Mastering Manufacturing Automation: Essential Insights for Modern Producers

Mastering Manufacturing Automation: Essential Insights for Modern Producers

Elevated Signals
Elevated Signals

As a cannabis producer, you're in an ever-evolving realm where staying ahead of the curve isn't just an advantage – it's a necessity. In the cutthroat cannabis industry, your survival and success are tied to how swiftly and smartly you can adapt. That's where automation comes in – it's not just a trend; it's a crucial part of staying competitive.

In this blog, we're diving deep into the heart of cannabis automation. Drawing from our eye-opening session "Overcoming Tough Times in the Cannabis Industry through Automation," you'll gain insights from top industry mavens. Here, quality, efficiency, and strategic foresight intersect, revolutionizing how the cannabis industry operates.

Join us quarterly for these enlightening sessions. Stay in the loop with the latest cannabis trends and glean wisdom from candid discussions with industry leaders. Arm your business with knowledge and tools not just to survive but also to excel in the ever-shifting cannabis landscape.

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What is Cannabis Automation?

"Automation is seen in every industry, taking manual labour and getting machines to do it. Automation is solving problems and not creating them," - Chris Lowe, COO & VP of Sales, Keriton Inc.  

Cannabis automation refers to using technology to streamline and optimize various processes. It encompasses the entire production process, from cultivation and harvesting to distribution. Automation in cannabis production involves implementing software systems and machinery that can handle tasks traditionally performed manually. 

Cannabis automation can include various systems, such as automated climate control systems, irrigation systems, data collection, trimming, packaging, precise labelling systems, and more. 

"Automation can be as simple as replacing a single watering step with something with multi-channel - that level of automation is very simple, but you can move into something as complex as packaging, labelling all in the same goal of the automated line." - Michael Inman, Director of Quality Assurance, Rocket Factory.

Why is automation essential for Cannabis Production? 

In the dynamic and fast-paced cannabis industry, embracing automation becomes essential for your business's growth and competitive edge. It's your answer to the challenges of rapid market expansion and a constantly shifting regulatory landscape.

Imagine ensuring unwavering product quality to meet your customers' expectations and attract savvy investors. Automation is your ally in seamlessly complying with diverse and ever-changing regulations in the cannabis industry, especially in key areas like traceability and data management.

It dramatically reduces the risk of human error in compliance, safeguarding your operation. More than just a tool for efficiency, automation is a strategic necessity. It empowers you to scale your operations swiftly while adeptly adapting to regulatory changes.

Integrating automation into your cannabis business is not just a step toward streamlined processes; it's a leap toward sustainable growth and securing a formidable position in the vibrant cannabis market.

Benefits of Automation in the Cannabis Industry:

What are the key benefits of implementing cannabis automation?

Cannabis automation offers a suite of benefits that revolutionize every process step. You'll witness enhanced efficiency, yield, and quality – the pillars of a thriving cannabis business.

Data-Driven Decisions: Leverage real-time data for smart, informed decisions. Automation offers insights for immediate adjustments and future planning, optimizing resource use and ensuring market responsiveness. This data-centric approach is a game-changer in the modern cannabis industry.

Scalability and Efficiency: As demand grows, scale up your production efficiently. Automation allows you to expand operations while maintaining quality and compliance. Replacing manual processes with automated solutions reduces labour costs, increases operational efficiency, and enhances profitability.

Consistency and Quality Control: Embrace automation and ensure each product consistently meets high-quality standards. With precise control over growing conditions, like temperature and humidity, you'll produce superior-quality cannabis. This consistency is crucial not just for quality but also for building customer trust and satisfaction.

"Customers have been trained to expect consistency in quality, and you won't get consistency without automation. Potato chips, Mcdonald's - you name it, it may not be the highest quality, but it's the quality a customer expects as it's consistent every time." - Chris Lowe, COO & VP of Sales, Keriton Inc.  

Regulatory Compliance: Navigate the complex regulatory landscape effortlessly. Automation provides meticulous tracking and documentation, ensuring your products are transparent and traceable through their entire lifecycle. This level of detail is essential for adhering to industry regulations and safeguarding against legal challenges.

