The vast majority of the 500+ CO2 extraction systems Apeks Supercritical has manufactured are installed in cannabis processing applications throughout the country. Several years ago, the spaces that were being utilized for extractions were not typical industrial facilities (strip malls, houses, trailers, shipping containers, attics, etc.) and were often run by owners who doubled as operators.
Today, most, if not all of our systems, are being installed in large manufacturing facilities with industrial power, shipping docks and multiple employees. The extraction systems are much larger, and generally processing operations cannot start without compliance inspections. The majority of marijuana processing operations still do not utilize Industrial Engineers or Process Engineers who are trained and intimately familiar with facility planning. This article is intended to help outline some facility planning considerations that should be made during the planning stage to ensure success but is by no means all-inclusive.
Equipment Layout: Most extraction systems are designed and tested in a standard configuration. While custom configurations are usually possible, it can make for unknown challenges due to external issues such as changes in thermodynamic responses, process piping lengths causing inadvertent pressure drops, inaccessible components, etc. Try to accommodate the standard layout for equipment, and only look for a custom layout if it is absolutely necessary.
Good Manufacturing Practices: As the industry moves towards FDA compliance and GMP standards, allocating separate space for extraction, oil collection and mechanical components will be required. If you anticipate the need for GMP, look for an industrial system that does not require the extraction vessels to be mounted on the same frame as the separation vessels. Dust and debris from the plant material can contaminate the extracted oils and should be isolated. Mechanical components like pumps, chillers, heaters etc. should also be located in a separate space to avoid contamination from hydraulic oils, grease, etc. This also allows access for equipment maintenance (see below) without having to enter the clean processing areas.
Figure 1 – Example of GMP arrangement for Apeks Supercritical 2000-20Lx20LDU (Duplex) GMP layout.
Industrial Power: Household power is generally single phase and can be 110V or 220V. Most industrial power is three-phase, and can be 208 volts (V), 230V, 480V, or in some cases even 575V. There are many advantages to three-phase power, but the key takeaway here is that utilizing three-phase power and higher voltages will save you money. Look for a facility that has 480V, three-phase power to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Lifting and Rigging: Moving and placing equipment that weighs several thousand pounds can be very dangerous and should be left to the professionals. Don’t expect your extraction equipment operator to be well versed in equipment moving. Equipment and machinery moving is a common service for industrial operations – look for an established company in your area and utilize them. A good machinery mover will ask to do a pre-move walk-through and for the equipment specifications in advance of the move. Square pegs and round holes are their specialty but getting their input during the planning stages can avoid costly mistakes like having to remove a wall you just put in!
Operator Safety: No one plans to be in an accident and most operator safety issues are covered in Standard Operating Procedures. However, proper facility planning can help minimize the potential for safety issues. Hydrocarbon and alcohol processing require flammability precautions and ventilation equipment, CO2 requires asphyxiation notification and ambient level monitoring. All require proper placarding and signage. Storage and moving of compressed gasses needs proper consideration. Material handling is frequently overlooked – extraction vessels are getting bigger and asking the operator to climb a ladder with 20+ pounds of plant material is an accident waiting to happen. Every facility is unique but there are some standard practices that can be utilized to make operators lives easier and safer. This is a great time for the 5 P’s – Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Pay attention to the details of your operating plan. Mockup your layout and simulate the operation with employees to identify weak points in your operation before they happen.
Noise, Heat and Vibration: Most industrial extraction equipment will create some level of noise, vibration and heat. OSHA requires hearing protection if noise levels are above 85 decibels (dBA) for more than 8 hours. Vibration can cause issues with building foundations and the operation of other devices such as testing equipment. Heat produced from the equipment will need to be removed via local HVAC. Obtain specifications from equipment manufacturers to confirm your facility can accommodate these items before making an equipment purchase decision. None of these items are easy to change and are generally expensive to try to mediate after the fact.
Purchase Terms: It is common practice in manufacturing industries to utilize Factory Acceptance Test (FAT) and Site Acceptance Test (SAT) criteria as part of the purchasing process, with payment terms usually following a payment schedule of 50% down, 40% after satisfactory FAT, 10% after satisfactory SAT. Utilize these tools to ensure you are getting equipment that functions the way you expect it to, and also conforms to your facility design. FAT and SAT require up front effort to determine the specific acceptance criteria and should be a collaborative effort between purchaser and seller, and when used properly can eliminate surprises.
Preventative and Corrective Maintenance: Finally, don’t forget about maintenance and repair. The best laid plans can be quickly undone by an unknown maintenance or repair item. Make sure you know and understand the routine maintenance and repair items that may be necessary, and plan accordingly for the type of access and support equipment that will be needed.