Tube rail lift

takes on heavy duty work

Clever solution: A newly invented tube rail lift is capable of raising heavy heating pipes during crop rotations in greenhouses. The new machine takes on much of the hard work, saving valuable time and effort. After cleaning the greenhouse and changing the horticultural film, the device ensures that the heating pipes are properly lowered again. The need for manpower to lift heavy pipe rails is a now a thing of the past.

It’s the same painstaking process every year: During crop rotation, all tube rails need to be raised to clean the pipe rails and their support columns properly. A few days later, the same effort is needed to lower the tube rail system again. Vegetable farmer Peter Aarts specialises in growing cucumbers and autumn tomatoes (“’t Bleekerven” in Asten-Heusden, The Netherlands): “Most of the time, these two very strenuous tasks are even carried out by the very same staff.” For example: To prepare a 160-metre-long crop row for cleaning, 2 persons are required to lift units of about 120 kg, seventeen times. A third staff member is responsible for hanging the pipes in upon the A-hooks. This procedure has to be carried out for a total of 50 km of crop rails in a greenhouse area of approximately 10-hectares.
The vegetable grower has already had a good experience with his plant cutting trolley from WN Innovaties: With this machine, he managed to clear away 3 hectares of cucumber plants in only 12.5 hours, working in a labour-friendly way with only 40 man-hours. The machine made both the work itself and the planning much easier.

The new tube rail lift takes on the heavy hoisting
Photo: Peter Visser

Grower Peter Aarts asked inventor Wiel Nies whether he could also develop a mechanical solution for the heavy lifting of the pipe rails. “That would be a huge relief for our team, as the heavy lifting puts an enormous strain on their backs. I wanted a machine, purely for the sake of making work easier for our staff.” The fact that the newly invented pipe rail lift even saves on extra work is a bonus. The grower had challenged inventor Nies to lift all heating pipes on one hectare of greenhouse rails in an 8-hour working day. The achieved result even exceeded the grower‘s expectations. Three of the new pipe rail lifts, sufficient for 10 hectares of greenhouses, managed to lift 15.5 km of pipe rails in only 20 hours (3 greenhouse hectares, four pipe rail slings per area).

Lift and clean

When lifting, only one person is needed per tube rail lift. The lifting device has an arm at the front with two rollers that both heating pipes run through. This arm provides the steering direction so that the trolley always travels precisely along the course of the pipe. The pipe rail is lifted to the desired height, using a lifting hook attached to a pulley. The pipes are then hung upon A-hooks with vertical wire ropes. Then, the pipe rail lift moves to the following lifting point and the process is repeated. In each area, one of the pipe rail fixtures remains on the ground so that a spraying machine can drive over it to clean all raised pipe rails and their support columns along with the cultivation troughs in that area. In Aart’s greenhouse, everything is first hosed down and then treated with foam. Afterwards, the remaining pipe rail in each area is lifted and cleaned separately with a light hose attached to a hose reel on the floor. After that, everything is ready for laying out the new floor foil. Subsequently, the pipe rails can be lowered again. The staff cheerfully whistle as they complete the last step instead of sighing and complaining about the hard work.

In the past, when we still lifted and lowered everything by hand, you always had to go and straighten all pipes properly during the cultivation phase.”

Two work steps combined in one

Two-in-one concept

The described procedure for lifting the tube rails is carried out the same way when lowering but in the reverse order. Grower Aarts explains: “You only need one more person on the tube rail lift. This allows us to get several steps done at the same time. All in one step.” Otherwise, these steps would have to be carried out afterwards with additional staff. First, the additional staff member detaches the A-hooks from the wire rope and hangs the hooks on the pipe rail lift so that they directly follow the course of the concrete floor again. Secondly, a temporary spacer is placed horizontally. On one side, the spacer lies against the previous – already perfectly straight – pipe rail. On the other side, the pipes are pressed (which are in the pipe rail lift) against the spacer when the rails are already near to the ground.

As a result, all pipe rails are perfectly aligned just before they are placed on the floor again. Grower Aarts says: “In the past, when we still lifted and lowered everything by hand, you always had to go and straighten all pipes properly during the cultivation phase.” When we have done the work with our three tube rail lifts, one person drives on a scissor cart over the laid-down pipe rails to remove the temporarily suspended wire ropes. A staff member then lays new mats on the cultivation troughs again and new plugs are put into the drip line. “Now that lifting the pipe rails has become so labour-friendly, the last step is the most labour-intense part of the crop change. It’s not physically demanding, but it is precision work.”

The tube rail systems are lifted and lowered, while at the same time correctly aligning them into position
Foto: Peter Visser

Annual savings

The tube rail lift is available for pipe rail systems measuring 42.5 cm and 44 cm. The wire rope hoist, which can lift up to 600 kg with its 0.6 kW output, is powered by a low-noise 1 kWh petrol generator, which also provides propulsion while driving. If needed, you can switch on LED headlights to keep on working when it gets dark in the evening or to start early in the mornings. “That is a one-time investment in something you need every year for a short period of time. But without the new tube rail lift, you encounter additional costs in terms of extra man-hours and a higher workload that comes back year after year.”

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