Plus Group

The Plus Group of Companies offers a range of uniquely integrated horticultural solutions both domestically and internationally. Its core passion is the long-term sustainability of horticulture delivered to our valued clients through service excellence, experience and innovation.

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GroPlus

GroPlus provides a world class kiwifruit orchard management service that maximises grower returns and delivers to our customers’ service excellence, product superiority and innovation.

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Pollen Plus

Pollen Plus is one of the world's largest suppliers of high quality Male Kiwifruit Pollen and artificial pollination services and solutions. Our products are available internationally and New Zealand wide.

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BioSoil

BioSoil & Crop specialises in sampling and analysing soil and tissues of perennial crop plants and making nutrient recommendations based on these results.

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Capabilities

RPL’s extensive capability goes beyond hardware
and software to deliver next generation
products and processes.

Cooperative operation and integration between multiple hardware and software segments is one of our key abilities and is often critical to high level operation. RPL develops and commercialises comprehensive systems that are tailored to industry requirements through extensive client and relevant industry consultation. From technology validation, computer 3D design, prototyping, development, integration, commercialisation, right through to commercial production, RPL has extensive capability to cover most technological requirements.

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Sensing

RPL utilise a range of industrial sensors to achieve system awareness. These sensors range from higher level sensors like cameras for machine vision to devices that provide direct output of an event occurring. If necessary, several sensors can be calibrated to work together (sensor fusion) to improve awareness and robust detection.

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Machine Vision

Developing image processing algorithms for machine vision is one of our specialties. Machine Vision provides systems with a high level of awareness and accuracy, especially when dealing with a diverse range of objects, environments, or organic items like fruit. Our capabilities go beyond processing two-dimensional images. It includes depth analysis of surfaces and shapes using stereo-vision, Time-of-Flight camera and sensor fusion with other sensors, like LiDAR. Sensor fusion is achieved by combining the data of several sensors. This allows the strengths of each sensor to be utilised, or to provide more information for better automated decision making. RPL uses machine vision for tasks like:

  1. Component Inspection
  2. Object detection/classification
  3. Image Processing
  4. Scene / image analysis
  5. Stereo vision and Depth camera vision for distance, position, pose, surface and/or volumetric analysis

Figure 1: Analysis output for machine vision
detection of kiwifruit for automated harvesting



LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging)

LiDAR is an accurate, fast and reliable form of object detection in even dusty and wet outdoor environments. There are several LiDAR configurations ranging from single point distance, single plane, multi-plane and full three-dimensional sensors. RPL currently uses LiDAR for:

  1. Dynamic object detection and classification
  2. 2D and 3D scanning
  3. Navigation
  4. Object measurement and positioning
  5. Object tracking and intrusion


Figure 2: SICK two dimensional LiDAR unit used for scanning operations

 


Sensor mapping

Sensor mapping or data fusion allows multiple sensors or devices to have a common coordinate geometry. The mapping process translates coordinates of one sensor or system into that common coordinate geometry. This allows coordination between:

  1. Multiple sensors to increase awareness. The fusion or overlaying of the output from multiple sensors enables better automated decision making and awareness.
  2. Often called hand-eye-coordination, mapping of sensors with arms allows for precision interaction of sensed objects. In this instance the sensors are the eyes enabling hands to be guided to perform a task at previously unknown locations.

Figure 3: LIDAR data points mapped into a machine vision image. The green and pink circles are the LIDAR data points detected from the scanner, that have then been automatically mapped to their corresponding image location. This uses the reliable detection of LIDAR and then allows the machine vision system to classify what the objects are. The green line is the path the navigation algorithms have determined that the robot needs to follow, from the LIDAR data.


Other Industrial Sensors

There is an extensive range of industrial sensors that RPL utilise to achieve robust automation. Some of these include:

  1. Encoders, linear and rotational, to accurately determine a components position or allow its speed and acceleration to be calculated.
  2. Proximity sensors can detect the presence of certain object/materials within a set range
  3. Laser sensors can detect an object passing through a beam or some sensors can measure distance or particles, like dust, floating in the air.
  4. Transducers measure a variations in physical quantity, such as pressure, temperature or brightness and turn them into electrical signals.
  5. Ultrasonic sensors can be used for object detection and ranging, as well as some materials properties analysis.