Increased yield: Maximize every stage of cannabis production with automation. Enjoy controlled environments that contribute to healthier plants and larger yields. Advanced equipment and processing techniques not only preserve quality but also reduce waste, ensuring you get the most out of each plant.

Common Mistakes and Lessons Learned in Cannabis Automation:

What are Common Mistakes in Implementing Cannabis Automation?

Automating too fast

As you delve into the world of cannabis automation, it's crucial to learn from the industry's journey and avoid common pitfalls.

In the early days of legalization, there was a rush to automate everything, with companies eager to lead in the adoption of technology. This enthusiasm, driven by a desire for speed and efficiency, often led to over-investment in state-of-the-art facilities and machinery. However, this approach overlooked the need for strategic, long-term planning.

Reflect on the experiences of those in the cannabis industry, who went all-in on automation, only to find that some of their investments were not sustainable or necessary. These companies, caught up in the excitement of innovation, missed the mark on aligning automation with their core operational needs. As a result, they faced the costly consequence of discarding equipment that didn't serve their long-term goals.

Avoiding automation altogether

On the other end of the spectrum, some companies, nostalgic for past successes, reverted to pre-automation methods. This regression, however, led to increased costs and inefficiency, underscoring the limitations of traditional methods in the modern market.

The key lesson for you is straightforward: while embracing automation within the cannabis industry is critical, it's equally important to do it strategically. Focus on integrating technology that genuinely enhances efficiency and aligns with your long-term objectives. This balance between advanced technology and foundational practices is essential for sustainable growth in the cannabis industry.

"What you're seeing now the last few months is all these cultivators that have gone way back to past methods, have noticed that they have increased their cost by moving away from automation, and they realize that they need to put it back in their process." - Chris Lowe, COO & VP of Sales, Keriton Inc.  

Strategies for Effective Cannabis Automation:

How to Strategically Implement Cannabis Automation for Long-Term Success?

As you venture into the realm of cannabis automation, consider the insights from industry leaders like Chris Lowe, COO & VP of Sales at Keirton Inc.

Chris has observed savvy operators who successfully scaled their operations by adopting a modular approach. They didn't stretch beyond their means but built capacity as needed. While this strategy might entail slightly higher costs in the long run, it significantly reduces initial capital outlay.

Think modularly: solve today's challenges with solutions allowing easy scaling tomorrow.

In your journey of long-term planning for cannabis automation, tread carefully and thoughtfully. The allure of new technology and its promised results can be enticing, but assessing the real value it brings is crucial. Michael Inman, Director of Quality Assurance at Rocket Factory, underscores this point. Sometimes, machines may deliver on quantity but fall short on quality, particularly in reject rates or standards. It's vital to evaluate these aspects thoroughly before making any investment.

Take a proactive stance by comprehensively assessing potential reject rates for each process and system. This means looking beyond just output numbers and focusing on the quality of the end product. For example, if a pre-roll machine boasts high output but only a fraction of its products meet quality standards, its true value diminishes. Michael notes, "I've seen pre-roll machines produce thousands, yet only a small percentage are up to par."

Your strategy should also include a customer-centric perspective. Understand and align with your customers' needs and expectations. This approach ensures your automation efforts not only boost efficiency but also produce products that truly resonate with your customers and meet market demands. In essence, aligning automation with both operational goals and customer satisfaction is vital to thriving in the competitive landscape of the cannabis industry.

Customer-Centric Automation and Employment Perspectives:

Understanding customer needs is crucial in cannabis automation. 

Placing your customers at the heart of your operations is crucial. Start by understanding their needs and preferences, then design your automated processes from this customer-centric viewpoint. This approach is essential in crafting products and services that truly resonate with your target market.

Consider these three critical aspects, as emphasized by Michael, to ensure your automation strategies align with both customer needs and business objectives:

Voice of Customer:

  • Listen intently to your customers. Their needs, expectations, and feedback should guide your entire automation process. If they value a specific quality or feature in cannabis products, tailor your automation to meet these demands. This approach ensures your technological advancements impress and connect with your customers, fostering satisfaction and loyalty.

