Automation is a huge part of Precision Horticulture, and there have been many advancements in this growing area of the industry over the last several years.
AgriNomix is one of the companies at the forefront of the Precision Horticulture revolution. Greenhouse Grower recently visited AgriNomix, where President Robert Lando took us on a tour of its facilities to show how the automation equipment manufacturer has grown and incorporated new technology into its machines.
Focused On Quality And Service
Founded 20 years ago in Oberlin, Ohio, AgriNomix now serves 390 grower customers throughout North America. Its team of six sales people and a seven-person technical support maintenance team install and service machines all over the continent. Sales reps survey growers extensively with visits to audit machines and customers, to understand their needs from start to finish, and find out how AgriNomix can serve them, either through tweaks on their current machines or by building new concepts.
AgriNomix helps growers analyze their needs and constraints and provides specifications and guidance to help them make decisions on the best machine for their operation. Once installed and integrated at a grower facility, including control panels and software programs, technicians can fully train the staff on a machine or system’s optimal use and function. Technicians often visit growers to make sure equipment is adjusted and fine-tuned to the most current operating environment and conditions. AgriNomix also has a parts crib onsite and a private airplane, which allows for quick delivery of parts and immediate maintenance.
For larger, more complex systems, AgriNomix provides a CAD drawing, showing correctly scaled equipment as it would layout in the environment. Growers can work with Process Specialist Bill Bissell, to develop plans for future facilities. Bissell draws sophisticated plans for expansion, mapping out where everything will go and what it will look like, including existing equipment and future equipment lines.
Technical service is available via telephone 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with internet-based troubleshooting coming online before the end of the year. New offerings in radio wireless technology allow machines, such as the Urbinati RW 2100 Twin Transplanter, to actually eMail technical support when it malfunctions, and technicians can remotely look inside the machine with cameras to determine the problem and offer solutions to the grower. AgriNomix incorporates a router in many of its machines’ control panels, so they can communicate wirelessly with technical support.
Focus On Engineering Offers Quick, Custom Solutions
AgriNomix partners with a worldwide network of manufacturers that offer high-quality products, and also designs, engineers and manufactures its own products. Additionally, AgriNomix develops and implements changes, such as control options, to its partners’ products.
The business employs two mechanical engineers, five manufacturing technicians and two mechanical engineering interns. This heavy engineering focus allows AgriNomix to create and explore new possibilities and customize solutions for growers. Using Solidworks 3D software, AgriNomix engineers can engineer parts on-screen, then see how they work and react to the other parts in the 3D rendering of the machine. The software allows them to see a flattened view of the part, to see what it will look like and how it will be shaped on the laser cutter, Lando says.
With this process, the engineers can determine within hours what modifications can realistically be made to equipment, and what the cost might be to apply them.
“Without the mechanical engineers here to draw it, we couldn’t have figured out in two hours how to modify a pot filler to add blowers and brushes,” Lando says. “With the software, skill level of the engineer and knowledge of the grower, we can see very quickly what we can and cannot do.”
AgriNomix has an onsite 3D printer, where part prototypes can be printed in a matter of hours, to allow engineers to make any necesssary modifications to part designs or the mechanics of a machine. This dramatically cuts down on time and cost, says mechanical engineer Neil Mabrouk.
Machines are engineered and modeled on site, then parts are outsourced locally and returned to AgriNomix for assembly. Up until about four years ago, none of the building was done on site, but about half of its machines are built on the floor at the Oberlin location today, Lando says.
With advances in additive technology, 3D printing will manufacture parts from alloy metals and many other materials. Eventually, Mabrouk predicts, 3D printing will be the future of all parts manufacturing for everything from automobiles to airplanes. And while AgriNomix isn’t in the business of building airplanes (yet), its engineers strive to be on par with the same level of technology, Lando says.