A new robotic arm used to move and arrange boxes of produce at the Fresno State Bee Sweet Citrus Processing Laboratory was unveiled Oct. 8 to students, faculty, staff and supporters of the Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology.

The robotic arm has a nearly seven-foot reach and a 150-pound payload capacity. It can also be used for inspection, packaging and machine tending.

The robotic arm was made possible by a gift from Bee Sweet Citrus, which was founded in 1987 by Jim Marderosian, the company’s president and a 1979 Fresno State agricultural business graduate.

Photo by Geoff Thurner

“We sincerely thank our friends and supporters at Bee Sweet Citrus for providing this innovative, automated equipment that is utilized by manufacturers in many fields,” said Dennis Nef, dean of the Jordan College. “We’re proud that this lab is the first of its kind on a college campus. It is a vital step in providing hands-on training and connecting our students and faculty with industry in the nation’s leading agricultural area.”

The equipment was installed, customized, calibrated and integrated into the existing packing line by Klippenstein Corporation of Fresno.

The laboratory is the location for a three-unit industrial technology course taught by Thomas Marderosian, an information technology manager for Bee Sweet Citrus, and Dr. Athanasios Alexandrou, chair of the Department of Industrial Technology. The course emphasizes citrus processing line operation, safety and maintenance, and is also taken by students from other Jordan College departments.

The equipment, located in the Gross Industrial Technology building (Room 154), inspects citrus fruit with ultraviolet fluorescence (black light) to remove citrus with poor peel quality and decay. It then cleans, washes and sorts up to 18 pieces of ripe fruit per second to be boxed and labeled.

The laboratory was introduced in February 2017 and was made possible by a contribution from Bee Sweet Citrus and equipment donated by six area equipment manufacturers.

“Being able to give Fresno State students the chance to work with this innovative equipment is extremely important,” said Jim Marderosian. “The hands-on training they receive in classes with this equipment helps prepare them for highly skilled positions that our industry especially needs. It also gives them insight into an exciting career field that also helps provide for our families and communities.”

Bee Sweet Citrus is an independent packer and shipper of oranges, lemons, grapefruit, mandarins and other produce. The company ships products throughout the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Rim countries.

The company also supports the University by providing fresh produce to the Fresno State Student Cupboard that provides free food and hygienic supplies to students.