We all want to maximize the output of the facilities we invest so heavily in, but that doesn’t always equate to maximizing a flowering room’s canopy. I have seen beautiful grow facilities that are destined to fail. When designing a cultivation facility, it is extremely important to think about the people that will be using the space. Will the gardeners have enough room to do their job? Will the maintenance team be able to access what is needed, when it is needed? Ask yourself these imperative questions during the design phase:
1. Will gardeners have enough space for pruning events? Can they work on multiple tables at the same time, or is there not enough room?
Time and time again, the cost/benefit analysis has sided with maximizing the canopy space. I argue that allowing slightly more room for the gardeners will outweigh the few extra square feet. When the facility is designed with the gardener in mind, and matched with a great working culture, productivity gains can more than make up for the lost square footage.
2. How will plants be placed in the room? How will the harvest team move plants out to the dry rooms?
Thinking about this process in detail will inform how the room should be setup. If the process is very manual and will be attacked with a large team, then ensuring multiple aisles for access might be a good idea.
3. How will the room be emptied and cleaned between the harvest of the last round and the placement of the next?
The more accessible a room is, the easier it is to clean and ensure contaminants are not present. If there are spaces that people cannot access, don’t think that they will be cleaned in normal operation. People tend to do things when they are easy, so make the layout intuitive and accessible from the beginning.
4. Can a standard ladder fit in the aisle?
Ladders are a common tool in cultivation facilities, but all too often used in an unsafe way. The grow tables are typically not rated for use with the weight of a full grown adult on a ladder. Think about how lamps and filters will be changed. Think about how trellis will be installed, especially if you are planning on growing tall sativa cultivars. Elevated work is essential in this business, so design to do it in a safe way.
5. How will equipment be maintained DURING a grow cycle?
Ensuring adequate space between aisles for the unexpected is just a good idea. If you grow in a light-deprivation greenhouse, plan on blackout curtains getting stuck, usually at the worst time. How will the maintenance team or contractors access the curtain system with a fully loaded room? Will a large CO2 tank fit in the aisle? How easy is it to change a bad sensor?
6. How far do people have to walk for each process?
Minimizing walking distance can be a game changer. Where are supplies located in relation to where they are used? Where are downstream processes located? Where is waste collected? Each of these items are important when you have limited employees to do the job. Minimizing the distance people walk reduces wasted labor.
Contemplating these questions during the design phase and pairing the layout with a great process will enable new licensees to hit the ground running. If you don’t have the experience to answer these questions, it might be a good idea to partner with someone that does.