Sessions Company, a family owned and operated peanut sheller and processor headquartered in Enterprise, Alabama, cooperates with Alabama, Georgia, and Florida growers to produce quality shelled peanuts and peanut seed. In addition, they are producers of crude peanut oil and peanut meal. Sessions Co. Inc. was founded in 1917. Mr. H. M. Sessions was in the business of ‘Farm Furnishing’.
When the Boll Weevil insect devastated the cotton crop, farmers and agribusiness began looking for alternative crops. Through the combined efforts of several people, the peanut was planted in Coffee County, Alabama. In 1932, the Sessions brothers formed Sessions Company Inc. whose primary business was the manufacturing and sale of peanut butter. In 1948, Sessions Co. Inc. began the business of shelling peanuts. One cannot make peanut butter and distribute peanut seed unless the peanuts are shelled first.
At this time much labor was directed to hand picking damaged kernels out of the shelled peanuts. The use of picking tables was usually staffed with women. It is not uncommon to meet someone in Enterprise, Alabama, who will tell you that their grandmother hand-picked peanuts for Sessions Co. Inc.
In 1977, a new shelling plant was inaugurated. “At that point, we began to use sorting technology,” says Larry Milliner, Vice-President of Operations at Sessions. “We started using color sorters. Sessions Company is committed to customer satisfaction. Our entire efforts in marketing, purchasing, production and shipping are oriented to supplying our customers’ needs. The quality of our products is the most important part of our customers’ satisfaction.”
The company today employs about 75 people. “We do not export a lot of our products; we focus mainly on production for companies in the United States. We are not the biggest company out there, but we hope we produce the very best product possible,” explains Milliner.
In 2007 the company heard about TOMRA Sorting. A peanut broker that Sessions Co. spoke with on a regular basis told them there were laser sorting machines used in other plants. Sessions wanted to know more about it and through an internet search found out about a sorting company in Belgium. They had the opportunity to visit the other plants where TOMRA equipment was installed. Two machines were running and after a period watching the machines and the sorted products, there weren’t a whole lot of decisions to be made. Milliner and his team were convinced.
They did some background checks with other companies and then finally contacted TOMRA who referred them to Bill Crowley of CSI, who works together with TOMRA sales people in the South East of the United States. Within three months Sessions has ordered the machine. Crowley helped them in choosing the best solution. As a result, Sessions did not have to change the layout of the plant to accommodate the additional mechanical equipment.
“We decided to install a Helius free fall sorter. We noticed that it is good at detecting foreign material, but because it penetrates the peanut skin a little bit, it also allows the machine to see the alfatoxin underneath, which the naked eye cannomarketingt see,” says Milliner. “Before we installed the Helius we had some lots ‘out’ on aflatoxin that year. We brought them back in and had them checked by the Helius, resulting in all of them being accepted. This means enormous savings for us, because we do not have to transport them to a blancher, which means no blanching fee. Also, since the loss through the Helius is so much smaller, we see a good payback on our investment.”
When the Helius free fall sorter was introduced, Milliner felt like it was the best equipment on the market. The company had mixed results with previous machines from other suppliers. They felt that the Helius could do a lot more than color sorting. It looks for non-conformities of what it is sorting rather than just sorting the color of the material. Sometimes the size and shape of the kernel are important factors in sorting.
“We just felt like the Helius would be a better fit to what we are trying to do and we see now that the Helius has performed very well. Two years ago we had a high alfatoxin crop and that’s when we elected to put in the Helius sorter on the ‘Split’ line. We were fortunate in making that decision. Because the machine looks at both sides of the peanut, we were not losing any splits. I believe the Detox technology is really a great technological innovation. For is, it is crucial in getting out the aflatoxin contamination and making us do a better job.”
Investing in technology
“When making an important decision to invest in sorting technology, you need to be certain of the return it will bring and be able to convince the management of the company. We did not have difficulties doing that, because we were confident of what the machine could do. We installed the machine in a way that we could bypass it when we would not need it. But so far, the machine has always been integrated into the process, since we depend on it in our quest for optimal quality. If we decided to take it out, I am sure our operators would fight us to have it back in.”
Service became part of the family
Milliner gives tremendous credit to the TOMRA engineers. “We have a special relationship with Koen Pauwels, our regular TOMRA Service Engineer. He was here during the initial startup and the education that he gave all of us was simply perfect. The machine runs fourteen hours per day and often more than five days a week and the maintenance level is very low. It just functions, which makes our day better. And we have had many good days since we began working with TOMRA,” say Milliner.
“Luckily, we have not had serious problems, but when we need assistance in one way or another, we can always call the TOMRA office in Belgium or in Denver, Colorado. We have faith in the technicians and they are always open to help. The PAX system is also very useful. When we see that our machine needs some fine tuning or we experience a problem, we just call the TOMRA office and one of the technicians can easily log into our machine and make the necessary adaptations to improve sorting efficiencies. We are very happy to be part of the TOMRA group because they are a group of customer oriented, smart people that not only know their job, but also have good communication skills when they interact with us.”
Sessions depends on TOMRA for future developments. “We trust in their knowledge. We are confident that TOMRA is working in its headquarters on the right developments. If they tell us that they have a new laser or an upgrade, there will be no second guesses on our side. For us it is very important to continue in the way we are performing and have the good quality and high amount of products on the ‘accept’ side,” continues Milliner. “We run tests on the good products five times a day and see that the Helius sorter has very few false rejects and an accurate detection of foreign material and aflatoxin. It is better than our own eyes, since it can penetrate the peanut to detect non-visible aflatoxin. For us, there is no other machine that has the same performance, especially for the detection of not only foreign material but also aflatoxin. If anyone asks, I promote the TOMRA Helius sorter!” concludes Milliner