“We continue to look for new ideas from growers and want to help them develop solutions to challenges facing their operations,” said Raymond van den Berg of the ISO Group in accepting the award.
Following the award presentation, Greenhouse Grower TECHNOLOGY caught up with van den Berg to discuss the development of the Cutting Planter 2500, and what’s next for the company.
Q: Can you tell us why you developed the Cutting Planter 2500? What were you looking to address in terms of helping growers deal with challenges in production?
Raymond van den Berg: The design of a new machine always starts with the demand of a grower to make his or her operation more efficient, and to help the grower with labor-intensive tasks. The 2500 is a development from the ISO Cutting Planter 4000, which is used in the cut chrysanthemum industry in Holland. The 4000 machine was designed for chrysanthemums based on the shape and characteristics of their cuttings, and on the tray that was used for the propagation of cut chrysanthemums.
We saw that the market needed a more flexible machine that would be able to plant all sorts of varieties and types of plants. So we designed a machine with Vision software with machine-learning capacities to let the grower teach the software how to grab and stick cuttings, and a gripper head that was able to grab the smallest cuttings and plant them in all sorts of patterns, trays, and types of soil.
Q: How did you modify the system to make it work?
van den Berg: With the single-head gripper, the machine is very flexible in grabbing cuttings and placing them in whatever pattern or tray the grower wants. We even designed multiple grippers for large-type cuttings.
Because the first designed gripper was developed to handle really small cuttings, with the tweezers, the machine is able to guide the stem into the soil instead of pushing it. This prevents damage occurring from the stem breaking.
In addition, with the constant development of the software we use for recognition, we are able to view the stems more accurately, which gives us the ability to work with more varieties. We still continue to improve the software, which will give the 2500 machine even more possibilities.
Q: What type of education do you provide for growers who want to use the system?
van den berg: The ISO Group strives to make machines that are user-friendly for the operator. This means the machines should be easy to operate, with fewer parts. We also develop our own user interface, which helps us listen to the concerns of the grower and the end user.
We want to hear from these growers and end users to see what we could improve and what they think of the machine. We are starting a new website for the ISO Cutting Planter where we will provide tips and tricks to help operators use the machine in an optimal way.
Q: What’s next for the ISO Group? Is there any new technology you are working on right now?
van den Berg: The ISO Group is constantly looking at new developments and new machines. We are happy with the ISO Plug Planting machine that we introduced this year. This machine is able to plant plugs from out of a tray directly into the full ground with robot arms.
Aside from this, we are busy with new grading solutions and a new planting device that is still under embargo.
We always try to combine robotics, vision, and plant handling to help growers automate their greenhouse operation, not only to solve labor issues, but also to improve quality and make the company more efficient. We are open to new ideas and plans growers may have to help them automate their difficult and labor-intensive tasks.
Grower Trials Show Benefits, Future Potential
Spring Meadow Nursery in Grand Haven, MI, is in its second season using the ISO cutting machines, and Gail Berner, Manager of Propagation at Spring Meadow, says the company has gained quite a bit of efficiency this year over last.
“More than 50% of our softwood sticking has been performed by the ISO machines,” Berner says. “Since we produce liners of woody plants, our cuttings, all taken in-house, are much larger than the perennial and annual cuttings that the ISO machines are designed for. We have worked hard to see how small we can take our cuttings so that they work better with ISO, but still root at expected rates. ISO has been very attentive to the challenges of sticking larger woody cuttings and have made different robotic heads to be able to stick our thicker-stemmed cuttings.”
Berner says manually stuck cuttings have rooting hormone applied with a quick dip, a method that has worked very well. However, this method does not work well with the ISO machines because the liquid hormone wets the belt feeding the cuttings and attracts debris so that the cameras cannot easily identify the cuttings.
“We have switched to foliar-applied hormone after the plants are placed in the greenhouse,” Berner says. “This somewhat reduces our flexibility to use a stronger hormone on certain difficult-to-root plants, but we have found a strength that works well for 90% of the plants run through ISO.”
This summer, Spring Meadow installed a dip tray on each machine so it can quick dip the cuttings between picking them up and placing them in the cell.
“We have rooting trials underway to compare this fast speed dip to foliar treatment,” Berner says.
Spring Meadow uses the ISO machines to stick 72, 32, and 18 cells, with one or two cuttings per cell. So far this year, the ISO machines stick 30% faster than manual sticking on the 72 and 32 cells and 20% on the 18 cells.
“Because we are currently very space constrained, this impacts being able to have sufficient buffer of in-feed flats, and there is also insufficient length of the outfeed belt,” Berner says. “These two pinch points keep us from even greater gains in efficiency. We have a new production facility under construction, which will be in use by the fall of 2019, and I would expect to gain another 20% over manual sticking with properly sized infeed and outfeed conveyors.”
The long-term goal at Spring Meadow is to be able to use the machines to stick 75% of its product mix.