Why The Cannabis Industry Does Not Need Fully Automatic-Filling Machines
It’s not the size of your machine that matters, it’s what you can do with it.
In a new age of endless consumer choice, manufacturers and producers are finding it extremely challenging to keep up with the large variety of different products that consumers are demanding. As an example, the simple time of Budweiser for the Beer Industry, is now replaced by demand for Craft Beers, Ciders, Low Calorie Mixers and now Cannabis Infused Beer, to name a few. We can also find this trend in the Cosmetics Industry, Natural Health Products Industry and now especially in the Cannabis Industry. Consumers have more options than ever, and companies are now finding the product skews they offer to be dramatically increasing.
This is especially seen in Cannabis, an extremely competitive market, with hundreds of different product blends and offerings. Companies can differentiate themselves with different delivery methods, such as concentrated oil in Gummies, Vape Cartridges, PAX Pods, Sublingual Sprays and Capsules. For this reason, companies need to seek efficient ways of producing a variety of products, while aiming to reduce cost and maximize return on investments, in order to better position themselves in the market.
In this post we will break down the advantages that bench-top equipment can provide to manufactures in contrast to fully-automatic equipment. This does not only apply to Cannabis, but also to E-Juice, Cosmetics, Compound Pharmacies and Natural Health Manufactures. See below of a graph comparing the offerings provided by both types of equipment.
Flexibility with Different Products
Differentiation of products = need for more flexible production equipment
Fully automated equipment is designed to fill and package one type of product, continuously throughout the day (i.e. 30ml Bottles). The components, sensors, and feeders are all one fixed size. Due to the intricacies of changing parts and components for a different sized product, the production becomes extremely tedious, inefficient and not to mention, extremely expensive. In the many markets, bottle sizes are being manufactured with many different container options and sizes, from 10ml to 120ml, with an assortment of different caps.
This is more evident in vape cartridge production, where it is common for companies to produce up to five different types of hardware, from a variety of Cartridge sizes, to Disposable Pens, to Pods, as well as many new hardware designs that are constantly being developed. If a new design of hardware is released in a few years, companies who have invested in large automated machines, will be left with large, as well as robust equipment that is deemed un-usable.
It is imperative for innovative companies to look for equipment that is designed to be lean and flexible, allowing it to handle many different products. For example, the RoboCAP can be used to fill Capsules, Tinctures, Gummies, Cartridges, Disposable Pens and Pods all under the same system. New product add-ons to the equipment consists of creating new trays for the equipment. In packaging, the ALR-1000 Labeler can label a variety of different size bottles from 16mm to 90mm in diameter, without the need to purchase any additional change parts.
This flexibility and versatility in equipment can save a company hundreds of thousands of dollars, removing need to purchase multiple units of robust equipment specific to only one type of product.
Product Change Over
In addition to producing many different product styles, it is common for companies to have a large range of different strains of oils and flavors being used within specific formulations.
Thus, mass production of one flagship product is less likely as producers are filling a larger variety of smaller product batches, commonly switching to new batches of oil to be filled throughout an eight-hour shift.
Fully automatic equipment was not designed for constant change over of batches, and operators need to completely dismantle and clean the equipment between batch to batch. Loss of productivity can be extremely costly for manufactures that are constantly in “down time” cleaning their equipment, instead of actually filling product. Strikingly, it can take operators up to forty five minutes to clean a fully-auto machine for a new batch of oil. This means that if a company is running five different batches in an eight hour shift, it can equate to more than a quarter of the total production time lost to cleaning.
Further, when switching to a new batch of product, the equipment will require to be calibrated and fined tuned each time. In an industry which produces extremely expensive product, calibrating and fine tuning fully-automated equipment constantly will lead to greater product waste, as the process is much longer and difficult than with bench-top equipment.
When sourcing equipment, it is strongly recommend that companies with many different batches should strongly focus on purchasing equipment that offer operators an option for quick change over from batch to batch. This can save a significant amount of labor cost, and down time that is lost to cleaning out large pieces of equipment and re-calibrating.
ATG has focused on this issue, and provides the option for a “quick-change over” kit. This kit includes all the contact components that companies can quickly swap into the system and be running with a new batch in less than five minutes.
Space Efficiency and Cost
Facility floor space is expensive and crucial for other manufacture practices such as cultivating or extraction processes. Fully Automatic filling equipment can be very large, robust and expensive. Companies with a fixed amount of lab / production room space will find it difficult to house a large set equipment in their facility.
In contrast, bench top equipment is portable and can be placed on standard lab tables. This allows for companies to be space efficient, while still producing a large amount of various products.
Further, as companies expand their operations, they will have the ability to invest in more flexible bench-top equipment that will still be space efficient, while in parallel, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment costs. Upgrading and growing with equipment leads us to the next point.
Future Upgrading and Scaling
As certain industries grow quickly, companies within them are scaling extremely fast to keep up. This poses a major need for the ability to constantly be able to upgrade equipment, as well as adding components to accommodate new types of products.
With fully automatic equipment, switching to a new bottle or bottle cap size can be an extremely onerous and expensive task. For example, an upgrade cost can begin at over $40,000 USD to modify or change a feeding bowl that is required in the production line for loading the caps onto the bottles. This does not include any other components or change parts for a different bottle size. Not to mention, the feeding bowl is only designed on specific product and does not have the versatility for cross-production (i.e. using the same equipment for both bottles and cartridges).
In contrast, certain bench-top equipment can be modular and upgradable, aligning with companies as they grow. The RoboCAP model can be easily upgraded to accommodate additional filling nozzles for increasing hourly throughput, as well as options to the equipment to allow for new product types being introduced to the machine. Many companies find themselves beginning with one machine, filling a few certain products, but over time expand to a variety of different products filling with the same machine or a multiple fleet of machines, which the operators already have a strong competence with.
Expertise / Knowledge Curve
Fully Automated systems are extremely complex systems and require an enormous of amount of time and energy to become a proficient on. Companies with little previous experience with similar systems, can find it extremely difficult to set up and manage, spending precious time on set up, trainings and technical calls.
In parallel, this will lead to longer troubleshooting time if the equipment is down, causing additional lost time and cost for product not being filled and packaged.
Ensure that the equipment you choose is backed with a knowledgable technical team, who can quickly assist with any troubleshooting concerns and work personally with in-house operators to become fully proficient with the equipment. The longer the equipment is down, the more production will suffer, and in turn may lead to upset customers, distributors and shareholders.
Simple-to-use equipment can save operators hours of initial machine training and installation, as well further trouble-shooting support. With the RoboCAP, operators can be up and running with their equipment within the same day as receiving it.
It truly does depend on the type of products and solutions that a company provides. If a company is producing hundreds of thousands of units per day of the same product, with little change over or need for versatility, it is then recommended to purchase a fully automated piece of equipment. However, for most companies in certain industries (Cannabis, E-Juice, Cosmetics), it is crucial to seek out efficient ways producing a variety of products, while aiming reduce cost and maximize return on investments, in order to better position themselves in the market that is extremely competitive.