently being researched for the potato industry?
We continually develop new systems, including new features and functionality, to help our customers optimize their product quality and increase yields while minimizing labor. The initiatives we’re working on include the following:
Developing truly autonomous systems using smart solutions that eliminate human interaction during normal production to reduce labor while improving system performance.
Improving equipment versatility to better run a wide variety of product with either no changes in setup or leveraging smart solutions that automate setup.
Advancing inspection capabilities, especially in the areas of internal defect detection and other conditions that do not present visible external evidence.
Confirming performance with smart sorters that monitor the health of their critical systems and confirm the physical removal of critical defects and FM from the product stream.
Adding value by leveraging digital sorters as powerful information centers using ‘Information Analytics’ to collect and analyze real-time data and share that data with supervisory line management systems.
Enhancing sanitation, which includes both superior equipment hygiene as well as systems that are quicker to clean with fewer people.
Improving system reliability and speeding repairs to minimize downtime.
Handling increased throughputs as production lines get larger.
You can read more in our print magazine Potato Processing International (Sept/Oct 2018)!