Introduction to Cannabis Automation
Businesses of all types are constantly striving to be more efficient. This is especially true for agriculture. Between necessary inputs, labor, and utilities, margins can be razor-thin.
Automation is one way growers can boost their bottom lines. From reducing the amount of resources used to promoting plant health (leading to higher yields), there are many reasons cultivators are choosing to implement automation solutions.
If you're curious about how automation can help your business, this article has the answers.
Why is automation important?
Automation can be a game changer in any growing environment. By making processes more consistent and efficient, automation can save on both inputs used and the time it takes to complete a process. These savings can equate to farms being more sustainable while also helping the bottom line by cutting costs on wasted inputs and allowing equipment to run at peak efficiency.
With an automated system, farmers can save water as well as conserve nutrients by using precise dosing methods and scheduling for irrigation based on timing and media moisture content. When beginning to design a grow room or when evaluating current growing operations, it is important to look at the tasks that are consistent and repeatable.
Once a process can be completed manually with consistent results, it can be automated using specialized hardware and software. Being able to monitor and track historical data is also a critical component of automation and allows operations to look back at growth cycles and see where resources were used and the results that came from that resource allocation.
What can be automated?
There are many different processes that can be automated in a grow room. Working with an automation expert can help you identify these.
Some of the most common processes that are automated include irrigation, fertigation, nutrient dosing, water treatment, lighting, and environmental controls. Automation can also extend to the drying and curing room, via rotating racks, fans, HVAC, dehumidification, and humidification to maintain a consistent environment to ensure the best final product possible. All of these processes can have user-defined setpoints that control when and how certain devices operate to maintain the desired conditions in the environment or in the growing medium.
Set points, dead bands, and schedules can be created for processes, and based on input from sensors, outputs can be sent to devices to control how and when they function. When automating, device interlocks and alarms can be programmed to alert operators when parameters and not being and also make sure that devices are running at peak efficiency and not working against each other. This equates to less energy being wasted on competing systems and creates a more sustainable farm. With these automation tools, growers can create the optimum environment for plants to thrive.
What hardware is required for automation?
There are a number of different hardware components needed for automated systems. One of the most important pieces is a programmable logic controller or microcontroller, which is where the program is created and stored. The hardware required for an automated system includes either a programmable logic controller or a microcontroller, sensors for monitoring the statuses of water, soil, or the environment, mechanical devices such as pumps, valves, fans, and HVAC systems, and a user interface for set points, alarming, and live data.
The sensors provide information to the controller in the form of analog or digital inputs, and the controller sends out digital or analog output signals to control devices. Controllers can also interface with sensors and devices using the Internet of Things, or IoT. The Internet of Things refers to the local network where devices can communicate over ethernet to transmit information and for monitoring and control.
What are the other benefits of automating?
Making sure that devices and systems are not working against each other is another important factor when considering automation. With device interlocks, processes can be programmed so they are not working against each other such as not having exhaust running while CO2 is running, this can greatly impact the resources used saving on a facility’s bottom line, and this allows farms to be more sustainable and not waste energy or resources.
With automation, alarms can be programmed as well to alert the user when a process is outside of the operating parameters. These alarms can be viewed remotely while allowing the operator to control devices wherever they are in the world if they have an internet connection. When using computer systems to control growing parameters, data can also be stored and tracked to develop trend lines and keep track of parameters throughout a facility.
Data collection can be a powerful tool for understanding how systems interact and allows operators to make more informed decisions on how to best utilize their resources. This data can also be used for custom reports.
Automation: boosting profits, plant health, and sustainability
Having an automation control system can greatly improve the efficiency and sustainability of any grow operation, whether indoors, outdoors, or in a greenhouse. With proper programming and an automation expert, processes can be defined and dialed in to push plants to their full potential, all while saving money and time by not letting any resources go to waste.