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Installing a vertical farm

You might remember our post from exactly a month ago on ‘Building a vertical farm’ - in it we confidently stated that we were about a week away from installation. We posted this video of the farm being craned into position yesterday. So, what were the key challenges we faced, what did we learn and how did we finally get it into place at its new home at James Hutton Institute (the Hutton) in Dundee a little later than planned?

Key challenges in installing our vertical farm

Despite actually being designed to be transported, transporting shipping containers is not as easy as you think. The farm was built in partnership with GrowStack in Yorkshire and needed to be transported 300 miles north to the Hutton in Dundee once complete. We needed to ensure that all the equipment was adequately braced for transportation to Dundee. It was pretty straightforward to move the containers out from GrowStack’s site using the HIAB so we assumed it would be the same case for installing them in Dundee. However, we worked with excellent contractors who did a thorough risk assessment of the site in Dundee and they made it clear that it would be a very high risk and potentially unfeasible to use the HIAB for the installation. The site was surrounded on three sides by glasshouses and very close to some overhead 11,000V electricity cables -- any mistakes could have been dangerous and very costly!

Shipping container being lifted into place by a crane
Gently does it!

What did we learn?

You need a crane! Don’t skimp. You don’t always need a crane but you sometimes need a crane. And when you really need a crane, you really need one. This was probably said best by our colleague, Sean Molloy, at GrowStack who concluded, “if we didn’t use that crane, that glasshouse would have been a flat-house.”

The real take-home point is not that you necessarily always need a crane but more that you do always need a thorough risk assessment and experienced, knowledgeable contractors. As you can see from the video, our contractors ran an incredibly well-orchestrated installation.

How did we finally get it into place?

Effective communication with all stakeholders was invaluable. The installation required co-ordination on a mammoth scale between individuals working for several different companies across multiple locations. Making sure everyone was clear on their roles and responsibilities throughout the process and keeping the group up-to-date on any changes in the plan was fundamental to our success.

Shipping container vertical farm being lifted into place
Phew ... the glasshouse did not become a flat house!

It was also essential that we understood the value of the knowledge and expertise we had around us. From our perspective, utilising the knowledge of the Hutton staff was key to identifying potential risks and pitfalls for the installation. The CHAP team were also incredibly supportive throughout the whole process. Their project management team was always on hand to offer help and advice and their questions enabled us to become much more effective and efficient with the total build and installation process.

What next?

We are back on site with the GrowStack team next week to make the final electrical and plumbing connections and to carry out a wet-run and balancing of the system. Following this we will start our 12-week commissioning process. More updates to come soon!

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