You’ve decided that you need to cut labor costs as well as wear and tear on employee’s shoes and muscles, so you’ve opted to install a conveyance system in a small greenhouse. What are your options?

There are a number of different types of conveyance systems, as well as variations within systems. Depending on your goals, the right system can help you achieve greater mobility, reduce personnel hours, speed up production tasks and, ultimately, can help you to grow your business. Here’s a brief overview of the what to consider.

Conveyors

There are countless ways to move plants around the greenhouse, but you’re interested in the most efficient, most cost-effective solution for your particular needs. Let’s look beyond requiring employees to pick up individual containers and walk them across the span. What works for someone else may not work for you, but the beauty of conveyance systems is their versatility. They can be tailored to fit your needs, and adjusted once your needs change.

Depending on the size of your facility, depending on the crop you produce, depending on the size of your structure, you may need a conveyor system composed of rollers and/or belts, or you may need carts and racks. You may even need an overhead, mechanized system to store or ferry hanging containers. This can virtually double the capacity of your facility.

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Belt conveyors can be designed, built and adapted to move containers, flats, boxes and other materials, and in many cases, this is the option that works well for small operations. In general, manufacturers offer widths ranging from the very narrow — 4 inches — to wider options up to 24 inches, capable of handling a greater volume of plants. Lengths will vary (and can be built to reach up to 100 feet), and a custom configuration should be relatively simple to create. The resulting extension conveyor is useful when containers must be moved between benches, or to make the job of loading a truck easier.

Overhead conveyors are supported by the greenhouse frame, which means it is critical that you work closely with your manufacturer or distributor to assure that the structure is capable of handling the weight. If this is an option, then it’s possible to dramatically increase storage as well as transfer of pots between areas or from greenhouse to shipping.

Gravity conveyors are most often used for moving boxed or bagged goods between elevations, but if plants are secured in flats or in flat-bottomed boxes, these conveyors can deliver plants between benches and loading docks, or from pot filler to bench.

Automating the movement of plants from one spot to another in the greenhouse need not require redesign of your structure, nor a refinance loan.

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Benefits of conveyors

  • Standardize your production – With a conveyor system, you can easily batch containers of similar sizes for efficient movement. Limiting the variation in container size also limits the amount of time spent adjusting equipment.
  • Increase production volume – Loading efficiently and transporting quickly — without straining muscles — can help you handle more plants in less time.
  • Reduce spillage and decrease loss from breakage – The smooth operation of a conveyor helps to prevent jostling and may protect plants from the risk of being dropped.
  • Reduce employee time and labor – Loading and unloading requires fewer bodies — and less time — than loading, lifting, carrying and unloading.
  • Move plants more efficiently between elevations. If your facility requires a change in elevation, a ramped conveyor moves containers safely and smoothly.

Resources and manufacturers, conveyors

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Racks and carts

Carts and racks don’t move by themselves — not yet — but the volume of flats and containers that can be moved on one rack far outweighs what one person can carry. Multitiered racks make it easy to transport plants from the greenhouse to a waiting truck, and smaller two- or four-wheeled carts can service customers if your small greenhouse is open to retail customers — or if you have just a few plants to move.

Racks that are configured to fit onto larger transport trucks may also serve as retail display at the end point, provided you have an agreement with the garden center to return them.

Smaller conveyance vehicles may still require people power, but for a small facility, their utility cannot be beat.

Resources and manufacturers, racks and carts