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Electromechanical

Electromechanical or mechatronic systems are those that have both mechanical structures and incorporated electronics. The electronics provides control and/or monitors any mechanical movement or physical variable (e.g. temperature or direction). These systems include motors, compasses, gyros, or even large multi-axis anthropomorphic arms.

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Robotic arms (manipulators)

The ability to develop task specific robot arms provides a large advantage to solving complex automation problems and increases commercially viability. Often off-the-shelf arms are not suitable due to size, performance and/or cost restraints. By custom designing our own robots RPL can remove previous barriers to automation. This capability includes several other areas including, mechanical, electronics and kinematics (mathematical description of movement). These manipulators could be a basic single prismatic (linear) axis carriage, Cartesian robots, SCARA (Selective Compliant Assembly Robotic Arm) robots, or even more complex large multi-axis anthropomorphic robots. All of these designs have their own comprehensive embedded control systems.

Servo systems and control

A servo system has integrated feedback and control to ensure that an action is being carried out as commanded. These systems include:

  1. Motors
  2. Pneumatics
  3. Hydraulics

Stepper motors and control

Stepper motors offer a cost effective option over servo motors for many applications. By incorporating motion encoders and custom electronic control, RPL can achieve cost effective servo systems from stepper motors for many control applications, including arms.

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Mechanical

Mechanical engineering encompasses most of the physical components or the design, analysis and manufacture of those components. This includes structures and their fabrication. RPL has extensive mechanical capabilities including:

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Computer Aided Design (CAD)

CAD allows machines or other components to be fully designed on a computer before any material is cut. This allows all interactions between parts to be modelled ensuring they work together, simulation of motion paths, calculation of component weight, analysis of stress on parts for service life, photo realistic rendering of appearance and complete Bill of Materials to be generated. CAD is a valuable and powerful tool to assist with product validation and technical feasibility before committing to building systems, or to model a systems dynamic performance for specifying actuators for motion control.

General fabrication

General fabrication (cutting, milling, turning, welding, etc.) is often used to build the structures that hold or the body of actual machines, RPL doesn’t just design components and systems, we build them too. 

Computer Numerical Control (CNC)

CNC machining allows high precision and complex parts to be machined that are not possible, or would be very time consuming on traditional manual machines. CNC machines also provide fast part creation and high volume production to rapidly take systems beyond prototypes.

Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM)

CAM by combining CNC machining with CAM, machining instructions are efficiently created for CAD designed parts providing fast fabrication turnaround or machining of complex surfaces and other part features.

3D Printing or additive manufacture

3D Printing or additive manufacture for rapid prototyping or small scale production. RPL often uses printed parts to test their suitability or fit in a system. However, RPL also has access to outsource parts printed from titanium or stainless steel for high strength complex parts. 3D printing allows for very complex parts to be created that are not possible with other machining processes. This can provide significant design flexibility for problem solving.

Pneumatics

Pneumatics uses pressurised gas to produce mechanical motion. It is a common and cost effective method of achieving many automation tasks.

Hydraulics

Hydraulics used pressurised fluids to produce mechanical motion. It is commonly used in industrial machinery for its power density.

Modern production processes

Whether it is internal capability or outsourced, RPL uses a wide range of modern methods of making parts. Viability of different options often depends on production requirements and volumes and these can be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

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Electronics

Incorporating customised electronics sets us apart. Instead of buying costly control systems that are often not exactly what we want for a task, RPL can implement complete electronic systems from design to commissioning. This includes: 

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Computer Aided Design (CAD)

Much like mechanical CAD system, our electronics software allows us to design complex circuit board designs, with the latest small footprint or high end components, which are not possible by hand.

Prototyping

Prototyping of designs to verify operation

Micro Controllers for Embedded control

Micro Controllers are found in most modern devices, including cell phones and other portable devices. These are small computers, with remarkable processing power for their size and power consumption. Micro Controllers allow for high level control and monitoring of systems using other electronic and electromechanical devices.

Fabrication

From small scale prototyping to large manufacturing runs, RPL can supply to meet most production requirements.