Indoor Vertical Farming Gets a Boost with Ultimation’s Conveyor Technologies

Roseville's Ultimation says its conveyor technology can be implemented to increase the efficiency of indoor vertical farming operations. // Courtesy of Ultimation Industries
Roseville’s Ultimation says its conveyor technology can be implemented to increase the efficiency of indoor vertical farming operations. // Courtesy of Ultimation Industries

Ultimation Industries in Roseville, a direct-to-consumer conveyor manufacturer, announced it is currently building the material handling system for what it states is the world’s largest indoor vertical farming facility, for which it says its conveyor technologies are designed to increase operational efficiency and more.

The indoor vertical farming market is expected to grow to $9.7 billion worldwide by 2026 from $3.1 billion in 2021. Overall, vertical farming produces higher yields when compared to conventional farming, offers year-round crop production, and advances in lighting and other technologies, according to Ultimation.

“Conveyors are one of the simplest and quickest productivity improvements a fast-growing business can implement and are especially suited to the vertical farming industry,” says Richard Canny, president of Ultimation. “Simple roller conveyors or overhead I-beam trolleys can have a payback of days or weeks, while larger custom-built systems often have payback periods of only 3-6 months.”

One of the solutions offered by Ultimation, overhead conveyors can lift growing trays when they’re not being actively managed and bring them back to operator level for tending and harvesting, allowing more produce to be grown within the same footprint.

Conveyors also can help reduce the manual labor of carrying items by hand by quickly and safely transporting plants from point A to point B. According to Canny, systems can be engineered to seamlessly integrate with harvesting and packing equipment available through Ultimation’s expansive partner network.

Ultimation uses materials made of galvanized steel, zinc-plated materials, and powder-coated frames which are approved for food-grade applications and are easily cleaned, increasing productivity. Ultimation can also design systems for hanging towers and growth pods made of food-grade plastic when required.

Different types of conveyor systems are typically used for various parts of the growing process. For example, the sections of the farms where plants are sitting still can use simple, standardized material handling systems. Vertical format conveyors such as hanging towers or horizontal formats such as growing trays can be customized to match the grower’s needs.

“The best planned and best-run indoor farming facilities take into account the product’s growth cycle and will likely use a combination of a conveyor system designs to maximize productivity,” says Canny. “Our engineers understand the economics of indoor farming and can help growers design, build, and implement material handling solutions that meet their needs and budget.”

Once plants are grown, more sophisticated technologies like automated motorized conveyors and automatic storage and retrieval systems are needed to safely move produce to the harvesting area.

The most used industrial automation equipment for indoor farming are gravity roller, belt, and skate wheel or flow rail conveyors. These systems use the force of gravity to move the load, allowing the product to roll along the upper surface.

More recently, the technology used in larger vertical farming systems includes motorized and overhead conveyors that take advantage of the generally unused vertical space above the working area. Using curved sections or lifters, they bring produce down to operator level and back up to higher elevations as needed.

In turn, power and free conveyors deliver the maximum space and volume optimization for vertical farming systems as they enable tight concentration of product in some areas while also enabling separation of the products for movement to processing areas.

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