Labor shortages continue to remain an issue in the horticulture industry, and automation-friendly containers are looked upon as the solution.
Many greenhouses and nurseries are turning towards contract employees to fill the labor void. But while they provide the physical assistance required in the operation, they often have no or very limited industry experience and knowledge. That translates to more time managers need to spend away from maintaining and growing the business in order to provide on-the-spot job training and supervision.
Additionally, greenhouses and nurseries are turning to H-2A workers to fill the labor void. But with Immigration Reform looming over the country, it’s no longer a sustainable solution for labor challenges into the foreseeable future.
This is why the push for more automation-friendly containers in greenhouses and nurseries has been gaining momentum as a viable and cost-effective solution that is scalable based on your overall size and budget.
Watch HC's nursery containers used with automated equipment
Popular automated equipment that often helps fill the labor void includes:
- Pot and tray fillers (the most popular)
- Soil/amendment mixing
- Transplanting robotics
- Labeling and printing
There are very good reasons to invest in automated equipment at your greenhouse or nursery as it solves your labor issues, increases your overall efficiencies and reduces the amount of human error in the process.
But it’s important to understand the pros with the cons when it comes to automated equipment which has a high upfront cost, requires some additional oversight and inspection and, as it is a machine, can be finicky and plagued with issues if not utilized correctly.
Watch HC's webinar on automation friendly containers
Benefits of auto-friendly containers for greenhouses and nurseries
The reality is that all greenhouses and nurseries can benefit from some level of automation. Smaller operations, and those leery to adopt this new technology into their business, tend to start and see immediate results from pot and tray filler machines.
Why are fillers a popular choice for those entering into the automated arena? They are:
- Inexpensive compared to robotics
- Provide reliable, effective designs
- Provide a faster ROI over time
- And create uniformity of the fill
However, it’s important to remember that not all planting containers are created equal. If you’re not using automation-friendly containers with your new state-of-the-art equipment, you run the risk of internal damage which may not be covered under the manufacturer’s warranty.
Understanding Automation-Friendly Containers
So, what makes a growing container automation-friendly for pot filler automation?
First, an automation-friendly container will have plenty of space between stacked containers and a defined rim for automated “fingers” to grab on to for easy de-nesting. If there’s not enough space for automated “fingers” to grab the rim when stacked together, you run the risk of pulling multiple pots into the machine and the loose pots repeatedly becoming jammed in the equipment.
Additionally, a sturdy sidewall construction is necessary in order to withstand the force of the automated equipment. If the walls are too thin, they often can crush under the pressure of certain automated machines, and as mentioned above, repeatedly become jammed thus eliminating efficiency gains.
Another thing to be aware of when it comes to pot filler automation is the shift from “fingers” (mentioned above) to suction automated equipment. In this application, a small suction cup grabs the bottom of the pot directly in the center and carries it along on the line. If your automated equipment has this new technology, it’s important that the bottom center of the pot be completely flat, otherwise, the machine will be unable to properly grab the container.
Investing in automated equipment can be scary, but as long as you do your homework and make sure that you’re using automation-friendly containers, the benefits will shine through.
Source: HC's blog
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