Preharvest fruit bagging has been a popular physical protection technique in several countries, such as China, Japan, and the United States. It is an effective way to improve fruit appearance, control pests and diseases, and reduce pesticide residues (Amarante et al., 2002; Hofman et al., 1997; Huang et al., 2009; Sharma and Sanikommu, 2018). China is the largest fruit planting and output area in the world (Wu, 2017). Lower quality and poor market competitiveness are concerning problems for Chinese fruit growers (Zhang, 2017). Fruit bagging is a favorable solution to raise fruit prices and increase economic benefits for Chinese fruit farmers (Guo, 2017; Li et al., 2016; Matsumoto et al., 2018; Sharma et al., 2014; Zhou et al., 2019). Compared with the single-layer fruit paper bag, the multilayer fruit paper bag has been used more widely, because it provides larger lightproof property and lower temperature for better coloration of fruits (Zhao and Wu, 2015). The fruit bagging process with ordinary multilayer paper bag consists of the following major steps: taking out one bag, opening the bag, putting the young fruit into the bag, and sealing the upper end of the bag. Because of the complicated operation process, automatic fruit bagging machinery suitable for the ordinary multilayer fruit paper bag is still in the research phase.
Research on mechanical fruit bagging machinery for paper fruit bags dates back to the 1990s (Monta et al., 1995a). Monta et al. (1995b and Li et al. (2011) developed a bagging end-effector that could open or close the bag by pressing two leaf springs, which were set face to face at the upper end of the bag. Hua et al. (2016) developed a portable, low-cost semiautomatic fruit bagging apparatus. The bag was fit with rubber bands along the rim and four plastic rings on its four corners, and could be delivered by a screwed pipe and slid out individually. Xu et al. (2007) developed an automatic bag-opening mechanism that could separate piled bags one by one by using a couple of vacuum sucking pans, and enlarge the bag inside maximally through arc fingers. Four wires were set on the upper end of the bag. Leng (2015) invented a bag-opening device that could separate two sides of the bag by magnet attraction. Many metal wires were set on the front side of the bag. Zhang (2016) designed an apple bagging apparatus that opened the bag by two pneumatic suction cups.
Most previous studies were based on robot technology (Fang, 2011; Ge, 2005; Wang, 2016; Wen et al., 2017), and the structure of the fruit paper bag has been improved to simplify the bagging operation. Those research achievements have not been widely applied in China because of cost considerations. According to the special terrain feature of Chinese orchards, a cheap auxiliary fruit bagging device is more desirable and applicable than the expensive automatic fruit bagging robot (Wang et al., 2018). A type of manually operated fruit bag case has been widely used in Chinese orchards, as shown in Fig. 1. The fruit paper bags are set in the fruit bag case by the spring-driven push plate and two bottom side plates. The snap plate on the upper side of the fruit bag case presses against the crescent of the outermost bag, so that the upper end of the outermost bag forms a small opening. In the process of artificial fruit bagging, farmers hang the fruit bag case on their right side. They first hold their right hand fingers together to form a taper, then insert the held fingers into the outermost bag, and finally pull their hand outward to take the outmost bag out of the fruit bag case, and extend the held fingers to open the bag fully. The device is suitable for an ordinary single-layer paper bag, but not the ordinary multilayer fruit paper bag. As the inner bag of the multilayer paper bag is every thin and easy to adhere, taking out one bag and opening it fully by hand is time-consuming, labor intensive, costly, and it is easy to bring out a broken bag. In addition, it is possibly dangerous to the farmers’ health because their hands need contact with the inner bag repeatedly. Therefore, there is a demand for a mechanized method of taking out and opening the ordinary multilayer fruit paper bag for fruit bagging.
Existing methods of taking out and opening the fruit paper bag mainly include vacuum adsorption, magnetic absorption, and pressing a leaf spring on the upper end of the bag. As different layers of the ordinary multilayer bag were generally bonded at the side edge and some local points (Zhang, 2009, 2012), those methods are not favorable to fully open the inner bag to avoid bag broken problem. To mechanize the taking out and opening operation for the ordinary multilayer fruit paper bag, the primary goal of the study was to develop a bag supplying device based on the previously described manually operated fruit bag case. The specific objectives of the study were to 1) propose a mechanism configuration scheme of the bag supplying device and determine its critical structure parameters; and 2) investigate functionality and practicality of the developed mechanical bag supplying device through laboratory experimentation.
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