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Tripled Crop Yield, Decreased Costs, and Improved ROI—Vertical Farming with UniCloud

Food & Beverage

Jones Food Company—one of Europe’s largest operating vertical farms—drives precision agriculture with Unitronics UniCloud and PLC Controllers. UniCloud enables JFC to triple its crop yield and save costs via intelligent energy resource management.

The Company

Jones Food Company (JFC) designs, builds, and operates some of the largest vertical farms in the world, supplying huge quantities of fresh, local food 365 days a year. Their indoor hydroponic farms grow fresh produce in a completely controlled internal environment on layers stacked from floor to ceiling.
The goal of JFC vertical farming is to grow the best local fresh produce for their customers all year round sustainably, and affordably, while reducing the need for harmful chemicals—and with the highest possible yield. Vertical farms can out-produce traditional farms by as much as 100x per square meter.

JCF and Unitronics

Jones Food Company, Britain’s most successful vertical farming business, opened its second vertical farm, JFC2, near Lydney, Gloucestershire. 11 January 2024.

The Challenge

JFC’s vertical farms require full automation for the delivery of water and nutrients—and strict monitoring and control of the environmental factors critical to growing plants such as temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, light intensity, and soil/growth-medium moisture. They wanted to optimize productivity and identify areas where it was possible to lower operating costs.
To achieve their goals JFC had to be able to monitor growing crop conditions at all times and in real-time, and needed one central platform that would always be accessible to JFC operators and management.
They made the decision to modernize their systems and adopt the benefits of IoT Cloud technology. After testing and considering the functionality and cost of different platforms, they selected Unitronics’ UniStream PLC + HMI controllers and UniCloud, Unitronics’ end-to-end complete IIoT platform.

The results

Using powerful UniStream PLC + HMI controllers to tightly control environment together with the UniCloud IIoT platform enables JFC to attain true data visibility and boost productivity—increasing their crop yield, while substantially reducing operating costs via:
Precision agriculture: JFC uses UniStream PLCs to automate their vertical farms, and UniCloud dashboards to monitor and view machine data. They use that data to precisely control and modify environmental factors in real-time--something they could not do without UniCloud.
Sensors placed throughout the farm collect data on environmental factors, all KPIs such as temperature, humidity, CO2 levels, light intensity, and soil moisture and transmit them directly to the cloud. JFC can then remotely adjust parameters to optimize plant growth.
For example, JFC uses UniCloud’s embedded BI tools, dashboard functionality and built-in drag & drop Table, Line Chart, and Gauge widgets to accurately track and display VPD (Vapor Pressure Deficit) and evaluate the impact of humidity on plant growth and development; staff can then balance humidity in real-time via UniCloud.

Resource Management: Growing plants require CO2 for photosynthesis, but then release it during respiration. By retaining the CO2 naturally emitted from the plants, and injecting it all back into the system, JFC cuts energy costs for heat and CO2 production. They use UniCloud to monitor levels of heat, humidity, and energy use and communicate the real-time data to Unitronics PLCs that automatically control and adjust these parameters to optimize growing conditions. With UniCloud they can also track and calculate their energy cost saving from recycling CO2.
Efficient water management is another important aspect of the company’s value--their unique water system allows each liter of water to be re-used up to 30x, reducing water usage by 90% when compared to an outdoor farm. UniCloud’s IIoT technology enables the monitoring of water levels, leak detection, and automates irrigation systems that help conserve water and prevent over or under-watering of crops.

Data Visibility and Accessibility throughout the organization: engineers, growers, operators, and management, are fully informed of all indicators at all times. The centralization of all data in a single platform, coupled with the ability to display that data on customized dashboards, enables JFC to make and implement appropriate decisions based on real-time data.

Preventive Maintenance: JFC uses UniCloud’s secure Remote Access to service and maintain its vertical farms. By continuously monitoring equipment and sensors, they can detect anomalies or signs of malfunction early. If data begins to vary from set parameters, UniCloud immediately notifies relevant team members, who can remotely access the PLC to prevent potential issues from growing into real problems. Remote Access also ensures smooth operation; for example, if nutrition irrigation is failing, technicians are notified in real-time and can intervene immediately.

Report Generation is another UniCloud feature that JFC uses to good advantage for legal purposes and record keeping. JFC records and backs up all application data, then selects which application data to include; UniCloud generates detailed reports according to schedule or event and sends it to selected staff via email or text.

Controller to Cloud: Plug & Play Integration

Integrating the hardware elements of an application can be time-consuming and linking it to the Cloud is highly complex—but in this case, it was hassle-free.
By using Unitronics PLCs and the UniCloud IIoT platform together, to control their farms, JFC benefits from powerful, multi-function controllers that can instantly connect to the Cloud. Communication between PLC and UniCloud is plug-and-play; data is transported transparently, requiring no configuration or programming. The programmer simply authorizes which PLC tags are accessible to UniCloud for their data to be securely harvested and utilized by UniCloud in real time.

Summary

By leveraging IIoT technology with UniCloud, the Jones Food Company has enhanced their operations, optimized resource utilization, and has increased its contribution to sustainable and efficient food production.
The seamless integration of UniCloud and Unitronics controllers enables real-time monitoring and data-driven decision-making, fostering agile and adaptive development.
“With UniCloud and Unitronics controllers, we've made a strong choice. We are able to produce more than before at lower cost, greater efficiency, and with a smaller environmental footprint.”
James Lloyd-Jones, JCF CEO & founder

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