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Hortilux uses Mendix-powered application to digitise greenhouses

Grow light maker shifts from product to digitally enabled service to support greenhouse growers

Hortilux, a company that pioneered grow lights for horticulture, has completed the first stage of a digitisation programme, moving from a product-centric business into services.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Arno Wartewig, director of business development at the firm, says: “Crops react well to the correct light and heat. We used a reflector on the light’s fittings to distribute light to the crop. In the early days we developed a light that was close to the spectrum of sunlight and provided heat.”

The market for grow lights took off in the late 1980s and, at one stage, Hortilux had 80% of the market, says Wartewig, supplying products designed for specific crops.

“But over the last 10 years, it was becoming easier [for others] to copy our products,” he says.

With stronger competition in the grow light business, Hortilux began to shift its focus four years ago, moving from selling lighting fixtures to supplying complete systems. “We merged with an installation company, which meant we could help customers get the most from their lighting installations,” says Wartewig.

Around that time, the company also started offering customers a digital experience. “We began developing a platform to enable customers to understand how to get the most out of their installation,” says Wartewig. “The first step was to provide customers with information about their installation, such as power quality, and warranty information.”

Working with consultant First Consulting, Hortilux started fleshing out a new software product to offer a growth yield service for greenhouse growers.

HortiSense is the digital platform Hortilux has developed for the professional greenhouse market. The company claims HortiSense increases yield per square metre by data analysis, based on light, energy and crop management connected to active monitoring of the system.

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“We measure light and spectrum from outside, measure light and heat from fixtures, humidity, CO2, power, and we are now introducing methods to predict yield,” says Wartewig. “We can also present the grower with information on their efficiency.”

Growers tend to use their gut feeling when deciding how best to run their greenhouses. But Wartewig says Hortilux can show them what-if scenarios to help then predict what is going on in their greenhouse.

André van Teeseling, practice lead, agile development at First Consulting, says work on the project began three years ago with a portal for greenhouse owners. This was then integrated with Hortilux’s back-end maintenance and sales processes.

“We worked with Hortilux to make the right sensors and collect data, which is sent to AWS [Amazon Web Services] in raw form,” he says. Once in AWS, machine learning can be applied to the data to help growers optimise their growth strategy.

First Consulting worked alongside Hortilux to create the internal and customer-facing application, says van Teeseling. “We used Mendix to develop the application continuously.”

The Mendix applications collect data from AWS, which is then presented to Hortilux internally and the growers.

Seeing the light

Hortilux plans to update HortiSense regularly. The latest release provides a Crop module, which shows the predicted and actual amount of light that a plant has received. A calculation is made based on historical and predicted local solar radiation. This is then used to tell growers how much supplementary light is required.

Hortilux customers have free access to the Company and Services HortiSense modules. Growers can also see and request maintenance and assessment services, and request repairs. They can also see the installed hardware in each lighting section and the corresponding warranty terms.

Additional services are being developed. The Grow module informs the grower about the light level, and the Asset module monitors and intervenes when temperatures are too high.

The company says greenhouse owners can also request lamp and reflector assessments online via the HortiSense app.

Ter Laak is one of the companies that will be using HortiSense in its new Daylight greenhouse. According to Hortilux, the Crop module will enable Ter Laak to determine when the efficiency of the light is at its highest. The company can then decide, based on this information, to switch certain light sections on or off.

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