The technological innovation company WEG has partnered with industrial drive solutions provider Technidrive to supply the equipment needed for an automated cart system for plant propagator John Gabbie & Sons.
John Gabbie & Sons, based in County Down, Northern Ireland, are a propagator firm who germinate and grow plants until they are large enough to handle, when the plants are then distributed to farmers to continue growing and then sell to supermarkets and so on.
To germinate seeds, the firm has several glasshouses that are up to half an acre in size and split into bays, which can be up to 10 metres wide and 16m long, with walkways in between for the forklifts and tractors.
When the seedlings are ready for distribution, an operator will drive a tractor or forklift along the walkway to move bays of plants out of the glasshouses. The plants are then physically carried to the end of the bay before being boxed up and sent out to farmers; a very labour intensive task. Therefore, John Gabbie & Sons approached WEG’s premier distributor Technidrive to develop an automated solution.
For the project, Technidrive asked 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.
With the equipment sourced, John Gabbie & Sons now just needed to put it all together. However, they did not have an exact cart system design in mind. Instead, they focussed on the requirements of the equipment: to save space, increase efficiency, and remove as much physical labour as possible, which, in turn, led to the development of phase one of the project.
Phase one of the project consists of an automated cart system that runs along railings in each walkway of one of John Gabbie & Sons’ glasshouses. 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 9m wide and carries several trays of plants, preventing an operator from needing a tractor or forklift to reach the seedlings.
To make this feasible, Technidrive developed a control panel for the automated cart system. This includes a joystick, to drive and steer the cart, that allows 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.
The automation enables an operator to move a batch of plants from the middle of a bay, without the physical labour of carrying them. Now, an operator can drive the cart along the railings, before using the lock in pins which extend in to the ground to park the cart at a specific bay. The operator can then push the 9m-wide trolley to lift the seed-trays and put them onto the cart – for distribution or repositioning in the glasshouse.
“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,” Mr Kernaghan added.
Trevor Gabbie, farmer at John Gabbie & Sons noted: “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.”
For more information on WEG’s motor supply for farming and agriculture projects, please visit www.weg.net.