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How to Design an Extraction Facility

Extraction equipment

The layout of extraction equipment can have a big impact on operational efficiency. Photo Courtesy of MedPharm

The design of a facility can dramatically impact how efficiently—or inefficiently—a cannabis extraction company operates.

When designing a marijuana extraction lab, it helps to focus on:

  • Ensuring safety when working with dangerous gases.
  • Creating a smooth workflow and reducing the opportunity for contamination.
  • Leaving adequate space to work on the machines.
  • Sectioning off each stage in the process.
  • Planning ahead to scale up as the business expands.

From a bird’s-eye view, extraction facilities typically are designed for product to move linearly from one side of the site to the other, with raw cannabis flower entering the building on one side and the post-processing and storage room located on the other.

“There’s absolutely a flow to this,” said Ankur Rungta, co-founder and CEO of C3 Industries, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based cannabis company with vertically integrated operations in Oregon and Michigan.

Safety

All three of the main extraction methods—hydrocarbon, CO2 and ethanol—involve working with toxic and dangerous gases. That said, extraction facilities must be designed with the safety of workers in mind, especially in light of the poisonous fumes and other dangers inherent in cannabis extraction.

Installing proper ventilation to ensure dangerous gases are sucked out of the facility and equipping the building with adequate wiring are two key safety items, said Dustin Shroyer, chief operating officer at Revolution Global, a Chicago-based vertically integrated cannabis company with businesses in multiple states.

Before starting construction, C3 hired a third-party industrial hygienist to certify its building would satisfy the local bureau of fire and safety.

“If you have the decisions vetted along the way, by the time we build something and put it into the field, there’s been a lot of work done already,” Rungta said.

Workflow

Facilities can be designed to maximize throughput efficiency and maintain cleanliness.

At Denver-based cannabis extraction lab MedPharm, Director of Chemistry Tyrell Towle likes his facilities to be designed in a linear fashion, where raw materials come in one side of the building and the finished product comes out the other end.

This makes sense spatially, but also in terms of personnel movement.

“You wouldn’t want the same workers in the raw material area working in the processing or post-processing room,” Towle said. Those workers could carry in raw material on their clothes, for example, and inadvertently contaminate the oil or other end products.

Spacing

Extraction machines need near-constant maintenance and cleaning.

“The biggest mistake people make is measuring and leaving enough space for the machine but not leaving enough space away from the walls,” Shroyer said.

Parts break. Seals need to be changed. So machines should be arranged with enough space for employees to work around and on them.

“We make sure we give the staff adequate space,” said Joel Ruggiero, co-founder and chief horticulture officer for C3. “If not, they’re tripping over each other.”

But C3 still tries to manage the use of the space and not build the labs bigger than they need to be.

“Everything breaks down at some point,” Towle said. “So you’ll need to be able to fix things.”

In Towle’s perfect scenario, the extraction equipment would have enough space around it for a small forklift to pass by in case a piece of equipment needs to be lifted.

That’s not strictly necessary, he said, but at least 3 feet around the machines would be a good compromise.

Compartmentalization

Separate lab workers take raw material and run it through the extractor, then manipulate the extracted material, dry and store it, so it’s important to consider how those spaces interact with each other.

Towle opts for compartment-alization, meaning each stage in the process occurs in a separate, sealed room.

“If you have a room where you’re grinding flower, you don’t want that in the same room as finished oil,” he added. The ground flower could easily fly into the finished oil and ruin it.

The rooms at Shroyer’s Revolution Global are all separate, and each stage is completely sealed.

The company uses doors with coded keypads that restrict access to employees who are permitted within each department.

“We want to make sure that nothing would come back in,” he said.

Scalability

Real estate doesn’t often come cheap, but not having enough space to grow the business if it succeeds is also not ideal.

Shroyer said leaving room for scaling up is more important if you’re in a state that doesn’t allow vertical integration.

“So far, we’ve only operated fully integrated, so we’ve just built specific to the amount of material that we’re going to be producing,” he added.

Rungta echoed that, saying his company isn’t trying to overbuild its new facilities.

“We’re trying to be efficient and smart with our capital spending,” he said.

MedPharm has tried to leave room for expansion as the company progresses. Towle also recommends building infrastructure such as enough electrical outlets to accommodate future expansion.

“You don’t want to be so crazy that your facility payments are too high,” Towle said. “But you’ll never be sad about having too much room.”