“When taking on a new project, it’s very important to understand the exact needs of the farmer,” says Patrick Djerf, Business development manager at OCS, a Swedish supplier of industrial conveyor systems.
“We have a very strong background in the automotive industry. These clients are more adapted and used to automation, so it’s easier for them to describe what they need in terms of automation. Whereas vertical farmers have way less experience in that area. Therefore, we’re always beginning with the actual need of a farmer in order to develop the right solution.”
OCS is well known for its automated conveyor systems in several industries that help to improve production efficiency and add consistency. In 2019, the company received a request from Swedish vertical farming company Ljusgårda. Soon after that, OCS supplied a tailored automated hang conveyor system to the farm in order to automate several processes.
Efficiency of the system
As Patrick explains, one part of the system is to transport produce. Hence, secondly, the conveyor system has to be placed in the context of profitability and efficiency. As labor costs are an important factor, hang conveyors can help reduce these. Besides that, they offer minimal space utilization. Meaning, workers can have the floor fully to themselves as the conveyors can easily be sent off to another area, so they can start cleaning the space. This helps farms to avoid contamination and keep a clean environment.
At Ljusgårda, OCS designed an overhead conveyor system that moves around in 15 different chambers, from transplanting to harvesting. When harvesting is due after 21 days one room with plants is emptied completely. This gives the possibility to access the chamber so the room can be quickly and easily cleaned.
This kind of automation allows farmers easy access to sample testing of a growing process in the cultivation room. “Just ask the trolley inside the growing room to move to any position so that the conveyors will recirculate automatically,” says Christer Lundgren, Sales Director at OCS.
Scalable solution: from manual to automation
“Automation should only be applied when it’s a decent-sized farm I believe. Depending on what size the tubes are (in height) you can automate for less money per m2, in comparison to smaller sized tubes. However, the higher the towers are, the more difficult they are to handle,” Christer notes.
The conveyors come in automated- and manual overhead conveyors for vertical farms. Manual (hand-pushed) overhead conveyor systems allow moving a large number of goods easily with a single push. Once a grower feels the need to automate, once they’re at a decent level of production, that can easily be applied. As well as partial automation, meaning that a grower can choose to automate certain sections of a farm.
Service-wise, the system doesn’t need a lot of maintenance, explains Christer. In the automotive industry, normally, maintenance is done twice a year by OCS. Compared to that, the systems in vertical farms need muss less maintenance than that, due to the lower intensity use of the conveyors. “It’s a rather robust system with a very simple technique, so in many cases, customers can do the maintenance themselves.”
Patrick gives away that OCS is looking into automating the more traditional racks. “We can allow automation to bring out trays to the entry of the system. From that point, we’re looking at the options to move the produce to the farming section. “OCS has conveyor technology, so we’re very keen to learn on how to support any kind of vertical farming through automated material handling, reducing labor costs,” he adds.
For more information:
Christer Lundgren, Sales director
Patrick Djerf, Business development manager
Jennie Erlén, Marketing Manager