Bühler honours memory of 'father of optical sorting' Fraenkel
27 May 2020
Global processing leader Bühler Group paid an official tribute this week to pioneering engineer, the late Herbert Max Fraenkel, for his work in revolutionising food sorting.
The German Jewish refugee, who fled with his family to Britain in the Thirties was hailed by the company as the ‘father of optical sorting’ for his breakthrough work that enabled the design of the first Sortex sorter, the Sortex G1 in 1947.
Optical sorting is essential in processing operation to separate food particles and recycled plastic flakes, meeting food safety requirements and achieve purer product quality.
Starting work with the firm as an apprentice, Fraenkel remained at Bühler until retirement, playing a key role in the development of many of the early patents as well as being responsible for the 2024 frozen food sorter, adopted by Birds Eye and many other large multinationals i.
Friend and colleague Ben Deefholts, senior research engineer for Bühler Sortex, said during the early days, Fraenkel was ultimately responsible for specifying every machine that went into manufacturing.
Bühler Group paid tribute to Fraenkel in its Sortex 60th anniversary celebration in 2007, explaining how he started as an assistant to lead scientist, the Hungarian Dr. Okolicsanyl. Together they worked to research and find a technological breakthrough to speed up the practice of manually handpicking seeds.
Bühler Sortex gave the world’s first demonstration of sorting, on the Sortex G1, using a combination of optical inspection and electrostatic deflection. The forerunner to all modern day optical sorters, it could handle peas, beans, corn, small grains and other foods.
Hamid Kefayati, head of single machine business, Bühler, hailed Fraenkel as ‘the father of optical sorting as we know it’ today.
Former Bühler Sortex MD Bruno Kilshaw added: “When I joined the company in 1993, he had already filled most of the technical posts in the company, from technical director to service manager and patent officer. He worked well beyond pensionable age and Sortex was his life. Everyone knew, respected and relied on his knowledge.
“He taught me everything I knew about sorting technology and I will remember him fondly as a mentor, colleague and friend.”
Fraenkel died just before his 96th birthday earlier this year at his home in Enfield, London. He had no next of kin and was given a traditional Jewish burial at the United Synagogue’s Waltham Abbey Jewish Cemetery.