Japan’s Spread Vegetable Factory is working on a novel way of producing high quantities of lettuce using factory automation, reports the Wall Street Journal. Starting next year, the company will begin construction on a large-scale, fully-automated lettuce factory that’ll cost up to 2 billion yen to build ($16.5 million USD). According to the Kyoto-based company, its automated process will be able to produce 30,000 heads of lettuce in a single day starting in summer 2017 with a goal of 500,000 heads of lettuce with five years. Except seeding and germination that requires visual confirmation, most of growing process is automated, requiring minimal human intervention to take the lettuce to harvest.
Spread already has years of experience growing vegetables at a factory level using an indoor vertical farm system and artificial LED lighting, but this automated plant takes the growing process to a whole new level. The automated process uses stacker cranes that’ll carry the seedlings to robots who will transplant them into their final growing spots. When the plants have reached maturity, they will be harvested and moved to the packaging plant without outside intervention. This entire process is automatically controlled even down to the environmental controls that adjust automatically and work in any climate around the world.
Though the initial investment in machinery may be costly, the complete automation of the cultivation process will improve output by maximizing growing space and reducing labor costs by almost 50%. Spread believes it can recoup its investment by increasing its lettuce output exponentially and lowering the cost of production through this fully automated production.
The company currently produces 20,000 heads of factory lettuce that it sells in 2,000 stores throughout Japan under the brand name Vege-tus”. Spread matches the price of lettuce from local farmers and says its lettuce tastes the same as local heads grown outdoors.