ROSEVILLE, Mich. — As sustainable agricultural operations such as vertical and indoor farms become more prevalent, conveyor technology systems can be part of the solution, according to Ultimation Industries, a conveyor technology and automation company.
Vertical farms can potentially achieve higher yields for the surface area dedicated to production by controlling the light, temperature, humidity, water and nutrients the plants receive. They also reduce “food miles,” which is the distance that food items travel from the point of production to the table, and can reduce CO2 emission from transport while delivering fresher and better tasting products.
“Conveyors are essential to vertical farming because they can make use of all the available vertical space of a facility and can move plants through automated systems as they grow,” said Jacqueline Canny, CEO of Ultimation Industries. She adds that robots as well as overhead conveyors, floor conveyors and specialized plant material handling equipment can increase efficiency in planting and harvesting operations. Ultimation has already completed a major system for a West Coast-based vertical farming system, which is believed to be the world’s largest-scale facility. The technology used in that project is proprietary and several customized projects with other customers are in progress.
Conveyors and industrial automation equipment used in vertical farming includes many of the traditional conveyor types such as gravity roller, belt, and skate wheel or flow rail conveyors. These conveyors are among the most versatile because they help reduce the manual labor of carrying items by hand, according to Ultimation. More recently, the technology used in larger vertical farming systems is including motorized and overhead conveyors. These systems take advantage of unused vertical space above a working area and bring plants down to an operator level when needed. Power and Free conveyors enable tight concentration of product in some areas while also enabling separation of the products for movement to processing areas, according to the company.
Ultimation supplies vertical farming companies with conveyors and equipment ranging from small gravity and belt conveyors from their “quick ship” product range to major overhead power and free conveyor systems to support commercial scale production. Their systems meet food-safe requirements for lubricants, oils and greases.
“As indoor farmers work to achieve greater efficiencies in food production, conveyor systems technology is likely to be part of any economically viable solution,” said Canny. “We see the vertical and indoor farming space as a major new segment for material handling systems, and we’re pleased to be taking a leading position in this category.