On Saturday, July 16, Jonathan Pedersen, CEO of Monrovia, spoke to a crowd of people standing at Cultivate’22 about how the nursery implemented automation.
Monrovia has growth facilities at its headquarters in Azusa, California, as well as Visalia, California, Dayton, Oregon, Granby, Connecticut and Cairo, Georgia. Monrovia grows a wide variety of plants at these sites (over 4,000), which makes automation more difficult. Many machines are not flexible enough to do what they do for different sizes or types of factories. To complicate matters further, much of today’s automation equipment comes from Europe, where the size and scale of nurseries is not the same as in the United States.
So, before investing a ton of time and resources in automation equipment, Monrovia analyzes whether it is worth it.
“If you can’t measure it, maybe you shouldn’t,” Pedersen said. “If you can’t measure performance, why are you spending that money? »
As with growing plants, trials and tests are a big part of Monrovia’s approach to automation. A data-driven approach is crucial for this. There are plenty of tasks you can automate, Pedersen said, but you have to decide which ones are worth the investment.
“We want to keep our artisans on tasks where they add value,” he said, “and not leaning on plant spacing. Is the work better for a human? If not, how can automate it?”
Define the process, measure it, analyze it, improve it, then control it. Every step is critical, but Pedersen said control is the hardest because it’s hard to fight inertia.
“Human nature is to go back to what you know, and very often we’ll update a process, we’ll prove it’s a better and more efficient process, but if you don’t stick to it, people’s habits will come back. to what they were,” he said.
Before you jump into automation, you need to find or develop an ROI model to measure your ROI. Monrovia has a simple one that helps with project prioritization.
Here is the formula Monrovia uses: ROI = [(Financial value – project cost) / Project cost] x100
Year 3 is most often when the project breaks even and pays for itself, Pedersen said. Other important questions to ask yourself: Can you measure the results and the effect on the business? Will this require further upstream or downstream process changes? If so, how much?
Also, be realistic about the time and resources needed to implement the automation you envision.
“It’s not just money,” Pedersen said.
He suggests doubling your initial estimate of how long it will take for the new process to work properly.
Monrovia almost always makes adjustments to equipment once it is working in the fields. One particular change that Pedersen says is hugely beneficial is adding hour meters to machines to determine usage. This measures whether a new machine is delivering the return on investment they were hoping for.
One of the most important lessons learned from automation in Monrovia is that it’s important for your employees to know the “why” behind automation, not just the “how”. They need to feel comfortable with the equipment and understand that you are enhancing their work, not eliminating them.
“If they think they’re replaced, they won’t want to use your shiny new gear,” Pedersen said.
Start with a few easy projects to get a few wins under your belt. Your employees will start to buy in and hopefully they will become a source of new automation ideas. Also expect some failures. Sometimes you buy an expensive piece of equipment and end up parking it in a field for a year while you figure out how to make it work with your existing operation. But Pedersen implores producers not to give up when you encounter a setback. Automation done right can improve plant quality through consistency and improve worker performance by minimizing repetitive strain injuries.