Conveyors for Medical Cannabis Production

July 5, 2018

With medical cannabis acquiring legal status in an increasing number of jurisdictions, authorized producers are looking for conveying solutions to support their operations. This blog looks at this rapidly growing industry, its conveying challenges, and the conveyors for medical cannabis production that UniTrak can provide.

Cannabis that is used for medicinal purposes is referred to as medical cannabis or medical marijuana. The term “medical cannabis” refers to utilizing the whole, unprocessed cannabis plant, or its extracts, to treat a variety of symptoms and conditions. Medical cannabis can also be obtained through the production of synthetic derivatives of cannabis. A key use of medical cannabis is to help patients manage chronic pain and nausea.

Currently, Canada is the only G7 country to have a full national legal framework for regulating medical cannabis; however, medical cannabis production is allowed in 29 US states and a growing number of other countries around the world. According to market research firm Technavio, the global medical cannabis market will grow at a 21 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over the period 2018-2022.

Medical cannabis production

In jurisdictions which have legalized medical cannabis, production takes place under strictly controlled conditions in authorized facilities. Medical cannabis production is undertaken in biosecure facilities that comply with regulations governing environmental control, genetic and physical security, quality assurance, and pest control.

In the USA, where states have authorized the production of medical cannabis, authorized production facilities are required to be inspected and found in compliance with state laws and any other applicable regulations such as the Food and Drugs Act (FDA), the Controlled Drug Substance Act (CDSA), and others. Authorized facilities are expected to ensure a controlled procedure-driven cultivation, processing and testing system and abide by standards set in the Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) regulations. Similar regulatory compliance requirements are in force in other countries and jurisdictions.

Medical cannabis is often supplied to patients in either bud or oil form. Cannabis oil can be ingested or placed under the tongue and absorbed through the mouth, avoiding the need to inhale the medication.

Conveyors for medical cannabis production: applications

The cannabis production cycle for bud product begins with plantlets that are grown to maturity and then harvested for buds. The harvested buds are then moved to air flow chambers where they are cured. Cured buds are then chopped for uniformity and ease of use and the finished product is then moved to the packing line. Cannabis oil production uses a different process and is usually undertaken by using pharmaceutical-grade ethanol to extract the medicinal ingredient from harvested and dried cannabis flowers.

Authorized medical cannabis producers use conveyors to move product through various stages of their processing operations. For bud product, these include moving harvested buds for curing, transporting cured buds for stem removal, and moving finished product onto the packaging line. Oil product production can require conveyors to move flowers for drying, transporting the dried flowers for extraction of the medicinal components, and then moving final product onto the packaging line.

Conveyors for medical cannabis production: challenges

Since medical cannabis is a regulated product, producers are concerned about maintaining product integrity and quality throughout all stages of production. Conveyors used to move product through the production process should be capable of preserving product, while ensuring that they do not introduce any contaminants into the product stream.

Cannabis buds and flowers are friable and fragile and are thus susceptible to damage and degradation if handled roughly. For this reason, conveyors designed for high-care applications and capable of gentle handling should be selected and used.

Because medical cannabis products must meet FDA and other regulations, pharmaceutical or food-grade conveyors capable of meeting applicable sanitary or hygenic standards should be used to handle and move product.

Conveyors for medical cannabis production: solutions from UniTrak

TipTrak™ continuous bucket elevators are a preferred solution for vertically conveying product between the various stages of the product process. These high-care conveyors can gently handle cannabis buds and flowers without any breakage, damage or degradation. Featuring stainless steel construction, TipTrak™ elevators are available in a variety of designs, configurations, and capacities to suit any production facility size. For handling cannabis product, TipTrak™ units come equipped with FDA-grade plastic buckets, rubber beltchains and other drive assembly components, and an optional Clean-In-Place (CIP) system is available to provide cleanability and fast equipment turnaround.

TipTrak™ elevators are a proven solution for improving facility productivity and lowering operating costs. With industry-leading reliability, these units have minimal downtime and low planned maintenance requirements. Fully interlocking buckets assure zero spillage, providing maximum throughput while avoiding the need for cleanups. Automated machine controls leave operators free to attend to other tasks and duties, and TipTrak™ units run quiet with low energy consumption.

In addition to TipTrak™ bucket elevators, UniTrak can also supply inclined cleated belt conveyors to move cannabis product. These conveyors feature stainless steel construction and FDA-grade belting. They can be custom designed and sized to accommodate a wide range of process layouts and configurations.

Authorized medical cannabis producers can confidently turn to UniTrak for addressing their conveying needs and challenges. To find out more about how we can meet your needs, please contact our sales team directly.

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