The Role of Engineers and Lean Manufacturing in Greenhouses

The Role of Engineers and Lean Manufacturing in Greenhouses blog header
The Role of Engineers and Lean Manufacturing in Greenhouses blog header
The Role of Engineers and Lean Manufacturing in Greenhouses blog header

The Role of Engineers and Lean Manufacturing in Greenhouses

A renewed ­­­­­­­­­trend for sustainable, self-sufficient and community-grown food is pushing engineers to design durable and flexible greenhouses. Greenhouse engineers and designers are innovating in several ways to meet the needs of backyard and community-based programs, and commercial greenhouses and botanical gardens. Engineers are requiring to put to use kind of leadership, entrepreneurial and communication skills developed in Kettering University’s online master's degree programs.

Commercial Greenhouses, Engineering and Design

For 85 years, Rough Brothers, Inc. (RBI) has engineered, designed, and built some of the country’s most unique greenhouse projects. They worked on the re-design of the United States Botanic Garden in Washington, DC, the Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha, NE, and the Stan Hywet House and Gardens in Ohio. The Ohio-based company uses an in-house team of engineers to provide design solutions for commercial and institutional greenhouse projects and for a wide range of wind, seismic and winter conditions.

Engineer Ananda Kraemer is a Design Group Leader in the institutional division at RBI. She says engineers from all specialties can apply their skills in the greenhouse industry. “I think engineers can recognize that it’s really all the same, but some of the systems are slightly different. In the greenhouse industry, it’s interesting to look at the work as a natural cycle instead of an all-mechanical cycle. I believe any kind of engineer can step in and understand the materials and processes we use.”

Kraemer said she’s seen changes in her 20 years in the industry. “Companies are using more structural engineers than in the past. They want their systems to be as precise and economical as they can.” She also points to code updates. “Building codes and building requirements have gotten so complicated. Those engineers need to bend and flex and utilize different resources than we would have in the past.” She notes that the hot topic in greenhouse engineering is designing indoor growing facilities for medical marijuana, which require a precise temperature point for optimal growth.

Residential and Community Greenhouses

Consumers can buy residential greenhouse kits for anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars. But Modular Greenhouse President Joshua Smith saw the need for a more affordable, durable and flexible product. “You want a structure you can believe in and you can count on to grow your food due to skyrocketing costs, disruptions in the food distribution chain, and self-sufficiency. It has to hold up to wind and the elements, and you want to be able to take it with you. I wanted to make it really easy to say ‘yes’ to sustainability and to being more environmentally friendly,” Smith said.

Smith committed to growing his own food after his grandfather died from cancer. He searched online, but none of the greenhouse kits available could withstand the 130 mph winds where he lived in Reno, Nevada.

Smith designed and built his first greenhouse. He became an entrepreneur when he had multiple offers on it and knew there was a market for his product, but there were engineering challenges.

Smith said he and other engineers struggled to develop greenhouses to withstand Category 4 hurricane winds, wind shear and up to 80 pounds per square foot of snow.  “The big problem is working with lightweight materials. They didn’t fit into the engineering software.” Smith said engineers had to do the mathematical calculations by hand for all the loads on all the little frame members. The engineers knew he wanted to mass produce the greenhouses, but it was a challenge to meet all the specs for such small enclosures

Smith has a mission to start a greenhouse and garden program in every school in Washoe County, NV, by 2020. After finding an engineer to partner with and support the school programs, they developed the Modular Greenhouses. “It’s a serious engineering feat to create greenhouses to withstand these winds. The plastic is incredibly durable. Can’t throw a baseball through it. I have a Black Belt in martial arts and tried to kick it in, and it wouldn’t budge,” Smith said.

The Softer Side of Green

While Modular Gardens and RBI are both innovating, they also are both encouraging softer skills such as communication, cooperation, listening and entrepreneurship.

Smith and Modular Greenhouse are doing more than just engineering easy-to-use residential greenhouses. They’re mission to create community growing spaces encourages kids and adults to spend time working together to develop an understanding of the value of food and the benefits of interpersonal communication and cooperation.

Kraemer has 20 years as an engineer in the greenhouse field. She says her day-to-day activities are spent in leadership and management. These are skills she’s learned on the job and encourages engineers and students to develop their soft skills.  “I’m most useful connecting dots and managing people. As an engineer, you have to listen. You have to be observant and paying attention to what’s going on around you. This helps you gain those leadership skills.”

A graduate degree from KUO develops skills in leadership, management, communication, entrepreneurship and cooperation. Exposure to Kettering’s strategic partners combined with real-world problem solving empowers Kettering students to engineer the future.