Monday, 03 October 2022 11:15

WEG supplies for bespoke automated cart system

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~ Supporting a farming firm to increase efficiency gains ~

The humble potato has been voted as the UK’s favourite vegetable, according to a new public poll. But do you know how they end up on your plate? Here’s how industrial motor manufacturer, WEG has partnered with Technidrive to provide equipment for an automated cart system for plant propagator, John Gabbie & Sons, to help produce over 52 million seeds a year.

Propagator firms germinate and grow plants until they are large enough to handle. These plants are then distributed to farmers, who grow and sell them to supermarkets.

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A propagator firm behind this process, John Gabbie & Sons based in County Down, Northern Ireland, has several glasshouses that germinate seeds into seedlings. These glasshouses are up to half an acre in size and split up into bays, which are up to ten metres wide and 16 metres long with walkways for forklifts and tractors to travel up and down on.

For plant distribution, an operator needs to drive a tractor or a forklift along the pathway to move bays of plants through the glasshouses. The plants are then physically carried to the end of the bay, boxed and then sent out to farmers. As with many traditional farming practices, this process is labour intensive

John Gabbie & Sons approached WEG’s premier distributor, Technidrive to develop an automated solution. Technidrive is an industrial drive provider, partnered with WEG supplying product lines such as variable speed drives, soft starters and energy efficient motors.

For this project, Technidrive called upon the support of WEG to supply two braked motors and a variable speed drive (VSD), with a braking resistor and safe torque off (STO), an emergency stop function. This equipment is essential for the design and safety of an automated cart system, helping to transporting product up and down the glasshouses securely, while also ensuring seed growth.

Equipment development

At the start of the project, John Gabbie & Sons did not have an exact design in mind. The main requirements of the equipment were to save on space, increase efficiency and importantly, remove as much physical labour as possible. As the company’s first automation venture, the project would include automating only one of their glasshouses, with a long-term view of fully automating all glasshouses.

Phase one of the project consists of an automated cart system that runs along railings in each walkway of the glasshouse. The cart also includes a sprayer that is mounted on the cart to feed the plants during cultivation.  

The cart being placed on railings removes the need for a walkway inside the glasshouses, which ran along the centre of the glasshouse. Instead, the cart carries a trolley to push onto the bay. Each bay is nine metres wide and carries several trays of plants, preventing an operator from needing a tractor, or a forklift, to reach the seedlings. Not only does this speed up the process, but it also allows the company to pack more product in the glasshouse.

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To make this feasible, Technidrive developed a control panel for the automated cart system. This includes joystick to drive and steer the cart, allowing an operator to control the motion of the cart when manoeuvring around the glasshouse. There are also switches on the panel for additional controls, such as lock in pins to stop the cart at a bay.

Importantly, the automation enables an operator to move a batch of plants from the middle of a bay, without the physical labour of carrying them. An operator can simply drive the cart along the railings, before using the lock in pins — that extend into the ground — to park the cart at the specified bay. The operator can then push the trolley, which is also nine metre wide, to lift the tray of seeds and put them onto the cart — either to move it to a different position in the glasshouse, or to prepare them for distribution.

Enhanced with automation

WEG’s braked motors ensure the cart is safely secured into position, halting the equipment. In fact, the associated VSD prevents the cart from sharp braking, ensuring that the machinery comes to a smooth two second stop, and doesn’t damage any seedlings or peripheral equipment in the process. 

“Technidrive has been working with WEG for years, so as soon as we knew the equipment requirements of the John Gabbie & Sons project, it was a case of getting in touch and sourcing the motors and variable speed drive,” explained Gary Kernaghan, automation manager at Technidrive.

“Phase one is now complete and the plant propagator is reaping the rewards of a more automated process.  The next phase is to ensure we implement this application to all the glasshouses at John Gabbie & Sons. However, the glasshouses are not all built parallel, and the ground isn’t level either, so each phase will require a slightly different process. We’ve already started to look at phase two in which we will need to drop the cart almost two metres, while also adjusting the angle to put it on another set of rails.

“The phase after that is to make this a fully automated system, meaning the operator selects the stock and the cart fetches it automatically. We will require the expertise of WEG before it’s all commissioned.”

Reflecting on the importance of WEG’s involvement in the project, Trevor Gabbie, farmer at John Gabbie & Sons explained, “Technidrive and WEG couldn’t be more helpful. WEG even rang me up to talk through the specifications of the motors, they’re dedicated in what they do, and we trust them to provide quality products.  

“Automating this process is highly valuable, because we sell over 52 million seeds a year to farmers. I’ve seen a similar application at other propagators but wanted to build it my own way to ensure it’s perfect for our glasshouses. From January to June, we sell seeds every single week in a demand driven market — and Technidrive and WEG’s solution will allow us to keep this momentum for years to come.”

Through the help of WEG and Technidrive, plant propagator firm John Gabbie & Sons can meet demand by germinating seeds into seedlings — be it for leeks, sprouts or, everyone’s favourite, the humble potato.

For more information on WEG’s motor supply for farming and agriculture projects, please visit www.weg.net

About WEG: Founded in 1961, WEG is a global manufacturer of electrical and mechanical equipment for industrial sectors across all continents. With manufacturing units in 12 countries and present in more than 135 countries, the company has more than 33,000 employees worldwide with net revenue of over R$17.47 billion in 2020.

Offering energy efficient solutions across all sectors including water, steel, pulp and paper, oil and gas, mining, among many others, WEG is constantly developing solutions to meet the major trends in energy efficiency, renewable energy, sustainability and electric mobility. For more information, visit www.weg.net

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