Fully-automatic watering systems, placing robots for the potted plants, climate computers for perfect ambient conditions or picking of different plant types. The flower industry now uses automated high-tech solutions. A gardener with a spade and hose is a thing of the past. This is also the case in the potted plant production and logistics of Rutishauser AG in Switzerland. Identification solutions from SICK make an important contribution to this technological environment. The RFID read/write devices and bar code scanners enable problem-free dispatch of over 200 different types of plants per day and master the special ambient conditions on-site.
"We are working on a living product - this means very special requirements on our production and logistics," explains Daniel Fuster, Head of IT at Rutishauser AG. Dirt such as soil, loose flowers, leaves hanging from the plants and different packagings made of foil and cardboard make the identification of the individual pots and plant trays more difficult. Together with SICK and integrator Rey Automation AG, all identification solutions in the Rutishauser logistics system were evaluated in the framework of the installation of a flexible control with only one interface. Rutishauser has already used SICK technology in the past and again selected a combination of RFID and bar code scanners. This solution offers particular reliability when reading RFID tags on the trays. And the Swiss company is thrilled with the excellent read rates of the RFH630 RFID read/write device and the CLV615 bar code scanner. "This is a real technological leap," says Fuster.
Interplay of various identification technologies
Thanks to the SICK solution, Rutishauser dispatches 450,000 trays per year with millions of potted plants and cut flowers from the modern picking system. At peak times, this is up to 20 truckloads a day which leave the logistics center in Züberwangen near Wil and are delivered to wholesalers all over Switzerland. The family company, four generations old, is specialized in blooming potted plants. Geraniums, poinsettias, cyclamens, chrysanthemums and cut tulips are the highlights of the extensive, high-quality product range. 3.5 million tulips were produced and sent out in 2016 alone. The "flower family" pays extra special attention to selecting the right varieties and ensuring high quality and biological crop management when cultivating the seedlings in the greenhouses.
After the plants have grown on large tables in the huge greenhouses, the so-called preparation takes place. The pots are placed in trays and then in the picking station for dispatch. Every tray receives an RFID tag which is used to assign it to the current plant. Depending on the priority of the delivery, the delivery position of the customer order is selected fully automatically from the first of five RFID read/write devices and linked to the tag. This makes it possible to transport the goods directly to the correct stations on the loading belts - the five RFH630s read the RFID tags at a distance of 25 cm. No visual contact, rough ambient conditions and reliable read rates - the RFID read/write devices from SICK really make the most of their advantages and are the best option for Rutishauser for the reliable identification of trays. The CLV615 bar code scanners are then used for packaging the trays in order to assign the boxes to the correct pallet for truck transport.
Everything from a single source with 4Dpro connectivity
Particularly important for Rey Automation AG and Rutishauser AG was a uniform connection concept with a PROFINET interface. The 4Dpro connectivity with a total of eight CDF600-2 fieldbus modules enables quick integration of all sensors used. "We want to have everything from a single source - particularly for signaling - so that compatibility is ensured should replacement be necessary. This is an important point for us," explains Daniel Fuster. 4Dpro connectivity from SICK has met this requirement without a doubt. The service during configuration and the reliability of the devices impressed Fuster during the very first tests: "Take them out of the package, put them down and they already work."
The Head of IT would like to advance automation at Rutishauser and in the flower industry in the coming years using intelligent sensor technology. Preparing trays with virtual reality goggles, quality control of every individual plant with inspection solutions or additional sensor technology for measuring the temperature and humidity during transport are only some of Fuster's visionary ideas for how his industry can develop - and in no small part thanks to the support of intelligent sensors from SICK.