Industry 4.0 and IoT

This section is about Industry 4.0 and IoT and how it can have a positive effect on the horticultural wholesale nursery.

  • Have you been feeling overwhelmed by how fast the world and technology is changing?
  • Do you feel lost in the number of choices and options?
  • Do you feel like you are unable to make sense of all the new technology and how it can impact your business? 

If you align with any of this, let me try to break it down for you as well as show you some of the options and benefits.  We are at a point in our lives were there are tremendous opportunities and the likelihood of disruption to the way business is being done is happening right now.  Lets dig into the basic terms and how they apply to your business.  I’m going to make an assumption that you likely have an iPhone and you may have some devices that connect to the internet (nest thermostat or an amazon echo).  I think this is the most applicable representation of today’s technology.

Lets walk through a scenario – You take a picture with your phone of one of your plants at your nursery.  This picture is stored both on your phone and it is then connected to a remote location called the iCloud.  This remote location is a more sophisticated version of your home computer where it stores your pictures and other data.  Your nursery website, your emails, and many other electronic documents are also stored on these remote computers.  These computers are called servers and they are actually physical warehouses that have high security and house your data, same as a John Deere warehouse storing parts for your tractors.  These data warehouses (servers), sort information and store them in databases so that you can later find the information.

There are a couple of key terms that define parts of this system. 

  • iPhone – Embedded System – A very complicated Embedded System.  An embedded system is a small computer.
  • iCloud – Cloud storage and cloud computing Cloud – offsite storage of your data.
  • Data – a picture or an email or any information stored electronically on your computer.  You pay for data transmission and connectivity with your “data” plan on your phone.
  • Connectivity – There are many ways for data to be transferred.  The most common are through WiFi and your standard internet service and through the cellular network.

OK, now lets say you have a Nest thermostat, a weather station, or some other smart device that you’ve hooked up to your WiFi network at your home.  These devices are called IoT devices and are collectively referred to as the Internet of Things.  They do two things – they take in information, forward it on to databases (in the cloud) and they also do something called edge computing.  They may be programmed to make certain advanced decisions without requiring a connection to the internet.  The original “edge computing” is your home computer, which functions quite well without internet.  A computer is able to make very complex decisions and calculations with or without your input.  Another example of edge computing is ABS brakes on cars and to an even greater extent, the new auto braking and lane alert systems on automobiles.  They use programs stored locally on the vehicle to automatically make decisions about when to apply the brakes or alert the operator.

We’re working through the terms, lets move on to some more, what’s SAAS?  SAAS stands for Software As A Service and you probably use it daily.  If you have ever logged on to a website that hosts your information, you’ve used a SAAS program.  SAAS programs often charge a fee for the subscription.  When you use a program that is not required to be installed on your computer, it is a SAAS program.  A common example of a SAAS program is Mint or Quicken, you have an option of purchasing this software and loading it on your computer and you also have an option of buying a subscription and logging into a website which has your data stored on their systems.  The benefit of a SAAS program is that it can often be accessed anywhere, including from your phone, it is constantly being updated and upgrades and customization can be done quickly by the manufacturer.

There are some things happening in the background to make these technologies work together.  The communication between different companies is through an Application Programming Interface or API for short.  This is the communication method between different data sources and properly provides and interprets the information.  As I mentioned, you may be using quick-books or quicken, in this case, intuit, the parent company has developed APIs that allow for electronic communication between your bank and the intuit software.  All of this complexity can seem overwhelming and that is where STILT.PRO comes in.  We’re building the systems to manage all of this at your nursery, so again, you can focus on growing.

rice hull topdressing equipment inspection

All of this technology provides an opportunity for advanced insights.  A data scientist will often be employed to develop and program tools called algorithms that can do many things like predict insights, be programmed to identify faces or use a thumbprint to unlock your phone.  The terms you’ll hear associated around this is machine learning, neural networks and artificial intelligence.  We won’t get into these advanced topics here.  STILT.PRO is developing solutions that can do things like identify if your pumps are operating too hot, if you have a fan or vent in your greenhouse that has failed and the temperature is rising to the point of damaging your crops.  We are developing simple solutions on a basic level to provide the critical day to day operation and visibility of your growing operation.

The last term to discuss is Industry 4.0.  Industry 4.0 is the term coined as the fourth industrial revolution.  The first being mechanization in the late 1700s, the second being mass production in the late 1800s, the third being computers in the late 1960s early 70s and now we are at the 4th revolution which revolves around networks and the internet of things.  STILT.PRO has identified the potential to apply this network and internet of things technology to horticultural nurseries and equipment and we are working to develop solutions that embrace and employ this new and unique opportunity.

Bringing this all back together around STILT.PRO and nurseries, we believe that we can utilize internet of things (IoT) to provide new and automated insight into how your business operates and in turn providing the ability to improve efficiencies, prevent potential problems, enhance the workers experience by providing more clarity and safety to the job and giving you peace of mind at your nursery as we move into the future of how business, specifically wholesale nurseries will operate.

The first example of this is our rice hull blower.  The rice hull blower is a machine that has a data collection system on it to provide information about the operation of the equipment.  The machine can measure pressures, temperatures, run time and other information.  The recording of this information allows STILT.PRO to alert the maintenance staff of issues with the operation of the equipment, troubleshoot problems and provide insight into productivity.

All being said, this is a wonderful time to live in and there are tremendous opportunities around Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things.

Share some contact info and we'll see how we can help you!

What does the warranty look like?

3 Year, Unlimited Hours Warranty – INCLUDED

What does it include?

Includes: Problem identification, remote trouble shooting of issue, support and instruction for proper repair, and providing replacement of failed parts.

What is excluded?

Excludes – Misuse of equipment (including using non horticultural potting mixes with high sand and field soil content) or improper care, such as leaving fertilizer in machine for an extended period of time.  Wear parts (chain, slats, wear plates or surfaces).  External physical damage inflicted on the machine.  Labor repair costs.

We will walk you through the repair process and make sure you're happy.

What about Service Parts?

Yes, we keep inventory of most all parts. Most all of the components are either US Sourced or a common off the shelf component. We are having some supply chain issues on components, but we are working through the best way to manage that.

What about Repair?

All of our machines are designed right here in the US.  We design these machines to be easily repairable by an inexperienced worker.  Should a problem arise, you won’t need to weld or fabricate a new part.  The entire machine is bolted together and you can simply bolt in a replacement part.

The hopper capacity seems low

We have heard that concern, I get it, you won’t be able to load a machine up and let a person pot plants for a day.

Some perspective – The rear load machine holds about 3/4 – 1 cubic yard which is up to about 200 gallons of material. That gives you about 15 minutes of runtime without stopping.

The reason for the smaller equipment size is to primarily keep the price and complexity down.

Increasing the machine size has a few unwelcome side effects:

-Increase horsepower requirements which means increased power – now you have to have dedicated power for the machine.

-Increasing the hopper size also increases the physical size of the machine which increases the overall cost and reduces portability

You may have not made a purchase on a potting machine in the past because of the overall cost.

We're being cautious around those concerns and trying to work within your business goals.

Is this production rate slow?

From time to time, we hear that our production rates appear slow. Look at it this way though. You have 5 or 10 workers running a high-speed line. SOMETHING GOES WRONG, you now have all these people standing around and/or you need to find a different job for them.

What's your real per man hour potting rate?

If you have a machine problem with a high-speed line you’re completely shut down.  With a cell-based design, you have a small part of the potting operation down.  Your efficiency is similar whether you have 1 or 4 people operating STILT.PRO machines.

Your business is complex, don't make it worse.

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