Can conveyors improve yield for vertical farming systems?

Vertical farms or indoor farms have the potential to achieve great efficiency in food production, promising less use of water and delivering fresh food produced efficiently from nearby geographic locations. However challenges remain – and conveyors and better vertical farming technology will likely be part of any economically viable solution.

What is vertical farming?

Vertical farming is a system for food production that is typically used in indoor farming systems. They work with surfaces or modules to hold the plants in position while they are in an environment where all growth factors are controlled. By controlling the light, temperature, humidity, water and nutrients that plants receive, indoor vertical farming can potentially achieve higher yields for a given surface area dedicated to production.

Conveyors are sometimes used in indoor farming to optimize the density of the plants as they grow and to move the plants through automated systems to reduce labor in planting and harvesting. High efficiency LED lights have greatly enabled more efficient vertical farming technology. However replicating the efficiency of the sun remains a major challenge that indoor farming companies hope to achieve through improved control of all other plant growth variables.

vertical farming systems conveyors

Types of Conveyors used by Indoor Farming Companies

Ultimation has supplied conveyors and equipment for vertical farming companies ranging from small gravity and belt conveyors from our “quick ship” product range up to major overhead power and free conveyor systems to support commercial scale production. Conveyor types used in vertical farming are:

  • Gravity roller conveyors
  • Belt conveyors
  • Skate wheel or flow rail conveyors
  • Overhead monorail conveyors
  • Power and Free Conveyors

How do vertical farming systems work?

Vertical farming systems require great efficiency – volume each plant occupies, the energy to move product around, labor, ventilation systems, lighting and nutrients. Conveyors enable that efficiency of each resource to be optimized as much as possible. Ultimation’s customers include several of the leading vertical farming companies. The technology used by these vertical farming companies is typically top secret and therefore we’re not able to publicly show or talk in detail about the various types of conveyors that are used in vertical farming systems.

Automation for vertical indoor farms

Conveyors and industrial automation equipment used in vertical farming automation systems can include many of the traditional conveyor types such as gravity roller conveyors, belt conveyors and skate wheel or flow rail conveyors. But more recently the technology used in larger systems is including motorized conveyor systems and overhead conveyors. Power and Free conveyors are the ultimate in space and volume optimization for vertical farming systems as they enable tight concentration of product in some areas while then enabling separation of the products as and when required for movement to processing areas.

Indoor farm technology – Squeezing more plants into less space

Ultra high density vertical farming systems aim to optimize plant production relative to the productive space employed for the task. Conveyors are essential in that optimization process to use all the available vertical space of a facility. Vertical farming automation can enable spacing to change as plants grow throughout a facility. Technology used can include robots as well as overhead conveyors, floor conveyors and specialized plant processing equipment.

Food safe materials and lubricants are used for all vertical farming conveyor systems. Ultimation has experience with the various different requirements and the available food-safe conveyor lubricants, oils and greases that can safely be used in these environments. Vertical farms can help reduce “food miles” which is the distance that food items travel from the point of production to the table. High volume indoor farms located near to major consumption areas have the potential to reduce CO2 emissions from transport as well as deliver fresher and better tasting products.

Interested in vertical farming technology and vertical farming equipment? Contact Ultimation today at [email protected] or call us on +1-586-771-1881 to discuss your requirements.

If you’d like general help  learning about conveyors, which types to use and how to specify them? This step by step guide will help.

Ultimation Recognized as Leading Integrator for Jervis Webb Conveyor Systems

Jervis Webb conveyor systems have been in use for over 100 years, and with Ultimation’s help, the Webb brand continues growing. There’s no better technology available for durable overhead conveyor equipment and Webb systems have always been the “gold standard” in conveyors. Ultimation recently received the award for the largest systems integrator and parts distributor for Webb conveyor systems for 2018.

Webb’s overhead conveyor technology is available through a network of integrators that manage the design, build and installation of Webb systems. They integrate the base components into fully functional overhead conveyor systems complete with the necessary support steel, carriers for parts, electrical systems, installation and software programming. This arrangement enables Jervis Webb to focus on the conveyor mechanical components like track sections, trolleys, drives and take-ups. Other integrator partners with broader experience can then implement “turn key” conveyor solutions for their customers. Ultimation CEO Jacqueline Canny received the award for the largest Webb integrator for 2018 at the group’s recent national integrator meeting in Savannah, Georgia.

