Recently, after months of troubleshooting and repairs, my brother finished uninstalling the automated watering system on his quarter-acre farming project. Although the watering system seemed like a fantastic idea for monitoring moisture, temperature, and humidity and for predicting weather based on barometric pressure, using the system was more of a hassle than doing things by hand. Some plants were getting too much water, and others were withering away. The chickens, used for pest control, were cutting the lines and being inadvertently chased by the system. The control system was also too complex for the non-technical people in the household who assisted in the care and maintenance of the crops. But ultimately, the automated systems succumbed to damage from exposure to UV light, connectors not designed for outdoor use, and corrosion from well water use.
The Problem: An inescapable fact of working with plants and electronics is that there will be water and dirt. The second fact is that electronics, wires, and the interconnects need to be kept very much separate from the plants being monitored. Manufacturers offer a crop of waterproof components to meet the needs of traditional and indoor farms. Until recently, these components were available either in commercial-grade or consumer-grade, with a hefty price difference between the two. The most common difference that increases the cost is the quality and protection afforded by the connectors; commercial-grade components, which have tolerances far beyond the minimums, that normal use requires, which allows longer and more reliable operation. But this additional capability usually comes at a cost: The commercial-grade DIY kit was an additional $500. All of this raises the question: What if we could have commercially rated connector protection at a more accessible DIY cost?
The Solution: In the past, inexpensive rarely meant water-resistant and almost never waterproof, but Molex has changed that with their ValueSeal Wire-to-Wire Connector System, which is class leading size and IP65 rated ("dust tight" and protected against water projected from a nozzle). The connector has a positive latch, integrated wire strain relief, and a crimp and poke assembly in a one-piece housing design. The simplicity of crimping and poking the connector into the housing would have been far simpler than constantly splicing connections to replace parts. Similarly, any time something went wrong with the wiring, he had to disable the system and water manually, which led to both over and under-watering.
The great advantage of the ValueSeal connection system is that this connector system is inexpensive enough that it can be used in prototyping and production, which avoids redesign time for waterproofing. It is even cost-effective enough that it can be used to upgrade almost any problematic system where connectors are the problem.
For more information about electronics and technology in vertical farming, visit Mouser’s Empowering Innovation Together series.
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