Vertical farming is a booming industry that offers planners and industrial designers various opportunities for development. Rollon solutions, developed for linear motion in critical and challenging environments, can be used to make systems that are safe, reliable and high-performance.
Vertical farming is an innovative concept of agricultural production first proposed in 1999 by Dickson Despommier, professor of Public and Environmental Health at Columbia University.
This is a vertical cultivation system that can be used in confined spaces – and therefore with less soil – to increase the production of plant species while reducing water consumption by as much as 80 percent. In addition to this is a specific niche involving the breeding of insects for the production of alternative proteins to animal proteins. Insect farms are based on the same concept of vertical stacking, which reduces space consumption and optimizes yield.
The rapidly growing market in this field is also a key to tackling the environmental and social challenges of our times, and is estimated to be worth $26 billion by 2026.
These forms of cultivation, however, require the adoption of specific technological solutions for the unique climatic, environmental and chemical conditions that occur within vertical farms. And this also applies to linear motion, an indispensable component for applications in this field.
Critical issues to be addressed for handling
A vertical farm can be set up in enclosed environments such as warehouses and industrial areas, and typically involve applications such as moving trays from one stage to another, palletizing plant products, handling robotic systems for harvesting and planting in tanks, and mapping and collecting data relating to the vertical farm and the steps of the packaging process.
Cultivation tanks, or rearing tanks in the case of insects, are typically stacked vertically within metal structures that allow them to slide and be pulled out when human intervention is required.
The handling of tanks and the management of different applications with respect to the elements that make up the structures pose serious challenges to industrial designers. These can include the presence of water and moisture, or the ingress of contaminants such as soil, debris, waste, and droppings (in the case of breeding of insects). Another important factor to consider is the use of special fats.
Therefore, for efficient handling, it is necessary to combine a number of features that can ensure full operation under critical conditions while offering resistance to corrosion and contamination. In addition, the linear solutions adopted must be able to compensate for any misalignment between the fixed and moving elements of the structure and, at the same time, always ensure sliding and extraction of the tanks, even when the loads may be variable.
The Rollon solutions
Rollon offers specific solutions for these types of applications and challenges. Here are some of them.
X-Rail: reliability and resistance to environmental impurities
X-Rail linear rails are a reliable solution in environments susceptible to impurities. Equipped with rolling elements with shaped and flat raceways, they are available in several versions: galvanized, nitrided or stainless steel sheet metal. The latter version ensures total corrosion resistance, which is critical for hostile environments such as those found in vertical farming.
Particularly innovative is the T + U configuration of the X-Rail linear rails, which can compensate for the parallelism errors of mounting surfaces. This simplifies installation and reduces costs.
Compact Rail Plus: performance and versatility
The Compact Rail Plus linear rail mounts double-row ball bearings and uses a “C” profile with convex, induction-hardened and ground raceways in various sizes (18, 28 and 43 mm). This design can handle up to 170% additional load in the axial direction and up to 65% in the radial direction compared to previous models, while maintaining the same overall dimensions.
Compact Rail Plus handles significant axial misalignment of up to 3.5 mm and radial misalignment of up to 1.3 degrees, simplifying installation and reducing application costs. It also features self-centering wipers to ensure optimal cleaning of the raceways, along with a new integrated lubrication system that reduces the need for maintenance. These characteristics make it ideal for environments where there is a high risk of contamination, such as vertical farming.
Telescopic Rail: reliability in challenging conditions
Industrial applications requiring telescopic movements often operate under extreme conditions that put their solutions to the test. Conditions such as heavy loads, contamination and environments where there is a risk of oxidation and corrosion require the use of telescopic linear rails of high durability and reliability.
For these types of applications and design challenges, Rollon offers the Telescopic Rail range capable of supporting up to 3,800 kg per pair of rails and with partial or full extension up to 200 percent of the length of the rail in the closed position. The range also comes with locking systems and shock absorbers to ensure greater safety of the application. The profiles of the rails (with hardening treatment) provide high load capacity and are designed to offer rigidity when fully extended with minimal flexing.
ELM, the contamination-proof axles
Rollon offers the Plus System range of linear axles and, among these, the ELM series of linear axles, for the complex movements of robotic systems, e.g. during the seeding or harvesting of plant species, or even the monitoring and collection of data with vision systems on the wrist of the robot.
Plus System is the Rollon range designed to provide maximum protection even in the harshest environments and also includes ROBOT series actuators, and SC series actuators specifically designed for vertical movement.
ELM series linear actuators have a belt drive and an extruded aluminum body. The linear recirculating ball bearing rail is integrated in the profile itself: it is the most suitable choice when it comes to resistance to liquids and contaminants.
An additional protective band of polyurethane material seals the aluminum extrusion, preventing contaminants and liquids from affecting operation of the rolling elements. The ELM series axles can be put under positive pressure, allowing excellent sealing with low air/energy dissipation. Special lubricants, designed for the food industry, also makes it possible to use these axles in the context of farming for the production of food for human consumption.
Rollon ranks as a valuable technology partner for companies looking to invest in the promising market of vertical farming, offering solutions tailored to the specific challenges of this emerging industry. Its state-of-the-art technologies are crucial for building and maintaining reliable, safe linear motion systems that meet industrial standards. Rollon’s solutions can also be tailored to individual application needs.