Ultimation CEO, Jackie Canny, is proud of the growth that Jervis Webb and Ultimation are achieving with this business arrangement. “Our Jervis Webb overhead conveyor business segment has grown dramatically since Ultimation’s first system with Webb in 2012. We are delighted to now be recognized as the largest integrator and parts distributor. We’re supporting Webb’s business growth with systems and parts throughout the United States, Mexico, Canada and South America. Webb is the best conveyor equipment available in the market, and Ultimation is growing quickly in this business segment” said Canny.

Jervis Webb conveyor largest distributor

Ultimation’s internal sales team with CEO Jackie Canny and Engineering and Sales VP John Daugherty

Learning more about Jervis Webb conveyors and conveyors in general

You can learn more about Jervis Webb’s rich history in the conveyor business in this post. Want to learn more about the different types of Webb overhead conveyors available? This product category page explains the types of overhead conveyors and their uses.

If you’d like general help comparing floor conveyors and learning about other conveyor types, which types to use and how to specify them? This step by step guide will help.

5 Conveyor Design Trends for 2019

The beginning of a new year is a chance to look back at where the industry has been and look ahead to the future. Ultimation’s engineering and sales teams recently discussed the conveyor manufacturer landscape and weighed in on their view of 5 conveyor design trends for 2019.

1. Keep It Quiet

The modern industrial workplace can be a busy and noisy place sometimes. So conveyors shouldn’t add to that. In addition to incredible energy efficiency, modern 24V DC powered roller conveyors that use either Itoh Denki or Interroll motor driven rollers are super quiet compared with chain driven conveyors. We see conveyor manufacturers replacing older style chain conveyors for automated conveyor systems at an increasing rate in 2019. Because they are low voltage and each individual motor has relatively low torque, people can often work in close proximity to the conveyors as well.

powered roller conveyor

2. Squeeze It In

Conveyor manufacturers have long sought to use otherwise under-utilized industrial space for productive purposes. Conveyor design pioneer Jervis B Webb enabled the use of the overhead space above the factory for the modern overhead conveyor. But what about conveyors that use other spaces elsewhere in the supply chain that doesn’t get used as productively as they might? That truck and trailer driving next to you down the highway might just be a moving automated conveyor system on wheels. Ultimation’s innovative tire and wheel delivery trailers hold up to 800′ of powered roller conveyor delivering products to the Tesla assembly plant. Conveyors make sure the products are loaded and unloaded quickly, always stay in the critical production sequence and the easily damaged top face of the wheel is always kept safe.

tire and wheel delivery trailer

3. Stay Small, Stay Flexible

Highly automated conveyor systems are great. Our engineers love to design and install them. But sometimes less is more. And while robots are very flexible, the tooling required to hold parts in position for robots is often more expensive than the robot itself. Lots of Ultimation’s customers are looking for conveyor types like simple belt conveyors or roller conveyors to get their productivity efforts moving ahead. Lean production, less walking, less bending — and less capital spending. Many of them ship the same day.

Conveyor types

 

4. Spread It Around

The time spent commissioning large automated conveyor systems can be substantial. Speed it up with distributed, autonomous control. Distributed motor starter systems like the Rockwell Allen-Bradley ArmorStart range have been used by conveyor manufactures for years. Using 24V DC powered roller conveyors with network integration (Think “Internet of Things”) can reduce the time spent in the field for conveyor manufacturers and expensive controls engineers. We especially like the new  Interroll MultiControl Card and at under $200 it can control up to four MDR motors, link to various networking systems and provide its own pre-programmed distributed autonomous control routines. In layman’s terms, it can control the buffer and feeding of lines without needing an expensive central processor or lots of engineers. Conveyor technologies are increasingly using these distributed control systems.

Interroll MultiControl

5. Throw It Out, but Keep the Frames!

The new year is a great time to clean up and to think about new equipment. But before you throw out that old gravity roller conveyor, did you know you can upgrade it to make it a motorized roller conveyor instead? Ultimation developed retrofit kits to convert existing gravity roller conveyor systems using both Itoh Denki and Interroll 24V MDR technology. We supply everything you need for the conversion including power supplies, motors, idler gravity rollers, drive belts, cables, and power suppliers. Some of our customers have miles of gravity roller conveyor they will eventually convert to motorized conveyors.

