Commercial Cannabis Automation
Written by Jayson Goodale, Cultivation Consultant
Through-out the cannabis industry automation and technologies are quickly being applied and adapted to the commercial production of this specialized crop, similarly to other commercially produced crops in the horticulture or agriculture sectors. Cannabis has the availability of unique pieces of equipment when it comes to handling and harvesting. We will see several other technological and automated processes introduced as this industry evolves over the next several years. Many options currently exist, this can be a daunting task to identify which technologies to apply to a certain project or facility. Currently there is little if any standardized methods of commercially producing cannabis. This makes things difficult for perspective commercial producers to compare and decide which is the right fit for their operation.
Automation comes in many forms when dealing with commercial cannabis production. There are automated irrigation controls, climate controls, harvesting machines and bottling machinery that all can be monitored, controlled from a central processing unit(CPU), a personal computer(PC) or mobile device (tablet or cell phone). In some cases, data can be gathered from these systems to identify deficiencies in the process or to record actions when the process is being executed efficiently. Gathering data from the commercial production process may also be useful for regulatory purposes.
The commercial cannabis industry being a mono-crop (production of one type of plant rather than multiple different crops) type of production within a controlled and structured environment with a fairly high number of repetitive tasks, offers many advantages for automation relative to other divisions of agriculture. Benefits and incentives to automate are significant and include improving safety of the work force. The automation can also be beneficial to the natural environment or in reducing a company’s carbon foot-print by monitoring energy consumption. An operator can track and identify certain areas where the facility may be able to reduce or off-set peak usage periods.
Along with ensuring sufficient productivity to compete in today’s global market. The use of equipment and computers to assist production may be particularly important in areas where labour costs and/or availability are a concern. A key challenge in horticulture automation will be to develop productive systems that can perform in a reliable and cost-effective manner. A crucial factor to consider would be the quality of the handling and most of all the end product quality. All very possible with today’s technology and the development of innovative concepts.
The future perspective and looking at production costs; we can expect in the coming years the availability of machines will be redesigned and optimized to perform better in terms of speed and quality. Growers and their suppliers have a very innovative attitude. So, we may expect ‘quick-wins’ by the introduction of mechanical tools (e.i. automated harvesting) and machines (i.e. sorting and grading) to quickly solve bottle-necks encountered in cannabis production. These will come more or less as a surprise and will heavily lean on industrial automation technology. These automation processes are being implemented for the relatively simpler tasks but we may expect the advent of the next generation machines that can handle more complex tasks (i.e. cuttings/cloning). We could even see the use of robotics taking place, for this to occur in the commercial cannabis industry processes would rely on more standardized and structured productions. The use of robotics takes place with other horticulture crops, for this to occur in the cannabis industry we will start to look more and more to this sector for their automated solutions.