As a business owner, operator, and consultant, I have purchased, used, and recommended several extraction instruments including butane, CO2, ethanol and solventless. The type of extraction you plan to perform is just one aspect of selecting the right equipment for your facility. Here are some key considerations to note when evaluating a new extraction or distillation machine:
1. Vet Manufacturers.Knowing how long the manufacturer has been in business and if the company has experience prior to cannabis is important. Ask potential manufacturers how many units they have sold and understand how their machines are performing with real operators. You can ask potential suppliers these questions directly and assess their track record, but also search for (un)satisfied customers using their instruments and talk to them. LinkedIn is a good source for that. Do not rush to buy the first machine you like. Seek unbiased, professional expertise from consultants and their technicians to guide you in evaluating options from a technical perspective. Technicians who are running the machines in a lab can verify yield and other claims from the manufacturers.
2. Define Your Goals.Understand the competition and consumer trends to develop a business strategy that will allow you to determine the right products to produce for your market (and which machines you will need for that). Some machines are better for producing certain products. For example, an instrument used in other highly regulated industries is more precise and consistent for a medicinally focused product, but this may mean the equipment is more complex to operate and expensive. Moreover, knowing the specific products you want to produce will allow you to determine the cost and availability of the input material required and whether you can supply it internally (for vertically integrated operations) or through third-party suppliers. For example, in the case of solventless extracts, finding a reliable source of fresh frozen (FF) cannabis is key, specifically with flavorful genetics that yield over 4% from FF wet weight to freeze-dried material.
3. Understand How Machines Work Together.
We tend to focus on the most expensive, primary unit for the lab, but manufacturing is a process with multiple systems and people working together. Understanding this is key to prevent bottlenecks and inefficiencies. We tend to dismiss the downtime required for cleaning, loading, unloading and repairs. For example, do not project a 24/7 productivity, because you will fall short. Furthermore, make sure that the units you select have the necessary safety ratings to avoid licensing approval delays from building and fire departments (for more info on extraction equipment safety, see the Cannabis Business Times story "Buyers Beware"). Good consultants and engineers will be able to help with this.
4. Hire the Right Talent.
The level of expertise required to run a machine efficiently and effectively varies greatly. Hiring qualified talent with technical knowledge (preferably science degrees) and experience operating the machines you are purchasing will help you avoid a lengthy learning curve and mistakes that will likely end up costing you more money and time. For example, one machine I evaluated for a client could not be left unattended for more than 15 minutes. Understanding the number of people required to operate the instrument is important to running an efficient operation. Good recruiters can be a worthy investment to find the right people for your company.