 

powered roller conveyor

 

Need help learning about conveyor design, other conveyor types, which types to use and how to specify them? This step by step guide will help.

Ultimation is a leading conveyor manufacturer and we’re happy to share more information about conveyor technologies and conveyor design trends with you.

How does 24V MDR conveyor work?

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Or in this case, a video. In showing how 24V MDR conveyor (or motorized roller conveyor) works the benefits are easy to see.

Ultimation’s internal sales team thought a quick demo was the easiest way to show how 24V MDR conveyors work.

Ultimation Internal Sales Manager, Jenni Collins, explains the benefits. “It’s actually pretty simple. This ten foot section in the video has two motorized rollers, three photo eyes to detect the boxes and one Interroll multi-control card. The motors are connected to the other rollers with Durabelt o-rings. The control card is constantly checking if space is available at the next zone of the conveyor. As soon as space opens up, the  24V MDR conveyor sends the next package along.

Because the boxes never push up against each other, they call this zero pressure accumulation. Basically, it’s an automated buffer that enables a process at each end of the conveyor to operate at different speeds and the conveyor takes care of moving the parts and creating a buffer. Because the motors only run when the product needs to be moved, they’re really efficient. “

24V MDR Motors

 

Ultimation offers MDR systems in three different levels using both Interroll and Itoh Denki motorized MDR rollers

  • Individual MDR motors and components: We have a huge selection of MDR motors and other components like power supplies, O-ring belts and gravity idler rollers ready to ship. They are available for online purchase
  • Retrofit kits for existing gravity roller conveyors : Many of our customers have a significant amount of gravity roller conveyor, and they need to automate it to improve efficiency. Ultimation has kits available that can be used to retrofit Ultimation, Hytrol, Ashland and Lewco gravity conveyors. These kits include all necessary parts and cables. Learn more about these kits here
  • Ultimation 24V MDR Power Supply Units: These power supplies are available in 110V, 240V and 480V configurations, enabling customers to easily provide power to up to 8 MDR motors
  • Ultimation plug-n-play MDR modular conveyors: Available in various configurations, these 10′ conveyor lengths come ready to run with motors, conveyor frames, control card and photo-eye sensors. They are available for online purchase

If you would like to learn more about how 24V MDR conveyors work, you can contact Jenni or any of our sales team. We can help take the mystery out of MDR systems for you!

Need help learning about other conveyor types, which types to use and how to specify them? This step by step guide will help.

 

 

 

 

 

Ultimation adds Interroll MDR systems to fast growing 24V MDR range

Ultimation expands as Interroll Distributor

Ultimation has added the Interroll range of 24V MDR (Motor Driven Rollers) conveyors to the line up. Interroll systems can be configured as “ready to run” modules in 10 foot sections, as retrofit kits for existing gravity conveyors and as individual component sets.

Ultimation’s President, Richard Canny, is forecasting that 24 volt conveyor technology will continue to displace older technologies. “Customers love the quiet, energy efficient conveyor systems that motor driven rollers enable. Because the motors only run when the product needs to be moved, the duty cycle of these conveyors is low. Ultimation began designing and building MDR systems about 7 years ago, and we are experiencing fantastic growth in the deployment of the technology. We’ve been working with Interroll for some time now, and we’re now ready to expand as an Interroll distributor and system integrator to offer the full range of their products.”

Interroll distributor

 

Ultimation offers MDR systems that incorporate these components:

  • Interroll EC310 RollerDrive Motor Driven Rollers: These are the latest technology available in the MDR range. As an Interroll Distributor, Ultimation plans to carry the full range of EC310 motors. They can be ordered here
  • Interroll MultiControl Card: This state of the art motor control card can control up to four individual MDR motors. It is compatible with EtherNet/IP, EtherCAT and PROFINET network technologies. Individual MultiControl cards can be linked together to control conveyor without the need for a PLC. MultiControl cards can be purchased here.
  • Ultimation 24V MDR Power Supply Units: These power supplies are available in 110V, 240V and 480V configurations, enabling customers to easily provide power to up to 8 MDR motors
  • Ultimation plug-n-play MDR modular conveyors: Available in various configurations, these 10′ conveyor lengths come ready to run with motors, conveyor frames, control card and photo-eye sensors. They are available for online purchase

Need help learning about other conveyor types, which types to use and how to specify them? This step by step guide will help.