Note: This article is the third in a series in which Greenhouse producer and LL Klink Greenhouse Solutions (a national greenhouse sales and service provider) are teaming up to provide you with information on how to most effectively manage your greenhouse. Check out the first two articles in the series here.
After several years of peak performance, many greenhouse growers find that their environmental control systems are becoming less reliable and replacement parts are more difficult to find. Sometimes legacy systems are no longer supported by the manufacturer, leaving producers at a standstill. In these cases, producers may find that an upgrade or replacement of the environmental control system is a necessary and worthwhile investment.
Technological advances are gradually making control systems obsolete. Most environmental control systems will last 10 to 15 years; however, producers may want to schedule minor software / firmware and sensor upgrades within five to ten years.
While there are systems that perform well for 20 years or more, these systems are likely to experience higher failure rates. The advanced age of these control systems is compounded by the limited availability and high cost of spare parts. A failure of the control system can quickly become critical. Smart growers will plan for an upgrade or replacement of controls as part of their long-term strategic outlook and will not wait for eminent failure.
Whether or not producers with an older system experience reliability issues, they may have issues purchasing parts and obtaining technical support for their legacy system. In some cases, the control system may have passed the upgrade stage and will need to be replaced.
Upgrade / Replacement Benefits
There are several potential benefits of being proactive in upgrading your environmental control system:
• Improved work efficiency
• Reduced energy consumption
• Improved reliability
• Improved crop quality and yield
• Possibility to expand and add more equipment and sensors
• Ability to modify with dimmable lights or variable speed fans, which saves energy while optimizing crop needs
• Newer control systems often offer a suite of features to facilitate management, such as SMS or email alerts.
• If you are not happy with your current control systems company, or if it does not offer the functionality you want, maybe now is the time to change.
Upgrade and Replacement Considerations
Staying with a company and control system that you know has the benefit of being familiar, although that is not all you want. While it’s often considered the cheapest choice, do your homework as you might be surprised to find comparably priced systems with more features from other manufacturers.
If you haven’t already, consider upgrading your current system’s software and firmware. Upgrades to sensors and control hardware to the latest version of products can be much less expensive and should perform almost as well as a new system.
For those with legacy systems, the only choice may be to replace the control system. If you’ve had a great experience with your current control systems business, this will definitely be your first call. If you haven’t had a lot of experience or are looking for a system with more features, allow time to explore what’s available in the market. Controls are a big investment and worth the time to make sure the choice is right for your installation.
A roadmap for upgrading or replacing your environmental control system
1. Determine your current environmental control system needs. Do you want an integrated system with monitoring, controls and alarms under one roof? Which features are most important to you and will bring the best return on investment?
2. Set a budget that meets your needs.
3. Plan for the future needs of the control system. Whether you are planning an expansion or adding new equipment, consider how easily the control system can grow with you.
4. Inspect electrical grounding and protection systems. Poor grounding, site specific issues, or a fundamental design issue with your existing controls can be a source of failure.
5. Explore the environmental control system companies and their products to find the best solution.
Consider hiring a greenhouse consulting / design company to help identify your short and long term needs / directions, match them to the right solution, and ensure proper execution.
Quotes for environmental control replacement often do not include installation and commissioning costs. Consider hiring an installer with experience in greenhouse environmental controls, especially for large or complex control systems. These highly trained professionals are well worth the cost, as they can often finish the installation accurately in less time and will guarantee their work.
While some parts of the existing system may be perfectly good and can be reused, be careful when using older parts and cables. These can make the system vulnerable to interruptions and failures, even with a whole new control system.
Whether your facility is large with multiple zones spread over several acres or a small operation with only one or two zones, there is a wide range of environmental control systems on the market to meet your needs. Larger, more complex installations will likely find cost advantages in integrated control systems with a range of features.
Finally, if you are wondering what to look for in an environmental monitoring company, here are some questions to ask when researching companies and their products.
• Does the company have experience with environmental controls of greenhouses?
• Does the company have a team of experts and does it offer technical support? If so, what is their availability?
• Does the company know about horticulture and greenhouse production?
• Does the company know the equipment and operation of the greenhouses?
• What is the company’s customer support history?
• Do they offer reliable products and back them up with a warranty?
Don’t hesitate to ask for references and allow time to research each company and their product capabilities.
Things to consider when upgrading your environmental control system