Cannabis pre-rolls, or pre-packed cannabis cones, will always have a certain level of demand. According to recent statistics from Flowhub, flower still accounts for 61% of the commercial cannabis market. In some markets, pre-rolls can make up as much as 17% of the total flower sales.
Many argue that the art of hand-packing cannot (or should not) be reimagined. Yet, when scaling commercial production to meet the demand of a booming market, the cost of human resources can be a limiting factor – mass-producing pre-rolls by hand requires a significant investment in staffing.
However, after investing in the Aura 2000 by Hefestus, Copperstate Farms, a North American greenhouse cannabis producer that maintains 1.7 million square feet of canopy, or 40 acres under glass, produces “at least 100,000 pre-rolls a week” with a record high of “1,400 pre-rolls an hour.”
Cannabis Tech spoke with the innovators behind the technology regarding their patented design and scalability for cannabis pre-rolls in a growing market.
The Problem with Packing Cannabis Pre-Rolls
From an engineering perspective, packing the perfect pre-roll has proven to be challenging to automate. Replicating a manual process through robotics takes precision and attention to the smallest details. Plus, cannabis cultivars produce varying levels of stems; some are stickier than others, and these differences create inconsistencies that machines don’t see.
But attentive consumers recognize those inconsistencies through the smokability of the pre-roll. Small stem fragments can puncture holes in the paper and create air leaks. Packed too loose, cones may burn unevenly or lose stability. Packed too tight, the pre-roll may be hard to draw, not burn hot enough to activate the THC, or not burn at all.
Suffice it to say; quality is vital in the world of cannabis pre-rolls.
Innovations 10 Years in the Making
One Israeli-born company with a branch in Las Vegas, Hefestus, has combined a decade of research and development with human ingenuity to provide an automated, robotic solution that doesn’t sacrifice quality.
Yehuda Yamay is a true innovator who admittedly sleeps very little; thus, he has plenty of time for imagining new solutions to persistent problems. After spending his career engineering packaging machines for food and cosmetics, a colleague approached Yehuda ten years ago about packaging cannabis – without humans.
“We traveled around the world and saw many people sitting in rooms making pre-rolls by hand. The idea was simple; basically I just copied the way I saw my kids doing it,” Yehuda recalled, and from there he made perfecting the machine his entire focus.
Overcoming the Challenges
Yehuda and his son, Shahar Yamay, quickly mentioned that designing a machine to pack cannabis pre-rolls means attention to the smallest details in the process and accommodating circumstances beyond their control.
For example, Yehuda explained that the paper cones for cannabis joints are made manually in vast rooms of thousands of women working diligently to clue the cones together. Sometimes, the glue hasn't dried entirely before the cones are stacked and packaged. This can cause the individual cones to stick together. This oversight can cause problems for most packing machines, but the Aura 2000 anticipates this issue, separating the cones one by one.
Another pain point was revealed in the grind. Variations in the plant itself could even cause problems with achieving a consistent density in the material. As such, the Aura 2000 uses a sifting method during grinding. The slow-motion sifting allows any small stem pieces to be removed and provides size consistency in the ground packing material.
Yehuda mentioned, “We call it simple sophistication – the machine has a simple design that's easy to maintain and operate, but it also has sophisticated parameters that operators can dial-in to the precise density for the best smokability for each strain.”
Speaking about the upgrades and improvements, Shahar added, “Over the past ten years, we've gone through several phases of evolution, and now we're at 100 percent no fail.”
Cannabis Pre-Rolls – One Size Does Not Fit All
Differentiation in a competitive market is essential, and Yehuda explained that many companies have come to them with unique challenges. Cones are adapting to consumer preferences and marketing innovations, and so must the machines that fill them.
Yehuda explained that before the pandemic, full-size, one-gram cones were the norm. However, many people are no longer comfortable sharing a joint post-pandemic, so they may opt for a half-gram or a “dog-walker.”
“Others want to increase the potency, so they may want to add kief or oil.,” Yehuda added. “Others may want a glass bridge or traditional cigarette shape. Every day it’s something new.”
Tamped, Not Twisted
The “Dutch Crown” created by the Aura 2000's patented design is one characteristic that remains consistent. Rather than twisting the end of the pre-roll to a point, the machine folds the edges inward and tamps them down.
On the Horizon
“The world belongs to the internet,” Yehuda said with a smile when questioned about the future. While still in the R&D phases, producers and operators will soon be able to access a wide range of production data, productivity statistics, photos, and analytics in real-time from the cloud.
Additional packaging robotics are also in development to allow for an entirely touchless system for packing cones, quality checks via weight and cameras, packaging in child-proof tubes, and post-packaging labeling.