Trimming Equipment Primer: 5 Keys to Maximizing ROI

Features - Production

Is trimming equipment the key to supercharging productivity and profits?

October 3, 2016

Cannabis growers see green each time a new medical or consumer market opens. While this is generally considered good news for the industry, many growers quickly find they’re unprepared for the volume increase. Trimming is one of the more time-consuming processes that can hamper a grower’s ability to meet customer demand.

Some growers are turning to trimming machines to speed production by eliminating the labor-intensive process of hand trimming. Forbidden Farms, a Tier 3 producer based in Tacoma, Wash., implemented a trimmer to accommodate the introduction of recreational cannabis in Washington, says Taylor Balduff, company president.

“Before, it was no big deal to hand trim, but when you’re doing hundreds of pounds per week, the man-hours and staff to hand trim something like that was unreal,” Balduff says.

With trimming machines, Forbidden Farms can process approximately 100 pounds per day versus 1 to 2 pounds each day by hand. The machine paid for itself after the first harvest, Balduff says.

A GreenBroz Inc. trimmer. Some mechanical trimmers only work with wet or dry buds, while others handle both. Wet trimming helps preserve potency and appearance, but can take longer than dry trimming.
Photo: Courtesy Jake Polster-Sadlon

Likewise, Alex Cooley, owner of Seattle-based Solstice Grown, says his efficiencies increased tenfold after introducing trimming machines. In addition, his company has been able to cut trimming time from weeks to days, with a return on investment in less than six months.

Increased efficiencies made the investment worthwhile for Solstice and Forbidden Farms, but growers can’t expect the same returns with every trimmer. About six years earlier, Balduff experienced mixed results using a trimmer that handled only wet material.

He has since switched to a dry-trimming process that has produced much better results, he says.

Like any technology investment, cultivators have many factors to consider when shopping for trimmers. Below are five keys to consider when purchasing trimming equipment.

A Keirton Twister trimmer. The material you process impacts trimmer output. A midsize machine that processes about 4lbs./hour wet will process about 7lbs./hour dry, says Keirton’s Jay Evans.
Photo: Courtesy Harvest Review

1. Cut Wet or Dry?

While growers will likely continue to debate the pros and cons of trimming wet vs. dry for years to come, it’s best to know which method you prefer before selecting trimming equipment. Some trimmers will handle both wet and dry buds, while others will handle only one or the other.

Keirton Inc., maker of Twister trimming and conveying systems, offers trimmers that handle both wet and dry product. The choice usually comes down to personal preference — with factors such as speed (processing dry is usually faster), capacity (drying requires more space) and product smell and appearance coming into play (color and smell on dry flowers may be more appealing), says Jay Evans, director of Surrey, British Columbia-based Keirton.

Cooley says he prefers wet trimming because it’s easier to preserve potency and appearance. “When it comes to mechanical trimming, specifically dry mechanical trimming, we have found that the cannabis can be damaged in a couple of ways – the biggest being potency loss via destruction/removal of trichomes,” he says. “In addition to that, it can somewhat over-trim the cannabis by cutting down the flower, resulting in lower weight of sellable flower.”

However, Balduff says he’s seen positive results with a dry trimmer because the machine he uses from GreenBroz utilizes a gentle tumbling process rather than a vertical drop.

2. Volume Matters

How much plant material are you processing? Volume requirements will have an impact on the type of machine you need and the price you can expect to pay for it. Smaller machines, at the lower end of the price range, will handle about 2 pounds to 4 pounds per hour, at an average price of $5,000. The larger machines, which cost about $10,000, will handle 8 pounds to 12 pounds per hour, says Cullen Raichart, GreenBroz CEO and founder.

The type of material you’re processing matters, as well. A midsize machine that processes about 4 pounds per hour wet will process about 7 pounds per hour dry, Evans says.

3. Don’t Sacrifice Quality

Sometimes looks are everything. Don’t be afraid to ask vendors how the machine will impact appearance. Some faster-moving machines will round the edges of the buds and produce a “pine cone look,” says Raichart.

Growers also may want to consider the length of time material must remain in the trimmer to complete the trimming process, Evans says. “If the flower is moved around in the machine for a considerable amount of time, it can get a ground-down, filed down look to it,” he says. For instance, the difference between a minute in a machine versus 20 minutes can impact appearance, Evans says.

4. How’s the Service and Support?

Downtime can kill productivity and profits. Growers can’t afford to wait for service and support when equipment failures or maintenance needs arise. Before purchasing equipment, Evans recommends that growers call the manufacturer to see how quickly a company representative will answer the phone. “When you’re in the middle of a harvest and something goes wrong, you want to reach someone right away,” he says. Evans also suggests that growers seek trimming equipment that comes with a five- to 10-year warranty.

5. Built to Last

Machine construction is critical to minimize product-quality issues, such as contamination. “You want to make sure you have a blade system that’s antimicrobial,” Raichart says. “Make sure your blade system does not hold onto bacteria.” Antimicrobial blades can help prevent the spread of bacteria, such as mold fungus, he says.

Also, make sure machine parts are noncorrosive, Evans says. Look for machines that feature stainless-steel or non-anodized aluminum construction, he suggests.

As growers increase production, the use of trimming equipment will continue to rise, Evans says. “It’s very difficult to maintain the labor force to scale into that,” he says. “Even small growers see the value. A common phrase in the business is: ‘Trimming sucks.’ It’s a very tedious, time-consuming job.”

Jonathan Katz is a freelance writer based in the Cleveland, Ohio, area.