RFID systems maker Tagsys has announced what it claims is a new application for RFID: the monitoring of a plant’s growth and order picking. One of its Dutch customers, Walking Plant Systems, now manufactures its plant-conveyer system for commercial greenhouses based on Tagsys’ RFID infrastructure.
By allowing growers to fit each flower pot with an RFID tag, the company can automate the processes the months-long greenhouse growing process, such as feeding, watering, special care, sorting and picking.
Previously, there was no tracking system because barcode labels were not reliable in the humid environment of greenhouses. Handling barcodes in such an environment also was not effective.
The main selling point of the RFID system is its 100% reliability and its diversity, said Walking Plant sales manager Richard van der Meijs. It is vital for florists to know what they have in stock. They have to be able to make thousands of sorting operations in a very short time. The delivery process is extremely delicate, and the quality must meet the highest standards.
RFID enables Walking Plant’s customers to track the progress of each plant in a 30,000 square-meter greenhouse from seed to sale, which can take from six months to a year.
[Walking Plant] is now able to create databases and statistics, enabling it to put in place processes to increase productivity in the greenhouses and reduce the number of bad or defective plants, said Tagsys chief marketing officer Fred Kohout.
There are two levels of application for the implementation, Kohout said. Firstly, in the greenhouses where RFID is used to manage plants growth from seeding to maturity. The tags are fitted at the bottom of clear plastic pot adaptors. The pots containing dirt and plants are placed in these pot adaptors, and then tracked and implemented on a conveyor system. Once the plant is grown and ready to ship, it is removed from the pot adaptor, which can then be re-used for another potted plant.
Secondly, mature plants are shipped to warehouses for storage and order preparation. Here RFID tags are fixed on the bottom of trays onto which the flower pots are placed. Tag readers underneath the conveyor system enabled the order-pick procedures.
Software from Zetes, which worked with Tagsys on the project, was used to ensure individual plants receive specialized care. Zetes’ imaging software was used to infer the plant’s health, based on photographs of its relative shape. If a plant appeared to need more nutrients, the conveyer system could then send that plant to the corresponding section of the greenhouse.
TAGSYS uses the 10-TL tag and the Medio L100 reader on the project. The tag fits snugly into the pot-adapter, which is a casing for the actual pot. The pots are then fed into a machine and filled with soil and a seedling. They are transferred to trays and kept at constant temperature for 30 weeks. During this time, a ceiling-mounted irrigation system sprays each plant with fertilized water.
So far, Walking Plant has installed its RFID-plant growth monitoring systems at a dozen of its greenhouse clients, which are botanical growers. Walking Plant said at least three million tags in use among its customers and Kohout said, Others are interested.