igu-award-adm | März 11, 2022
At Trella Technologies, we create energy-efficient and globally-scalable solutions to problems unique to the indoor farming industry. In direct response to the challenges that climate, space, and natural resource limitations pose, were diversifying the types of plants that can be grown indoors with sustainable, automated, plant training robotics. The patented TrellaGro low-stress training (TrellaGro LST™ ) technology was originally designed in 2016 in direct response to the needs of small-scale farmers striving to maximize crop yields, reduce labor and waste, and employ environmentally sustainable and energy-reducing cultivation techniques while addressing space limitations. By stacking TrellaGro LST™ units, growers can maximize grow spaces to increase indoor production of various tall plants such as hops, cannabis, and other tall, fruiting trees and plants. What makes our innovation unique is our use of robotics to create an automated grow system that gently trains plants to grow horizontally rather than vertically. This allows growers to keep all branches intact while improving light penetration to areas below the natural canopy of the plant that are difficult to reach with traditional lighting systems. With our companion application, cultivators can track plant growth rates and environmental conditions like temperature, humidity, and CO2 levels. By arming growers with granular “plant level” data they are empowered to sustainably optimize yields according to plant types, strains, and environmental conditions. The technology is designed to be deployed in both small scale and large scale commercial grow environments where it is necessary to maximize yield from a single plant while minimizing labor, waste, and natural resource usage. The automation features and the portability of the units allow for crop cultivation in places where viable farmland is limited and food deserts restrict fresh produce accessibility. Spaces such as freight shipping containers can be equipped with TrellaGro LST™ units as transformed into grow spaces. Crops may even continue growing en route as containers are transported.
Operating conditions are that of a controlled indoor growing environment. These environments present an array of challenges including; high humidity, intense UV light, and potentially corrosive fertilizers, soil amendments, hydroponic solutions, and foliar sprays.
In addition to operating reliably in the environmental conditions described above, the bearings used in the TrellaGro LST™ need to meet organic food safety requirements, require minimal maintenance, must be relatively low cost, should be simple to uninstall and replace in the event of a failure, and contribute minimal weight to the unit.
Alternative bearing solutions that were considered included traditional ball bearings (installed in wheels), linear ball bearings, linear 80/20 bearings, and flanged lead screw nuts. After submitting a request for quotation for bulk pricing we were put in touch with our local Igus Territory Sales Manager, Cindy Mowry. Cindy suggested a meeting to discuss our application and any potential assistance that she could provide. The discussion with Cindy was very helpful and she graciously offered to supply us with some sample products that we could use in our final “pre-production” prototype units as well as a sample box of other Igus products that we might find a use for elsewhere in our design. Through this relationship we are already more aware of other Igus products such as Chainflex® cables and e-chain® cable carriers that we may incorporate into future revisions of our design. We were notified about the competition through our relationship with Cindy Mowry who thought that Trella might be a good fit considering our focus on sustainable agriculture. Cindy forwarded us the competition information and encouraged us to apply.
We selected Igus drylin® W pillow blocks as bearing points for the carriages. The features that make these igus products ideal for our application are the low cost, quiet operation, light weight, self lubrication, corrosion resistance, dirt resistance, durability, and simple assembly (in case an end user should need to field assemble a unit or perform maintenance involving removal of either carriage).
Our patented plant training technology relies on two “carriages” that move independently in the same linear axis. The first is our apex carriage which senses the vertical growth of the plant, then gently guides it in one direction throughout the vegetative phase of growth (often a period of months) until the plant is growing horizontally rather than vertically. The second carriage is located below the apex carriage and houses a pair of fans as well as other environmental sensors. This carriage transits many times over the course of a grow cycle allowing the onboard fans to direct air through the foliage above. This forced air more accurately simulates a natural growing environment and prevents the growth of mold and mildew which can be catastrophic for indoor farming operations. In order to accommodate two independent “tracks” for linear motion “stacked” one above the other in close proximity, we utilized two Igus drylin® W profile double rails (WSQ-10-40) per unit. These rails mount easily to our extruded aluminum frame and keep three (of four) frame mounting slots free for mounting other components while providing two linear tracks for our apex carriage and fan carriage. We utilise 3D printing to manufacture our units in-house.