From Autos to Automation By Mike Porter

We've noticed, GPN and I that is, that there is very little quality information about the automated side of our industry. Consequently, we decided that a monthly column about greenhouse automation might be in order. We've noticed, GPN and I that is, that there is very little quality information about the automated side of our industry. Consequently, we decided that a monthly column about greenhouse automation might be in order.

We've noticed, GPN and I that is, that there is very little quality information about the automated side of our industry. Consequently, we decided that a monthly column about greenhouse automation might be in order.

With eight years serving commercial growers, I am a relative newcomer to an industry where most people are second or third generation. Prior to entering this industry, I spent over 20 years in auto parts manufacturing, one of the most automated industries in the world. Let me describe the market conditions during my last eight years in the automotive parts industry.

•Prices for our products decreased each of those eight years.

•We signed long-term supply contracts with built-in price reductions.

• When our customers were having a difficult year, they arbitrarily reduced our prices still further.

• With only three customers in North America, saying no to these demands was not really an option.

• Customers cut engineering staffs and expected the supply base to assume those functions and absorb the cost.

If all this sounds familiar to you, maybe you can understand why I felt comfortable in the greenhouse industry very quickly.

The conditions described above are not ideal, but there is good news. Cars are still being made in the United States, and not only are the best suppliers still in business, many have thrived and improved their profitability. The survivors were not always the biggest players, but all shared some attributes.

The first, and to me the most important, hurdle was to accept the market as it was. At the beginning of my career in the auto industry, we simply had to document our cost increases to get a price increase. It wasn't easy to accept that those days were gone forever, and not every supplier was able to accept it. Most of those who didn't failed. The key was to search for ways to succeed rather than reasons why you couldn't.

There is no single road to success; all avenues must be explored. Automated equipment is an important part of overall improvement in operating efficiency. Proper use of automated equipment can do more than reduce labor costs: it can help improve the quality and consistency of your product; it can help you get that one extra turn that is so important to profitability; it can help you get more product out the door on those longed-for sunny weekends.

In future issues, I will talk about many automation topics. One thing I won't dwell on is examples of operations in Holland that only have one employee per acre. While such operations provide some lessons, the typical U.S. grower has a far greater crop variety and a much more compressed shipping schedule than the typical Dutch grower. The emphasis of this column will be on flexible automation for the American grower. We believe you will find future columns informative and helpful for your business.

Mike Porter

Mike Porter is president of Nexus Corporation, Boulder, Colo. He can be reached via phone at (303) 457-9199 and E-mail at mikep@nexuscorp.com.



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