The Japanese are ahead of most of the world in robotics. A Japanese company Spread Co., LTD. plans to apply a combination of robotics technology, LED lighting, and computer controlled environment to grow and harvest crops from a vertical farm. What will makes the company’s plan for this vertical farm unique is that robots will perform the harvesting. The company calls its vertical farming facility the Vegetable Factory.
Since 2006, the company has been operating a vertical farming facility. The current facility, which is not fully automated, ships about 21,000 heads of lettuce per day to stores year round. The facility already uses LED lighting and a computer controlled environment that waters and fertilizes plants based on a growth recipe that the company has developed. Despite the high overhead costs of opening and operating a vertical farm, the company has begun to be profitable.
However, the company intends to take computerization a step further so that the heads of lettuce that the farm produces will be automatically harvested by robots.
In vertical farming, plants are grown in a very controlled environment on shelves. Unlike traditional farms that have a particular growing season for a certain kind of crop, vertical farms can grow the crops all year. With enough space and enough separate controls freshly grown vegetables can be harvested every day of the year.
Currently, the facility produces four types of lettuces which the company distributes to stores in the Tokyo metropolitan area and the Kansai region. The lettuce is packaged under the brand “Vege-tus”.
According to the company, the planned facility, which it calls the Vegetable Factory, will have to be environmentally-friendly, low-cost, and will use recycled water and LED lighting technology. The facility will be in a 4,800 m2 building. The company plans to begin construction on the new facility in 2016 and intends to begin shipping produce from the facility in 2017.
SPREAD has established a consortium of companies that it intends to help it develop the automated growth facility.
Obayashi Corporation will offer general construction engineering and provide its environmental control technology. Tsubakimoto Chain Co. will work on automated Equipment related to cultivation water treatment Toray Industries will help with recycling treatment of water for plant cultivation. ICT WIT Corporation will help develop the management system for the entire Vegetable Factory that will forecast demand, sales, logistics, crop quality, and cultivation needed for the Vegetable Factory.
SPREAD plans to start the sequential shipment of goods from 2017 with the construction of its new factory. Additionally, SPREAD will work with Obayashi Corporation on a franchise business plan to have a total production system of 80,000 heads of lettuce per day. In five years, with the help of the franchising, the company wants to expand the scale of production to 500,000 heads of lettuce per day.