The Complete Automation Guide By Bridget White

Welcome to GPN's first "Complete Automation Guide." This is a project that has been in the works for several years and one that we hope to bring you at least twice each year. Over the next 16 pages you'll be able to read about some of the emerging trends in automation, learn more about fillers (probably the most common piece of automation in the United States), see some of the best new products on the market and investigate financing alternatives.

Automation. The word alone strikes fear into the hearts of many U.S. growers. You start imagining something that has to be fixed constantly, costs a fortune, is hard to use and, most importantly, is un-necessary.

I used to feel the same way. After my first trip to Hortifair in The Netherlands, I thought, "This is all neat, but do we really have a need for this in the U.S.?" Our systems of production are radically different, our labor is affordable, our industry is so seasonal…does it really make sense to automate?

Ten, maybe even five, years ago it didn't make sense to waste the money or the aggravation. The equipment was imported from Europe and adapted to U.S. production; it broke often, with repairs taking forever; and industry margins were much better. My, how times have changed. As we fight for every penny with steadily shrinking margins and endure the rising costs of labor, worker's comp and insurances, automation is looking like a pretty good option, especially when you consider the fact that today's generation of automation has been designed for the U.S. grower and is more reliable and easier to use.

Over the past couple of years, I've completely changed my opinion about the place of automation in the U.S. market. Instead of staring wide-eyed at robotic arms in The Netherlands or crane systems in Germany, I now wonder about how the individual components could work in facilities back home. And I've found many more possibilities than I would have ever thought possible. In fact, there are very few greenhouses that wouldn't benefit from a little more automation. Environmental controls, conveyors, transplanters? There's something for almost everyone.

I'm not suggesting that every operation invest a half million dollars in automation. It's not necessary and not smart. But I do invite you to look over the next 16 pages for ideas. Read the case studies. Think about your specific needs and whether or not you would benefit from a little high-tech help.

If you find something you would like to know more about, I invite you to log onto our Web site, www.gpnmag.com, and check out the Automation Zone. There you will find more information about some of the featured products, more articles on automation and a listing of the best suppliers in the industry.

Bridget White

Bridget White, Editorial Director



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