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E&K automated tractor units streamline logistics at flower auction house

Ten Linde P50 tractor units have been automated for use by Plantion BV, one of the leading flower auctioneers in the Netherlands. The modifications, carried out by specialist firm E&K Automation, mean that instead of being driven by operators, the tow tractors can transport flowers and plants automatically around the centre at Ede in the Netherlands.

Plantion chose to purchase automated tractors, each of which can be operated in driverless or manual mode, as fewer personnel are needed so operating costs are lower than they would otherwise have been.

Equipped with the E&K TELETRAK SYSTEM 300 on-board automation controller and inductive guidance, the tractors have been adapted to the conditions and needs of the Plantion site. This included ensuring that the soil structure was not weakened by implementation of the induction loops. The original components and functions of the standard Linde trucks were kept intact for ease of operation and maintenance and to enable sourcing of the manufacturer’s standard spares.

Up to eight trailers loaded with flowers and plants are coupled to a P50. Coupling and uncoupling remains a manual operation, although E&K could have automated this function also. The tractor and trailer train then drives automatically to beneath one of three auction screens and is synchronised via radio control.

After the flowers have been sold, the tractor-trailer automatically returns to the main hall where the flowers and plants are distributed to the buyers. The trailers are disconnected and the tractor unit is sent to the next position where more trailers with flowers are coupled for the next auction. The process then repeats itself.

Unlike with conventional in-floor, drag-chain conveyors, the driverless P50 system is flexible in operation. In particular, the combination of manual coupling and automatic travel has been identified as a major advantage.

Moreover, the system is future-proof, as it can be reconfigured to accommodate Plantion’s changing needs. Expansion of and adjustments to the track layout, plus the integration of more tractor units, will be straightforward at a later date.

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