Creating the warehouse of the future
Managing Director, Harry Watts, explains the motivation behind this shift in a guest interview with CHAP.
What sparked your interest in CEA?
As a warehouse storage solutions provider, here at SEC Storage, we haven’t always worked within the CEA industry. Our aim is to optimise space and efficiency through a data-driven approach, and as it happens, automating vertical farms is not so different, the principles are very similar.
We soon realised that our expertise could have a positive impact on CEA, and began getting involved in collaborative projects to increase software integration in vertical farming. It was through our work with the CambridgeHOK consortium that our strengths became apparent – facilitating the automation of engineering, as well as software design for vertical farms.
Moving away from a more conventional application of your services, how did the team take it?
Our employees were naturally very curious about this area of our work and really got behind it all. Interest rocketed because this is an emotive area, we all have to eat. Plus, food security is a tangible global problem that needs solving.
From a personal perspective, it’s been exciting. I completed a horticultural course so I could speak the same language as CEA growers and ensure that the science wasn’t an obstacle.
Speaking of obstacles, any challenges?
Although fascinating, plants! There are so many variables involved when working with a live product – different species, temperatures required, humidity, germination speed, transplanting. And that’s all combined with the challenges of space, or should I say empty space, which means wasted money. A huge obstacle is how we make this all profitable.
Then it’s how we facilitate a move to vertical farming becoming more mainstream. We view the key to this as using existing warehousing solutions to ensure scalability, cost-effectiveness and sustainability. So, the goal is to use existing warehouse equipment and adapt it as little as possible for use in vertical farming.
Of course, there are many problems in a farm that you don’t experience when storing pallets of finished goods, so there will always be new learnings.
Do you have advice for others hoping to enter this market?
View as many vertical farms and sites that you can to understand the practicalities of growing plants in a controlled environment. Then, I’d recommend learning the basics of plant science so you can easily connect the dots between your company’s expertise and the problem at hand. How can you effectively apply what you already know so well, to a new problem?
What’s your direction of travel now?
Sustainability is a core competency for us and I believe vertical farming will play a key role in the future of our business. It’s the sheer potential of it all, and how we can integrate it with other innovative technologies.
An example here is renewable energy – how can we use renewables to make vertical farming and CEA more accessible? How can data science enable new crop varieties that are more CEA-friendly, but meaningful for emerging countries, to improve their standard of living? Being realistic, basil isn’t so useful to them.
We want to apply our novel solutions to a global problem that has meaning.
So no more warehouses?
It’s more about creating ‘the warehouse of the future’ and being clever with space, in whatever form that comes in. We need infrastructure but that has to be carefully balanced with demands currently placed on land use.
CHAP aims to build networks of leading scientists, farmers, advisors, businesses and academia to understand industry priorities and develop innovative solutions. To be our next guest contributor, e-mail email@example.com