What's the future of ebb/flow containers in cannabis cultivation?

The most common container in the cannabis growth is the ebb/flow type. These containers could be handled manually, semi automatic, or full automatic. How to track and trace that? And what is the future for this kind of systems? Lars Meijer, sales manager at Codema, informed the Matthew Kind of Cannalnsider about it.

Maarten de Jager and Lars Meijer behind a container

Do you track by bays or containers?
This depends on the level of control. With PC control we track per container. Each container can contain a different variety of the crop. So our software tracks each container by itself; where it is located and if it needs to be harvested or not.

Let’s go over how this type of automation improves things, let’s start with energy, how do Codema’s tables reduce energy cost?
I don’t think energy is the biggest part which our systems reduce. Labor costs is the most drastic. Due to our automation, almost no employees are needed inside the growing area anymore. Of course there are always the crop experts checking on the crops but there is no need of transporting the plants by hand. The employees stay mostly in the working area and the plants come to them to be harvested, spaced or whatever is needed for the products.

How about error rate?
Machines don’t make mistakes. Whenever you have a new employee, you need to teach that person how it’s done. But a robot or machinery always does the same thing whatever we tell them to do. So for example, if you want always 5 cm between the pots, the robot always places them 5 cm apart. An employee can maybe do 6, or 4cm. it’s hard to judge by a person. But this reduces the error rate drastically.

How about plant yield?
I think this is also connected to the error rate. Some employees may be a bit rough, they don’t handle the plants smoothly. Or a employee who drives a forklift truck in the greenhouse destroys a few plants. Also with containers you make the maximum use of your square meters. And that’s what growers want right, with the least amount of square meters, and making the highest yield possible. So a combination of all factors makes sure we can create a high plant yield inside your growing facility.

How about water usage?
All the water which will be given to the plants, we collect again with water return gutters. So no water will be spilled during the entire process. Only the water collected and used by the plants need to be added again for the next cycle. This reduces the water usage a whole lot. And you can also recirculate and clean the water again. Especially with the water scarcity in a few countries, this is also good for the environment.

How does all this improve plant uniformity?
With the containers you can control the plant however you want. Every crop is handled in the same way as another. Every crop on each table gets evenly watered. They all get the same climate in the bay. And especially for medicinal cannabis, uniformity is very important, our systems help with that.

How do your systems work with track and tracing of plants?
It’s mostly done with barcodes. Barcodes on the containers are scanned by the employees and are connected to the batches inside the system. There the software can check where the plant have been in the entire growing cycle.

Why is track and trace important?
Information is key. Whenever the grower spots a few bad batches, you want to find out what happened right? So with the track and trace you can see what happened on a certain day. For example, container 535 was located in bay 5. 3 weeks before harvest a window broke in that bay. You tried to fix it a.s.a.p. but still the climate was affected. Or a lamp broke, anything can happen. This way you can check all the batches who were positioned over there and maybe even prevent bad batches to be sent away to customers.

How are your systems installed?
Actually this differs per project. It goes into the tiny details, project planning, communicating with the greenhouse builder etc. So it’s not a fixed way. But of course as with anything, we start with the supports, place all the raw materials. Whenever anything is placed, our electrical guys connect everything. And lastly, the programmer tests the systems if it’s according to the wishes of the customer. We try to use local partners when we work overseas to reduce travel costs. But we will always send a supervisor to check everything is done to our high standards.

What does your software do? (track, trace, harvest, planning, etc)
It keeps track of all the batches inside the greenhouse. Also our software controls all the container movements inside the system. It’s smart software so it helps the growers with optimal movements. Also whenever crops are harvested, this is put in our system and all the necessary information could be retrieved out of our software. So you get a lot of information which you can use again for the coming cycles.

Are cannabis growers’ needs different from any other type of indoor farmers you have worked with?
We found out that hygiene is very important. We like this too. The cleaner everything is kept, the better the system will function. Also air control seems very important to growers, I’m not a grower myself but we have heard a lot of comments that the airflow throughout the growing area is very important. And the cannabis plant's cycles are a bit slower as well. So yes, the needs are different!

Where do you see automation in indoor growing in the next 5 years?
Multi-layer/indoor growing isn’t new for us. We have done this over decades already. But this is mostly done in big scale and in greenhouses or greenhouse facilities. So I don’t think it will change a whole lot, but I think climate wise it will rapidly change. Lighting, humidity, airflow etc. are evolving very fast.

But for sure the automation part will evolve as well. We constantly try to seek new ways to improve our systems.

Do you want to read more about this interview?. Please go to https://codema.nl/codemas-interview-with-cannainsider-the-global-number-1-podcast-about-cannabis-cultivation/


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