Unitronics UniStream PLCs, VFDs, and Remote I/O are crucial elements in cultivation control for a customer of TG Elektro & Automasjon AS (TG), a Norwegian electrical/automation engineering and manufacturing company. Aase Gartneri AS grows cucumbers in a greenhouse equipped with environmentally friendly energy sources. However, high energy consumption costs for growing its cucumbers were lowering profitability. The solution—Unitronics’ controls transparently integrated with UniCloud, Unitronics’ IIoT platform—enabled a 50% reduction in energy consumption.
Aase Gartneri grows cucumbers in a greenhouse of approximately 17,000 square meters that produces about 850 tons of cucumber per year. The greenhouse is equipped with environmentally-friendly energy sources; however the high energy consumption costs lowered its profitability. In addition to optimizing environmental control, there was a crucial need to gain real-time insights into the dehumidification process. TG Elektro & Automasjon AS (TG) recommended using UniStream controllers transparently integrated with a UniCloud IIoT solution, a solution that would both automate and provide easily-accessible dashboards to provide real-time data, and that would allow remote customer assistance and support.
The Control Solution
TG had previous, extensive experience with Unitronics’ products, and was familiar with the ease of using UniStream PLCs to regulate environments; it therefore was a no-brainer to offer this to Aase Gartneri, a cucumber grower. The UniStream PLC serves as the main control for the SmartTekEnergi dehumidification units which retrieve the energy, energy metering, the 30m3 energy storage tank, the mixing and regulation of the irrigation system, circulation pumps, and valves.
In addition to control, TG had another requirement: to provide the client with on-line dashboards to allow them to monitor and securely access the system, and to receive and remotely remedy alarms. UniStream PLCs automatically integrate with UniCloud, Unitronics do-it-yourself IIoT platform that allows machine builders to quickly create clear, user-friendly dashboards via drag &drop to display accessible real-time data. This benefitted the cucumber grower as well as the dehumidification machine builder, SmartTekEnergi. TG quickly created a total solution that was easy to expand, that included dashboards as well as the ability to set up SMS/mail alarms, and to subsequently intervene in the system to deliver secure remote support via dashboard.
Implementing a solution using Unitronics’ hardware—UniStream controllers, variable frequency drives (VFDs) and IO modules—meant that setup and commissioning were automatic; communication is instant, no configuration required. Unitronics VFDs control the fan speed inside the dehumidification units and the flow regulation pump for water-filled systems. Integrating the VFDs was a snap using UniLogic. Unitronics all-in-one software enabled all project-related tasks to be performed in a single, user-friendly environment—setup, commissioning, and the programming of all control tasks as well as the project’s HMI application—to significantly reduce TG’s time investment in this complex project.
The IIoT Solution
UniCloud dashboards enable the cucumber grower to stay in touch with real-time data: climate status, energy consumption, and energy regeneration values, total volume of separated water from air, historical graphs to track energy, and process sensors—all crucial factors in condition-based maintenance and optimization. The grower also uses the SMS alarm functionality to avoid crop damage due to climate control malfunction. The system is configured to push alarm notifications to selected personnel if VFDs, remote IO, Modbus for valves, or energy metering devices break down or if one or more sensors are out of range. The cucumber grower’s dashboard is customized to be plant-specific, especially to display energy data and process values.
The total solution yielded remarkable results, enabling the cucumber grower to reduce total energy consumption by 50%. This translates into savings of more than 1,000,000 kWh/each year, resulting in a significant rise in profitability.
The completed system, embedded with Unitronics’ One Integrated Solution--comprising PLC, I/O, VFD, and the UniCloud IIoT platform, allows TG to control all parameters for optimized operation, including:
1. Operational Efficiency. The grower was able to increase the product quality of its cucumbers due to dehumidification units governed by UniCloud, yielding better profit.
2. Retrieving water: The system enables the regeneration of water which can be used for irrigation, and heat that can be stored in buffer-tanks for use during night-time.
3. Total Asset Overview. UniCloud provided TG with a systematized total overview of all assets for all customers, enhancing their ability to monitor and manage machines effectively using machine data in real-time and automatic BI tools.
4. Positive Customer Feedback. The cucumber grower was especially impressed by the ease of use and customization capabilities of UniCloud. The user-friendliness and flexibility of UniCloud make it easy to get an overview of the entire system, and to change or customize settings.
Overall, UniCloud gives the operational security and predictability that TG’s customers need.
Tommy Gjedrem, Founder of TG Elektro & Automasjon AS Engineering, consultant and operation support, summarized the project as follows:
“It was a no-brainer to deploy UniCloud at our customer Aase Gartneri. Since the end of April until November, this cucumber grower already saved more than 700,000 kW/h in seven months. That’s why I recommend other machine builders to use UniCloud as well, since it is the easiest and cheapest way for modern IIOT solutions.”
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