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Benefits of Automation Re-examined: Part I

Industrial automation has been around for decades, but up until recently its involvement in indoor agriculture has been minimal. With increased interest in indoor agriculture and controlled-environment agriculture (CEA), as a whole, the level of technology being introduced is exciting, to say the least. However, farming is still farming. There are few individuals who are highly skilled commercial growers AND experienced hardware and software developers. Because of this knowledge gap there are a lot of opportunities for error in designing and maintaining a CEA facility. This is where Grownetics comes in big.

Here is a brief overview of the benefits of automation in your CEA facility.
1. Eliminates time-consuming tasks.

As every grower knows, plants require a great deal of attention. But often times that attention is needed in more than one place at a time. By introducing a few simple forms of automation into your facility you can free yourself from tasks such as hand watering, nutrient mixing/feeding, data collection (checking pH, EC, DO), and many others. When that time frees up you are not only saving money on time spent doing those tasks, you also increase the value of other, extremely important, tasks. This brings us to benefit number two.

2. Allowing more time spent on judgement based work.

When I was working in a commercial CEA greenhouse the most important task was not the actual tending to the plants, it was the eyes we had on the plants. Spotting nutrient deficiencies, potential pest infestations, potential infection sites, etc. But during busy periods requiring a lot of manual labor, we were not able to keep as close an eye out. This directly increased the chance for pest, fungal, and bacterial infestation. There is no point in pruning a plant that has been devastated by spider mites.

3. Eliminating human error.

There is something we can all attest to. Humans are inherently imperfect. I don’t care who you are, it is impossible to spend all your time and attention on everything at the same time and I think my example above backs up this claim. With this imperfection there is always a chance for error when it comes to repetitive tasks. Sometimes the repercussions are minimal but they can easily become disastrous and cost you an entire harvest.

4. Reduces energy costs.

As indoor growers know and as many of you can imagine, re-creating the outdoor environment requires a great deal of energy. With the help of automation, indoor growers can take advantage of off-peak hours by automating energy intensive processes to run during these periods of reduced energy prices. These off-peak hours are usually between 9pm and 7am. We’ll talk about how these energy savings can be taken to the next level in Part II of this series with the Grownetics system.

5. Easy replication of success.

After you have mitigated your disasters caused by human error, lowered your labor costs, tightened-up your energy costs, and put an extra eye on your precious plants, you can enjoy the benefits of replicating your success. With automation you have the ability to keep your environment running consistent along with fertigation and irrigation systems, allowing you to spend more time doing the job you enjoy most, growing the best food and medicine you can.

In this brief overview we showed how automation can greatly increase your efficiency, help mitigate disaster, and increase overall productivity. But simply adding automation is not enough. In fact, it’s more like a band-aid to your inefficiencies rather than a total solution. For each subsystem (irrigation system, air-flow control, etc.) you add to your facility, more time is required for training, monitoring, and troubleshooting. Not to mention, all the data you pull from those systems only adds more hours to your weekly routine. In “The Benefits of Automation: Re-Examined, Part II” we will discuss how the Grownetics system eliminates those time-consuming and costly tasks by integrating all the subsystems into one full-facility automation platform. Stay Tuned!!