CHAMPAIGN — Rick Martin and Steve Bray can peel a cantaloupe in 10 seconds flat.
So can you, if you can afford one of their $30,000 peelers.
Dole, Del Monte, Chiquita and other processors of fresh-cut fruit have looked to Martin and Bray — and their company, Pre-Pack Machinery of Champaign — for automatic peelers and custom processing equipment.
The company has been around 48 years, but only in the last 13 years has Pre-Pack made a name for itself in melon peelers.
Its automatic peelers can be used for a variety of fruits and vegetables, including honeydew melons, pineapples, eggplants, rutabagas, butternut squashes, papayas, mangoes and jicamas.
The machines can generally handle produce ranging from 5 to 13 inches tall.
Pre-Pack recently completed assembly of a peeler for an Australian company that processes butternut squash, Martin said.
After peeling the squash, the processing company will cut off the top and bottom, dig out and dispose of the seed cavity and dice the remainder of the squash for sale.
The peeler — which stands about 7 feet tall — is made of stainless steel with a few plastic components.
It has a sensor that adjusts to the size of the fruit, as well as an adjustable cutting blade.
Martin and Bray demonstrate how it works. An air cylinder holds the cantaloupe in place, the fruit begins to spin and a cutting arm extends to remove the rind. Soon a long ribbon of rind drops off the melon.
After the rind is removed, 50 to 65 percent of the melon typically remains, which Martin said is a lot compared with the volume left when a melon is peeled by hand.
The machine can peel six to seven cantaloupes a minute, according to the company.
The device can also be used on watermelons, but it's not ideal because watermelons vary greatly in firmness, Martin said. Sometimes, the flesh is too soft for the peeler to do a good job.
Martin said Pre-Pack has placed about 170 peelers since the first model was introduced in 1999. The company also has a model with an "automatic discharge" feature that releases the fruit once peeled.
Pre-Pack Machinery was founded by Martin's father-in-law, W.J. "Bob" Scherer, in 1964. He started the business in his garage and moved it to the company's current facility at 520 S. Country Fair Drive, C, in 1970.
The first product designed and built by the company was a machine that packed washed, ready-to-eat spinach in bags.
With it, processors could package 25 to 30 bags a minute, rather than the conventional five or six.
Martin joined Pre-Pack Machinery in 1989, and Bray was hired in 1991. They had known each other as kids — their parents had been friends — and had once worked together at Modern Business Systems.
Martin and Bray bought the company as equal partners in 2000. In addition to them, Pre-Pack has two full-time employees and a part-time employee, Bray said.
In the mid-1990s, some of Pre-Pack's customers began processing fresh-cut fruit, and that led to the development of the company's first automatic peeler.
When one customer ordered a second peeler, "we knew we had something here," Martin said.
Today, Pre-Pack's peelers are used throughout the United States and Canada, as well as in Hong Kong, Switzerland, Australia and the United Arab Emirates, according to the company.
Peeler sales account for about half of Pre-Pack's business, Martin said. The company also does machine and welding shop work for manufacturers in the Champaign-Urbana area, as well as for area school and park districts.