No two buds are alike. It’s one of the things that aficionados enjoy about cannabis, but it can be a problem for those who manufacture packaging and trimming machines.
Unlike other industries, where the products come in predictable and manageable sizes, cannabis does not, and consumers do not want their smaller purchases ground to dust or packed with shake to reach weight. They want to see the whole product.
“They want the hero — the beautiful-looking flower,” inventor Steven Chandler says.
As Chandler studied the issue closer, he realized the problem originated from a one-size-fits-all approach being applied to an “artisan industry.”
“They’re trying to use a sledgehammer for a tap nail,” he says.
With decades of experience in the corporate world and a handful of patents to his name, Chandler focused his problem-solving skills on the cannabis industry. The result is the BudBot, a futuristic, patent-pending robot that automatically weighs, sorts and packs cannabis using an algorithm designed to find the optimal combination of buds to be sorted into smaller packages.
Solving Corporate Problems
Chandler is not new to inventing solutions to corporate problems. Throughout the course of his 25-year career, he has worked for five Fortune 500 companies, including Frito-Lay and Starbucks. His time in research and development led to him holding several patents and working on several other patented products.
For example, at Frito-Lay, Chandler led the team that developed Tostitos Scoops — specifically the 3D form and the manufacturing process. His team’s work resulted in three different patents for the machine used to make the Scoops, which have grossed more than $1 billion in revenue since they were introduced.
According to his website, Chandler was also involved in the reformulation of Lay’s Potato Chips, as well as a microwavable dough that develops a crust and a new piece of commercial coffee brewing equipment designed to improve quality and reduce costs.
But after 25 years in the corporate world, Chandler struck out on his own and formed Release Genius to apply his skillset as a consultant to other industries.
Soon after, a friend returned from California saying legal marijuana would be the next big thing. Chandler spent an afternoon calling producer/processors to ask about the problems and issues they were having. The top concern was a way to efficiently package smaller quantities.
“It was draining them of their resources,” he says.
Not only was it a labor-intensive process, but the traditional hopper and augers used to move the product into packaging were not necessarily built for buds and can damage the product. On top of that, in non-cannabis industries, the weight on a bag of, say, potato chips, is an average and not necessarily an exact weight. However, for people buying marijuana in smaller quantities, getting shorted could mean they might choose a different brand in the future, so each package must have the promised weight.
“Getting 0.9 (grams) does not make a happy purchase for the consumer,” Chandler says.
The Optimal Algorithm
With marijuana, the primary difficulties for machines are the lack of uniformity and the fragile nature of the buds themselves, particularly the trichomes and resin that make buds sticky and give them their punch. Each flower varies in shape and density, so expecting a heterogeneous product can cause problems.
“This product is extremely unique,” Chandler says. “Every bud varies in characteristics from the bud next to it.”
With the BudBot, a worker hand-feeds the cannabis into a series of cups placed around the robot arm, within a light curtain that works like a circuit breaker to reduce the possibility of injuries. The lack of plexiglass around the sides makes accessing the robot and product easier.
“The robot takes it from there,” Chandler says.
A “very accurate sensor” weighs each cup and the robot uses a proprietary algorithm to weigh and sort the cups, dumping them into tubes on the other side of the machine that feed to a loading area, where the same worker then empties the tubes into packages. The robotic arm is one of the only moving parts on the machine.
According to Chandler, the BudBot’s accuracy, as well as the reduction in labor compared to traditional packaging solutions, can save a producer serious money. At a simplified value of $3 per gram wholesale, 1-gram bags that contain 1.1 grams of product result in $1,230 lost on every 10-pound batch.
“This system is specifically designed for the 1-, 2- and 3.5-gram market,” Chandler says. “This is the perfect solution.”
Chandler says the greatest compliment he has received came from a Washington producer who tested the machine, only to discover that the BudBot saved a huge amount of product over its usual machine.
Solving problems for customers is what drives Chandler and why he believes the BudBot is the future.
“I found a problem in the cannabis industry that needed a solution,” he says. “We’re excited about the machine delivering great value.”
This story was originally published in the November 2017 issue of Marijuana Venture, on sale now.[contextly_auto_sidebar]