GreenTech ’19: Automation Inspiration Tour Showcases Westlands Growers [Slideshow]
They say the Westlands area in The Netherlands, situated about an hour’s train trip southwest of Amsterdam, is packed so densely with greenhouse operations that at night the vast array of secondary lighting switching on can sometimes obscure the locals’ view of the stars.
Greenhouse Grower took an afternoon away from the bustle of the GreenTech 2019 Conference and trade show at RAI Amsterdam to join We Prove Solutions (De Lier, Netherlands) on a tour of three greenhouse operations that have invested in varying levels of WPS’ customized automation setups.
First, a little bit about We Prove Solutions, or WPS, a 60+ employee, family-owned greenhouse technology consulting group based in De Lier. The company’s main philosophy and go-to-market can perhaps be summed up, as WPS marketing director Xenia Klop established on the way over from the Delph train station, in a single sentence: “We believe that plants should move to people, not the other way around.”
How exactly does WPS make plants come to people? It’s a compelling ecosystem of various sensors, conveyor belts, rugged controllers, data capture and advanced algorithms, all blended together with that world renowned Dutch ingenuity.
Willem Jan Hoogduin, International Account Manager with WPS, hosted the group for the tour along with Klop and a few other WPS reps.
“With our tour, we’ve started out at greenhouses that have a fairly basic level of automation and then worked our way up to higher levels of automation,” Hoogduin says. “This can help visualize the steps that can be taken by a grower or different solutions that are possible for a grower that has little or no automation.”
Jan Hoogduin confirmed that greenhouse growers in The Netherlands are facing similar labor force issues as growers in the U.S. and Canada. Jobs in the greenhouses across the Westlands that were traditionally filled by Polish and other immigrant populations are often going unfilled as those workers increasingly either seek out digital-based occupations instead, or find higher paying occupations back home.
“At WPS, we want to help the grower find the solution he needs for his greenhouse,” Hoogduin says. “The first step is always to see what actions can be taken to smooth the labor process and find the spots where labor can be made easier or can be automated.”
Additionally, the tour featured a legal cannabis bent, although it bears noting that, aside from the nine growers recently approved by the Dutch government to start producing cannabis legally for the EU’s burgeoning medical cannabis market, producing cannabis in Holland is still quite illegal.
“Growing cannabis in the Netherlands is only allowed under very strict conditions and only for medicinal purpose,” he explains. “So, we had to improvise for this. We’ve shown several systems that can be implemented in the cannabis growing market, and again, that all depends on how the grower wants or needs to grow.”
Although we didn’t see any actual cannabis plants on the tour, after the three greenhouse visits, it’s rather easy to envision where WPS could fit in on our side of the pond in helping legal cannabis producers automate and track many of the processes involved.
“For example,” Hoogduin shares, “A medicinal grower (in North America) would need to account for all his plants in the greenhouse, from day zero. Therefore, he would want to use a system that is controllable and tracks and traces every single plant. For that we offer our Walking Plant System with track and trace software.
“This is the highest level of automation and perfectly suitable for medicinal growers, or the ones that want to know every single detail of each plant for quality control.”
WPS’ Walking Plant System, as well as its SmartFlo conveyor belt-based plant movement solution, were both really impressive in the amount of automation and labor savings they can help a grower achieve. Check out the slideshow above to see some of the visuals from the tour, and for more information, WPS has a blog that spells out the company’s position and philosophies.