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The Automated Greenhouse: What robots can contribute to herb production

Intelligent automation makes herb production competitive and flexible. Therefore, Rosborg Food Holding, Denmark’s largest producer of herbs and miniature plants, has decided to automate their greenhouse with OnRobot’s collaborative grippers.

 

Since ancient times, herbs have been an appreciated good. In the course of centuries, however, the conditions of their preparation have changed.

 

Food manufacturers face the challenges of a globalized market environment.

  • The demand for their products is constantly growing.
  • Its product range is becoming more diverse.
  • The products themselves are subjected to a high degree of seasonality.

 

In order to stay competitive, manufacturers need to rationalize and automate their production comprehensively.

 

This is also noticed by Danish manufacturer Rosborg Food Holding:

Plant Manager in the Automated Greenhouse

 

“We are continuously working to improve the productivity and efficiency of our processes. By finding automation solutions for monotonous, physically demanding tasks, we can relieve our employees. At the same time, it helps us to reduce the number of overtime hours and the employment of temporary staff.”

 

Henning Jørgensen, partner and plant manager of Rosborg Food Holding

 

 

How automation increases efficiency in the greenhouse

 

Facing the aforementioned challenges, food producers are searching for ways to increase production capacities, especially at peak times like Christmas or Easter. At the same time, they don’t want to see their revenue cut by overtime and replacement workers.

 

Therefore, collaborative robots find their way into the greenhouse, rendering it an increasingly automated environment. 

 

Rosborg for instance experienced shrinking profit margins at times of high production volumes. In 2013, a new owner modernized the company’s entire manufacturing. He invested 37 million Danish crowns in highly efficient greenhouses equipped with automation technology and robots. At the same time, Rosborg expanded its product range to meet the growing demand for herbs other than those traditionally used in Scandinavian cuisine.

 

“Our employees have a positive attitude towards the prospect of using collaborative robot technologies. They view them as production support, helping them to work more efficiently and reduce overtime,” Jørgensen explains.

 

No automated greenhouse without sensitive gripping

Collaborative Gripper in the Automated Greenhouse

The handling of delicate goods like herbs requires a high degree of dexterity, which represents an interesting challenge when it comes to automating this process.

“We were looking for a gripper that could gently lift the herbs and flowers without crushing them,” recalls Jørgensen. Therefore, they chose OnRobot’s RG6 gripper, which is characterized by

  • gentle and careful gripping movements,
  • precision,
  • and flexibility.

This is only possible, as the gripper’s two “fingers” feature intelligent, advanced technology, that mimics the human sense of touch when gripping and moving objects.

 


 

 

The RG6 is mounted on a collaborative robot arm by Universal Robots, making for a flexible packaging line. Together, arm and gripper now fold packaging cartons and place herbal fine cuts in the folding boxes.

 

Flexibility and ROI: Crucial factors for robots in the automated greenhouse

 

The new generation of collaborative robots places extremely diverse demands on the gripper at the end of the robot arm. 

 

“What the gripper needs to be capable of depends entirely on the selected task,” says Enrico Krog Iversen, CEO of OnRobot. “The more user-friendly, flexible and careful the gripper, the greater the variety of tasks that can be automated, and the faster the robots and grippers pay off for the buyer.”

 

Jørgensen confirms: “When choosing our solution, the best possible payback period was of course a crucial factor.”

 

Rosborg on the way to fully automated plant handling in the greenhouse

 

Rosborg Food Holding is a great example for successful greenhouse automation. It is therefore not surprising that Henning Jørgensen is already planning further steps: “The next project will be the acquisition of another collaborating robot with a gripper suitable for equipping a cutting machine for the herbs.” Perspectively, arm and gripper are supposed to carefully pick up the plants, turn them and then place them on the conveyor belt to the cutting machine.