Tag Archives: automation

Reduce waste and future-proof production with automatic product recovery

Industry 4.0; fourth industrial revolution; internet of things – Three terms referring to the shift in industry towards autonomous production systems using machines which are controlled and monitored by computer-based algorithms. While there can be a lot of hype, there is no doubt that the general direction of travel in manufacturing is for the use of more autonomous systems – presenting a fantastic opportunity for businesses to tackle key challenges, such as minimising and preventing waste.

When processing various, often viscous, food products a certain amount adheres to the inside surfaces of machinery and pipework. Some product may also be left behind upon completion of each production run. A combination of good design and cleaning systems can be used to overcome the issue. The three main techniques – physical ‘pigging systems’, water-based flushing, and forcing clean air through the system – all remove residual product as part of cleaning-in-place (CIP) procedures, which may need to be carried out several times a day.

While all of these recovery techniques have the ability to salvage residual product, a certain amount is still lost as waste. However, by using inline monitoring equipment linked to a system designed to allow product which meets the specified parameters to be reworked, the amount of valuable product recovered from equipment such as pasteurisers and sterilisers can be maximised.

This concept is not new in automation. Every HRS pasteuriser or steriliser already has a temperature transmitter and a three-way valve installed after the holding tube. If for any reason the pasteurisation or sterilisation temperature (set point) is not maintained through the holding tube, the temperature transmitter sends a signal to the valve to return the product to the holding tank.

This same principle is now being applied to the HRS Product Recovery System. Rather than just measuring temperature, any suitable physical or chemical property can be continually monitored, such as Brix, pH, viscosity or density. The choice of which parameter is used depends on the nature of the product and the sensors that are available.

For example, on a line producing fruit juice, monitoring the concentration of the juice leaving the pasteuriser is monitored using a Brix meter allows any juice which falls below a set level to be diverted. By monitoring the product concentration from the beginning of the flushing cycle, it is possible to send juice with a Brix level of 12 or higher to the next phase of production (such as packing), and only discard material which falls below this set parameter.

As well as increasing the amount of product which can be sold, reducing the amount of waste generated decreases disposal costs such as storage, transport and treatment. Alongside these financial benefits, the environmental footprint of the production line will also be improved, with more end product being obtained for the same effort – effectively lowering CO2e emissions per unit produced. Furthermore, cutting down the amount of product mixed in with the flushing or cleaning water means that the resulting waste stream is cleaner and will require less processing.

As all HRS pasteurisers and sterilisers already include a three-way valve to allow for the diversion of out-of-specification product, the only real additional expense are the monitoring and control systems. With potential cost savings running into hundreds of thousands of pounds, such systems rapidly repay any additional capital expense.

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Trials underway for robotic raspberry picking

A robotics development company which started life as a spin-out of the University of Plymouth is to trial a revolutionary raspberry picking robot with the Hall Hunter Partnership.

Fieldwork Robotics is now part-owned by AIM-listed Frontier IP group PLC, which saw its shares rise 5.7 per cent on the news that they would be working with Hall Hunter Partnership which grows 14,000 tonnes of soft fruit, including raspberries, strawberries, blackberries and blueberries for customers including Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Tesco.

“Hall Hunter are the UK’s largest grower of raspberries…so they’re clearly a large player in the sector,” said Neil Crabb, chief executive of Frontier IP. He pointed out that raspberries are one of the most fragile types of soft fruit, so successful field tests would lead the way to using the robot in other fruit and vegetable crops including blueberries and strawberries.

The technology was developed by Dr Martin Stoelen of the University of Plymouth, who is now working on a tomato harvesting project in China. He said, “The collaboration agreement we’ve signed with Hall Hunter is a big step forward for Fieldwork and the team at the University of Plymouth. I’m looking forward to seeing our robots operating in the field.” The University has also received funding from Agri-tech Cornwall to develop robotics technologies for use in cauliflowers and other vegetables.

Hall Hunter Partnership chief operating officer David Green said: “HHP has always led the soft fruit industry in pushing forward productivity and quality standards on our Farms and Nurseries. This partnership with Fieldwork Robotics is an exciting new development to pioneer the harvesting of raspberries robotically at a commercial scale. We are looking forward to our first human-free hectare to be picked together.”

Photo Credit: Max Pixel

The post Trials underway for robotic raspberry picking appeared first on Hort News on 9 August 2018.

Algorithms for accurate tomato crop estimates

According to Dutch firm HortiKey, continues increases in the area of tomato production globally mean that growers need to adopt new digital technologies in order to be able to manager ever larger production facilities.

Their aim is to improve the gathering of reliable plant data from greenhouses, so that analytical analysis becomes more robust and useful in commercial situations. The firm employed Wageningen UR to develop a series of algorithms to classify tomatoes automatically.

The assessment is done when the fruit is still hanging on the vine in the greenhouse and is independent from the available lighting conditions, something which the company says human beings cannot.

With these algorithms new data is generated from the greenhouse in a way never shown before, together with algorithms for automatic counting,” explains Abdreas Hofland, General Manager at HortiKey. “It is the basis for the Plantalyzer: an autonomous driving platform from Berg Hortimotive with sensors and software to analyze the tomatoes. Prognosis software from Letsgrow.com analyzes the gathered data to calculate an accurate crop estimate.

“The Plantalyzer is a good example of how algorithms can help growers to improve their performance. The gain is higher customer satisfaction, more control over the price-making process, more stability in planning and thus, a contribution to company continuity.”

