New greenhouse transport goes off-track
Transport within the greenhouse is about to get faster and easier as Berg Hortimotive heads into their last phase of developing a new autonomous harvesting trolley.
Speeding up transport within the greenhouse is not a new concept. To date, Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGV) have been used in this capacity. The goal is to move the harvested produce out of the hot greenhouse climate and into the cooler processing area in the shortest amount of time possible – and it’s all automated.
The first systems worked with chain conveyors in the concrete path. The harvesting trolleys were simply hooked to a chain and drove automatically from the greenhouse to the shed and back,” states Berg Hortimotive in a release. “However, chain conveyors require a lot of maintenance and hygiene is difficult to maintain.”
So the chains were later replaced by induction wire in concrete, says Berg Hortimotive. To follow the induction track, electric tractors were fitted with sensors and could pull multiple harvesting trolleys in each run. “This system, which is now the most common, has the significant advantage that maintenance is hardly needed,” they add.
There is one disadvantage though – infrastructure. Once the transport lines are laid down, they’re hard to modify. That’s where Berg Hortimotive’s Gridmap technology comes in.
Nominated for the 2018 Greentech Innovation Award, Gridmap sheds the need for an induction wire. No tracks, no adjustments during construction and no infrastructure – in other words, less costly and less time-consuming to set up.
‘We can implement the intelligent harvesting trolley anywhere. It navigates in the greenhouse using various different sensors, we call this Grid Mapping,” says Marc van den Berg, lead of research and develop at Berg Hortimotive.
The Dutch manufacturer has partnered with a greenhouse tomato operation to test out the new technology. Designed to be user-friendly, a grower only has to indicate the area of the greenhouse that needs to be harvested, and the trolleys will travel back and forth from that spot automatically, running with the harvesting employees.
The company plans to incorporate GridMap technology into their other products, so they can all run autonomously within the greenhouse. To coordinate them, Berg Hortimotive has developed an operating system called BergDrive.
“This management system maintains an overview, ensuring that the different trolleys work together while giving you as the user important information,” says the company. “It is being set up in a user-friendly way, whereby the assignments are not entered via the keyboard, but you can drag the trolleys on a screen and release them at the right place.”
“All forms of transport in a company cost time, while it adds no value to the product,” says van den Berg. “Automating transport can deliver significant cost savings. People are no longer needed to ensure that the correct trolley is in the right place at the right time. Once it is running, nobody needs to intervene anymore, except for the harvesting itself.”
The product is expected to be available in Canada next year.
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