Capability Assessment:

  • Evaluate the feasibility of meeting customer needs within the constraints of your current technological capabilities and operational capacities. Ensure that your automation solutions are realistic, achievable, and sustainable. For instance, if aiming for consistent product quality through automation, verify that your existing infrastructure supports this ambition. This assessment guarantees that your automation meets customer expectations and is a viable, long-term solution.

Business Demands and ROI:

  • Balance the costs of automation against the expected benefits. It's crucial to ensure that your investment in automation satisfies customer needs and contributes positively to your business's financial health and growth. For example, if automation leads to higher-quality cannabis products, this should translate into improved market performance and financial returns.

By incorporating these factors – the voice of the customer, the capability of your business, and the anticipated ROI – you make informed, strategic decisions about automation. This approach is not merely about cost-cutting or efficiency; it's about enhancing customer satisfaction and aligning with your business's long-term strategic goals. Especially in the cannabis industry, where quality, customer preferences, and regulatory compliance are paramount, this comprehensive strategy is vital to success.

Elevated Signals and MES Software in Cannabis Automation

Elevated Signals recognizes the vital role of Manufacturing Execution System (MES) software in cannabis automation. Our MES software is tailored for the cannabis industry, integrating data analytics and sophisticated solutions to enhance inventory management, regulatory compliance, and strategic decision-making. With us, you gain more than just automation; you access tools and insights for more intelligent, data-driven decisions, streamlined operations, improved compliance, and robust inventory control.

Discover more about us and explore our case studies showcasing our impact on various companies. See how we've fostered growth, efficiency, and profitability across diverse sectors, driving meaningful change and success in the ever-evolving business landscape.

Cannabis Automation Panellists

Tom Varga, Managing Director & Co-Founder, Biortica Agrimed

Tom Varga's LinkedIn, Biortica 

Tom, a pioneering force in the global cannabis industry, co-founded Biortica Agrimed with Matthew Turner in 2019. Drawing on nearly two decades of experience, their venture into the Australian cannabis market was driven by personal connections to those compelled to navigate the illicit market for lack of legal options. Initially envisioned as a month-long assessment, the journey has expanded into a four-year adventure, with Biortica Agrimed emerging as a leading genetics, cultivation and packaging business. 

 Tom's diverse experience brings a unique perspective to the industry, adeptly balancing the commercial, cultivation, and success in the evolving legal landscape. 

Michael Inman, Director of Quality Assurance, Rocket Factory

Michael Inman's LinkedIn, Rocket Factory

Michael Inman brings over a decade of expertise in the Canadian cannabis sector. His extensive experience covers everything from cultivation to audits, with a strong plant physiology and biochemistry background. Michael's journey in quality assurance involves leading and participating in many audits related to GPP, ISO 9001, and ISO 13485 standards. Michael holds a Certified Quality Technician certification and is currently continuing studies in Managing Change and Cost of Quality. He has skillfully managed every phase of launching a licensed cannabis company, from application to system validation, sales, distribution, and continuous improvement. 

Chris Lowe, COO & VP of Sales, Keirton Inc.

Chris Lowe's LinkedIn, Keriton

Chris Lowe's unique career journey reflects his deep-rooted curiosity and problem-solving skills. His background in electronics and electrical engineering led to a 20-year career in technical sales in the heavy-duty diesel engine industry, ultimately leading him to earn an MBA. Lowe's transition into the cannabis industry with Keirton seamlessly blended his economics in equipment in heavy-duty cycle expertise with the dynamic needs of cannabis, showcasing his dedication to continuous learning in this rapidly changing cannabis industry.

Dana Baranovsky - Marketing Manager at Elevated Signals

Dana Baranovsky's LinkedIn, Elevated Signals

Meet our very own team champion, Dana, who facilitated this cannabis automation webinar. Since diving into the cannabis industry in 2017, Dana has amassed a wealth of experience in regulatory affairs and quality assurance, extending her expertise to both consulting and operational roles within licensed cannabis production facilities. A true connoisseur of industry trends, Dana champions staying informed about dynamic shifts in cannabis production and is dedicated to sharing valuable insights with the broader cannabis community.