Photo Credit: HortiKey

The post Algorithms for accurate tomato crop estimates appeared first on Hort News on 23 July 2018.

Westland reveals automated lettuce greenhouse

Evesham-based Westland Nurseries, the UK’s largest grower of micro leaves and specialty edibles, has revealed details of its latest 1.4 ha fully automated lettuce greenhouse which has been built by Dutch company Certhon.

In an online video, Peter Taylor, General Manager of Westland Nurseries, explained, “Two years ago we decided to grow into some new markets for us of growing lettuce. The aim of the lettuce that we grow is to sell it into the premium markets. Obviously growing in a hydroponic and controlled environment we are looking for a much cleaner, more controlled, year-round grown lettuce.” He added that the quality of the product is achieved by various details, including, “The multi-gutter system for the lettuce, the glasshouses, and the lighting we use to deliver those products.”

The new greenhouse includes is 1.4 hectares, and includes insulated sandwich panels on the lower levels, with ultra-low iron glass for the roof and sides. It uses a mobile gutter system, together with an energy screen and hybrid SON-T and LED lighting system. It also makes the most of a new CHP system which was installed to feed the entire Westland site.

Photo Credit: YouTube / Certhon

The post Westland reveals automated lettuce greenhouse appeared first on Hort News on 12 July 2018.

Deleafing robot to begin trials

Priva has unveiled its new deleafing robot for tomatoes at GreenTech 2016, while at the same time three growers involved in the machine’s development will be able to begin trials.

Officially known as the Priva Kompano Deleaf-Line, it is expected that the machine, which was presented to the GreenTech ‘jury’ on 14 June will be available commercially to growers who register their interest and pre-order it (at fd8.formdesk.com/priva/kompano) from next summer.

According to the company the new machine is the first in a series of solutions for automating labour intensive procedures in commercial horticulture. A spokesperson for Priva said, “The Priva Kompano Deleaf-Line is the first product, worldwide, that provides growers with an economically viable alternative for manual deleafing tomato crops. Labour expenses are a particularly large part of operational costs, but can be unpredictable and for a large number of tasks, finding a motivated workforce to carry out the work is getting much harder.”

Photo Credit: Priva

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Smart cauliflower harvester trialled within a year

Reports from Germany suggest that automatic brassica harvesting, a long held dream for many in the industry, could be one step closer thanks to new work by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF and their colleagues at ai-solution GmbH together with five other partners.

They are working on a smart harvester which it is claimed will be as selective as human pickers. The so-called VitaPanther builds on the ‘Spargelpanther’ asparagus harvesting machine developed by a previous project, with the team aiming to complete a working prototype in time for next year (2017).

Fraunhofer IFF are working on hyper spectral camera technology and programming which will ensure that the machine picks the mature and ripe crops while ai-solution GmbH in Wolfsburg are working on the actual harvester unit.

Christian Bornstein, CEO of ai-solution GmbH, explained, “Our goal is to build a module that can be adapted to the existing unit.” Farmers will only have to purchase one “vegetable harvester” in the future.

Photo Caption: The ‘Spargelpanther’ asparagus harvester.

Photo Credit: ai-solution

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Cornerways Nurseries gets robotic tow-cars

CambridgeHOK have just completed a new project at Cornerways Nursery, which has seen the nursery’s traditional harvesting and packaging operation modified by installing automatic tow-cars to move the product from the glasshouse to the packaging and distribution area.

CambridgeHOK said, “Following extensive discussions with Cornerways nursery we have arrived at a scheme that has significant benefits and is predicted to result in acceptable payback timescales for the business.

This project required the installation of 2,800 metres of induction loop to act as a guide for the 6 battery driven tow-cars. New speed doors which open and close automatically as the tow-car and its attached harvesting carts approaches have been installed.

A total of 90 harvesting carts have been supplied which all have their own electronic identity, allowing the harvested product from each row to be traced back to a central weighing station where information will be recorded automatically via Priva FS performance system. Once the product is weighed, the tow-carts will move into the packhouse for manual unloading and variety segregation.

Patrick Harte, the General Manager at Cornerways Nursery commented, “We were once again delighted to work with Cambridge HOK on another major investment for the business. The install and commissioning were far easier than we had hoped and whilst we expected a period of learning it has been quickly integrated into our way of working and become very intuitive for our staff.”

Photo Credit: CambridgeHOK

The post Cornerways Nurseries gets robotic tow-cars appeared first on Hort News on 16 March 2016

Langmead opens fully automated glasshouse

West Sussex based Langmead Farms has opened the UK’s first fully automated greenhouse.

The £3 million facility will grow 5 million pots of herbs a year for UK supermarkets and other outlets. It features a unique automatic potting; sowing and growing system that can run 24 hours a day and requires minimum human input. The 1.2-hectare site grows potted basil, parsley, mint, thyme and chives for retailers, as well as an organic range for Abel & Cole.

Featuring biomass heating, UV treated reservoir water irrigation and robotic bench control; Langmeads say the new glasshouse has been designed to be a ‘model of radical thinking and sustainability.’

Ian Summerfield, CEO at Langmeads commented, “This is a very exciting development for us. Our customers are getting five-star reviews for taste and quality from their customers – as can be seen on the Abel & Cole website. We have embraced the innovation, technology and investment required to create cutting-edge environmental and stock management for our customers.”

Langmead Farms are also carrying out market-leading research at the site, with trials of herb varieties and seed crops and a major trial is underway, in conjunction with the University of Nottingham, on lighting technology to provide the conditions for optimal growth and disease prevention.

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