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Automatic transplants for labor savings and quality improvement

At location G. of Beekenkamp Plants in 's-Gravenzande, young plants (fruiting vegetables) are grown under glass on 10 hectares. We spoke to Erno Starre, assistant company manager, there about labor. For example, how many people are needed to transplant 12,000 plants per hour? Erno: "In the peak period, we need 8 to 12 people for transplants, each of whom can handle about 1,000 plants on average. You also have an operator and a driver on the line, which brings the total on busy days to 14 people," explains Erno, assistant company manager at the G. van Beekenkamp Plants site in 's-Gravenzande.

But things can be done more efficiently: with Flier Systems' new transplanter, which can process 12,000 plants per hour, Erno only needs three people around the line. However, a different type of people. Erno: "Because the machine has become a bit more complex, we work with two operators and a finishing operator."

Planting in stone wool block

Labor savings
Erno: "When searching for a good machine for transplanting, using the existing stone wool line, we put our desires and ideas to several companies, after which we finally came to an agreement with Flier." The aim of any automation is to make a quality change, improve the process and reduce/improve labor. With the arrival of the transplanter (which processes tomato, pepper, aubergine, and courgette plants), they now no longer transplanted by hand on the stone wool line. As a result, Erno is looking less for temporary workers who can process a lot of plants quickly and more for operators. As most companies experience, recruiting staff is difficult, so finding those operators isn't easy either.

Entry side trays

Cameras assess plant
After putting their heads together with Flier a few times, it was then decided to combine a number of existing techniques. "Plants are sown and grafted into a rockwool plug at our place. These are removed from the tray and placed in a cup on a conveyor belt. Then they pass an Aris camera system. That system assesses the plants through a top and side camera. So we have the options to assess the plants on top-area, side-area and height. You can decide whether the plant must meet all the requirements or 1 or 2 of these options. If the plant meets the requirements, then it may be transplanted."

Route and stand
Plants that do not pass as selection 1 go on a siding but are not destroyed. They are put back in a tray. Erno: "We can still use these later if too few plants have come out of the first selection. That doesn't happen very often in practice, by the way. The plants that get through the first selection are put on the right track and transplanted into the rockwool blocks by the machine."

"We can also use this software to turn all plants at a certain angle. By indicating which leaf to look at, the cup, after assessment, turns the plant into the right position so that they are transplanted at the same angle. This, in turn, has a great advantage when it comes to sticking."

Output side

At Beekenkamp, the hygiene protocol (GSPP) is important, and this has also been invested in. Thus, the new transplanter also had to include several options to ensure hygiene. The cups are disinfected by UV light every cycle. For disinfecting the grippers, you can set the interval at which they should be dipped into a container of disinfectant.

Combining existing systems
The software with cameras is not the only system that had to be integrated. Erno: "We had a stone wool line from Visser, and a machine from Flier came on top of it. We then shortened Visser's line and put Flier's in between. It was important to put a new piece in between because we needed to create a straight positioning to put the plugs away properly. Flier's new piece suspends a layer of rockwool blocks into 1 straight row of 12 blocks that runs under the transplanter, so you always have straight positioning."

"Transplanting runs well because of that straight positioning," Erno says. "Besides straight transplants, by changing the gripper set, we can also transplant the plugs half-tilted. Something that is desirable for pepper plants, for example."

Combining different systems in this way always takes some doing, but at Beekenkamp Plants, they are happy with how things are going so far. "Once it was up and running, Flier also did everything possible to make further improvements. We work well together."

For more information:
Flier Systems
Zuideinde 49, 2991 LJ
Barendrecht, the Netherlands
Tel.: +31 180 61 50 55

Beekenkamp Plants
Korte Kruisweg 141, 2676 BS
Maasdijk, the Netherlands
Mob.:+31 (0)6 83 96 59 79

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