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Home>Automation>Picking & sortation>Automated vertical farming: Bringing food production closer to the customer

Automated vertical farming: Bringing food production closer to the customer

07 May 2021

Vertical indoor farming, the practice of farming crops in vertically stacked layers, is poised to become a transformational and indispensable part of the food industry. While it is currently a 3 billion USD sector, many vertical farming operations are still only able to profitably grow a limited number of crops. To unlock the full potential of vertical farming, system-wide automation is key.

That is why Swisslog, leading provider of best-in-class warehouse automation and software, is now offering its proven logistics technology to the vertical farming industry. By applying a logistics-market approach to vertical farming, Swisslog provides sustainable and flexible automation solutions to help vertical farming become profitable and scalable beyond the niche applications it currently occupies.

Helping to strengthen the food supply chain

“Swisslog creates automation systems that bring scalability, flexibility, and lower costs to vertical farming, allowing them to be installed and maintained in a wide range of pre-existing and purpose-built spaces.” says Swisslog Managing Director James Sharples. These systems help broaden the applicability of growing crops and bring food production closer to consumers in densely populated urban areas.

Continually researching and exploring applications where automation technology could improve efficiencies, Swisslog is aiming to drive industries forward and contribute to society. James continues: “By bringing automation technology to vertical farming, we can help strengthen the food supply chain, transform abandoned urban buildings into growing facilities, contribute to reductions in pollution and, most importantly, eliminate food deserts.”

A logistics-market approach to vertical farming

The broad portfolio of Swisslog automation solutions provides enormous flexibility in customising systems and configurations based on the strategy, growing process, crop type and space availability of the vertical farming operation. For instance, one approach could use a shuttle system with a modular design, such as Swisslog’s PowerStore high density shuttle system. In this possible installation, automated shuttles would move around discrete plant shelving units inside an enclosed room or facility. Each shelving unit could hold multiple plant trays, depending on plant growth height needs. Shelving units would move around the enclosed space based on the needs of the plants for water, nutrients, light, planting, germination, maintenance, harvesting and monitoring. 

“Without the help of cost-effective and flexible automation, vertical farming is not profitable or scalable beyond the niche applications it currently occupies,” said James Sharples, managing director of Swisslog UK. “By taking a logistics-market approach to vertical farming, we can provide scalable, adaptable, cost-effective automation solutions for low-footprint, vertically stacked installations that can handle planting, monitoring, maintenance and harvesting – as well as the complex scheduling and logistics of such an operation.” 

Overcoming barriers to growth

While the global market for vertical farming is forecasted to increase, many operations are still only able to profitably grow a limited number of crops, including leafy greens, herbs, and smaller vegetables. The innovative Swisslog automation solutions will help the industry overcome barriers to growth by providing the following potential benefits:

  • Orchestrating the process by using essential parts of Swisslog’s SynQ management software to support automated flow in production of the plant.  
  • Enabling installation into in diverse types of spaces (e.g. abandoned warehouses in urban centres, unused floor space in office buildings or new purpose-built facilities)
  • Lowering the cost of labour for harvesting, planting, and logistics.
  • Reducing energy use by optimising lighting system.
  • Decreasing costs of nurturing the plant by using unique space management arrangement 
  • Shrinking transportation costs by enabling vertical farming to be placed closer to point of sale.

Pilot systems in operation

Swisslog is working with farming companies and grocers to explore potential applications and installations and has a number of pilot installations currently in operation. The company expects a larger customer application of the automation system to be deployed by summer 2021.

For more information on Swisslog automation technologies applicable for vertical farming, visit www.swisslog.com/en-gb/business-solutions/vertical-farming

Swisslog World Automation Tour gets the show on the road 

Following a successful opening show at the ASDA IDC in Lutterworth, intralogistics expert Swisslog is on the road to showcase more flagship customer sites as part of its World Automation Tour. 

Each show kicks off with a meet and greet with a Swisslog logistics consultant and on-site engineer, who are equipped to walk attendees around a live automated solution. Throughout each demo, participants can experience automation in action from a customer’s perspective, and get questions answered in real time.

Experience live automation from any workspace 

Whether the tour is hosted from Berlin, London, Barcelona, Sydney, New York or Shanghai, forward-thinking businesses can register for any or all of the available tour dates. Further customer showcases will include Rewe in Germany, Trinchero in the US, Coca-Cola in Syndey as well as a sneak behind the scenes tour of one of Swisslog’s factories manufacturing the renowned Vectura crane, in Sweden.

The opening show took place on 29th April 2021 at the ASDA IDC in Lutterworth, home to the largest AutoStore installation in the UK. The tour showed participants how Swisslog technology and expertise allows the leading retailer to pick at twice the rate with 99.8% accuracy. Stacked on top of one another, the bins inside ASDA’s AutoStore system measure 17.8 times higher than the world’s tallest building, the Burj Kahlifa in Dubai. 

Automation fans across the globe are invited to register to upcoming events via www.swisslog.com/WorldAutomationTour