Optimize Your Cannabis Harvest with a Bud Sorter
Cannabis users have long associated flower quality with size. Larger flowers are more impressive than smaller ones — and presumably more potent too.
As the industry matures, consumer preferences are changing, yet the need to sort cannabis flowers by size has stayed much the same.
Automated bud sorters are replacing their human counterparts, and with good reason: the machines reduce manual labor costs and provide more precise sorting. Better still, they help cannabis growers access more revenue with every harvest. This article tells you how.
Why Sort Your Cannabis Flower?
Using a cannabis sorter can increase the value of your crop. It lets you make better use of your smaller flowers while enabling you to sell the larger ones at a premium price.
Larger flowers, which grow higher on the stalk, are indeed more potent than smaller flowers, but not by much. Smaller flowers possess the same terpene profile and usage effects, making them perfect for pre-roll and extraction preparation.
Both pre-rolls and extracts fetch premium prices. Moreover, these products aren’t subject to the same discrimination based on flower size because the plant materials have been milled or extracted.
As noted above, marijuana consumer preferences are changing. Flower connoisseurs still appreciate a larger bud, but they recognize that the value is largely aesthetic. Business purchasers have taken notice of this user preference.
If you’re working with a B2B purchaser or wholesaler, they may hesitate to pay your per-pound price based on mixed flower sizes. If they see small flowers in the batch, they may request a lower price. Likewise, if they see large flowers that exceed their requirements, they may believe they’re paying a needless premium.
In the cannabis processing industry, a flower sorter lets you meet all of their requests precisely, thus improving your bud quality control and bargaining leverage.
If a buyer requests custom sizes such as 7-10 mm flowers, you can deliver that exact preferred size by adjusting your bud sorter. If they want larger flowers, you can provide those too.
Manual Sorting vs. Automated Bud Sorters
During the processing phase, sorting the cannabis buds by hand is laborious and imprecise. Typically, human sorters select the larger flowers from the harvest and call the task complete. They sort into three rough categories (large, medium, and “smalls”) based on visual estimates.
With an automated cannabis flower sorter, a grate or conveyor is typically used to remove the smaller flowers first, followed by the medium-sized flowers and then the largest. Regardless of the sorter’s design, the smaller flowers pass through the grate slots before the larger material.
The best bud sorters are adjustable and provide additional grate sizes; you can define small, medium, and large however you wish, making it easier to meet downstream marketing objectives.
Types of Cannabis Sorters
There are two main types of bud sorters available to meet your budgetary constraints and harvest crop size. As you make your choice, be sure to consider your future production volume.
These sorters require technicians to agitate the cannabis flower materials across a gradient to achieve sorting. With these designs, flowers fall through a sequence of standard grate sizes. The grates are arranged vertically or horizontally.
In a vertical configuration, the flower is loaded in the top grate and all but the largest flowers fall through to the second grate size, which removes the medium-sized flowers, and so on.
With a horizontal gradient, technicians pass the flowers across a table of grates resembling barbecue grills. The first grate has the narrowest slots and lets only the smallest flowers fall through into a bin. The next grate has wider slots, and so on.
Some non-automated sorters vibrate to assist the technicians with moving the flowers through the grates, but they still require constant attention.
The biggest advantage of these systems is their lower capital expense compared to full automation. However, the need for an attendant means operating expenses are average cost and similar to sorting by hand.
Another drawback is the style of the processing; agitating the flowers back and forth across a grate ruptures the trichome heads. Because trichome heads contain most of the valuable cannabinoids, non-automated sorters compromise the harvest. For large-scale operators, these systems are unacceptable.
In addition to being faster, automated sorters such as the stainless steel Mobius M9 Sorter preserve product quality; they eliminate the need to agitate your flowers across a grate, improving consistency over time.
These “throughput” sorters use conveyors made up of diverging belts to sort flowers more precisely and in a controlled environment, providing the highest quality buds and preserving those valuable trichomes.
On the Mobius M9, a total of nine parallel belts move product down the line, letting flowers drop through as the gaps between the belts widen. The sorted flowers collect in bins beneath the conveyor belts in order of small to large.
These sorters reduce labor for the cannabis grower and require little attention during operation. They also complement other automation equipment, leading to greater efficiencies as described below.
What to Look for in a Cannabis Sorter
In the cannabis processing industry, all of your equipment should be easy to use, easy to maintain, and reliably meet your production goals. A bud sorter is no different.
Make sure your new equipment meets safety standards and the following metrics, and for more information, reference these tips for buying a commercial bud sorter.
In the future era of federal legalization, cannabis producers will need to comply with Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), similar to other industries. So, make sure your equipment is GMP-ready today.
GMP-ready equipment is “food-grade” and cleaner than non-GMP alternatives. It is also easier to use. Engineers ensure that GMP-compliant equipment has surfaces that stand up to cleaning solvents and design features that eliminate cracks and crevices where stray material can collect.
Easy Disassembly and Servicing
Cannabis pollen adheres to everything — especially warm, moving parts. That’s why all cannabis trimmers, sorters, and mills require frequent comprehensive cleaning.
The best sorters for cannabis are easy to disassemble and adjust. Unfortunately, equipment designers often overlook serviceability. The resulting bud sorter machine takes significant time to disassemble, clean, and reassemble, and usually requires tools to do so.
High-Volume Capacity with Minimal Labor
Many cannabis growers who choose a non-automated sorter come to realize they have invested in a problem. The device does not reduce labor, and actually creates a bottleneck in their workflow.
Instead, choose a machine that reduces your labor expenditures and keeps pace with your other systems.
How to Integrate Your Sorter with Full-System Automation
A through-put cannabis bud sorter complements the commercial processing workflow very well. Assuming you already employ a through-put trimmer, such as the Mobius M108S, a sorter can seamlessly integrate into your operation.
Because of its conveyor-style mechanism, the Mobius M9 Sorter works well in sequence with other throughput equipment. The complete system moves untrimmed flowers into the trimmer via a conveyor and pushes them onto the sorter, which separates them for further processing.
With large-volume cannabis harvests, cultivators may opt for a mechanical bucker like the MBX Bucker. A bucker quickly separates (“bucks”) flowers off the stalks by pulling the stalk through a tight hole.
The key to integrating your equipment is ensuring it operates at equivalent processing speeds. The Mobius M9 Sorter, for instance, can process 440 pounds of dry flower per hour. Given its speed, the M9 is unlikely to create a bottleneck during production.
Call an Expert
An equipment manufacturer can help you assess compatibility with your existing machines, estimate reductions in labor costs, and specify machines to meet your production volume.
Contact a Mobius representative today. They will help you capitalize on your purchasing power and select the technologies that will serve you now and into the future.