Whether you are involved in Cultivation, Manufacturing or Distribution, Process and Workflow automation are likely not something you think about everyday, especially if your business is in its infancy. Yet, they could be the key to unlocking greater efficiency and hence operating margins as you scale upwards.
Workflows are sequence of steps that transform or create materials, products or information, usually involving people with different skill sets, or machinery used for various tasks. They usually (but not always) form a pipeline, where the steps need to be executed in sequence, and any step can become a bottleneck and affect the efficiency of the whole process. Whether or not you define them as workflows you are likely using workflows already to tag plants, manufacture products, or manage inventory.
In order to improve the efficiency of any workflow (and hence reduce costs), you have to be able to first measure the cost of time and materials that go into the workflow. To quote an old saying – you can’t improve what you don’t measure. Even without deploying any automation, just quantifying the time and material that make up a workflow and measuring them for each instance of execution will give you greater insights in ways to optimize that workflow.
Let us take, as an example, a workflow involving plant irrigation. In the simplest form, an employee could be tasked with watering plants at regular intervals, using a fixed amount of water. The time the employee takes to complete the task as well as the amount of water contribute to the cost of executing this workflow. This is one of the simplest workflows, involving just a few steps, but even this simple workflow can offer insights into reducing costs.
There are a few areas where this workflow could be optimized. The cost of employee time is a major one. If you could reduce the frequency of watering or the amount of water, it could effect in cost savings as well. For example, at different growth stage of the plant and at differing temperature and humidity conditions in the grow room, the water requirements could change. However, measuring these manually and coming up with a schedule is not trivial. But at the very least, any tracking software should give you an accurate assessment of the current cost of this task.
If you could add a simple sensor that measures the temperature, humidity and soil moisture levels, but leave the actual irrigation process as a manual task, you could still find savings in labor costs, if the sensors indicate when the next watering is required and how much. The plants will be happier too, not being subjected to over or under watering!
The next automation step, especially if the number of plants have grown substantially, might be to add an automatic irrigation system. If integrated with the sensors, it can completely automate the irrigation (and even fertilization) process and reduce labor cost to very little or none. It can also precisely measure the water and fertilizer that is being used. Once again, before investing in this automation, you can calculate whether the capital and operating expense that go into installing automatic irrigation will justify the savings in labor cost.
While this maybe a very simple example of a workflow automation, many such processes exist in cultivation, manufacturing and distribution. Reading weights from scales can be automated to eliminate errors in reading, and needing a computer terminal nearby to type in the readings. Mobile apps with barcode readers can simplify data entry without any added cost. If data is captured automatically at fine grained interval (which would be very costly if it is manually entered), it can be automatically analyzed to discover potential areas of cost savings. Most importantly, the ROI can be computed before making a new investment.
With the recent explosion in the availability of low cost IoT (Internet of Things) sensors, it could cost just a few dollars per month to add sensors to the workflow, resulting in healthier plants and lower labor and material cost.
Entrinsia is committed to bringing Enterprise Class technology, including Industrial IoT, AI and Analytics to small and medium businesses at an affordable price point.
Besides sensors, we also use B.O.T.S.(TM) (Business Operations Telemetry System), a proprietary technology, which monitors your operations in the background to fill in routine information automatically, create audit trails and reports and other paperwork automatically, and offload routine tasks, including updating of METRC data. This is the topic of an upcoming blog. In upcoming blogs we will also be providing real customer stories about how workflow automation saved them time and money.
Some examples of workflow automation include controlling grow lights for optimal results by changing the intensity, spectrum (if available) and duration depending on plant stage and environmental conditions, manufacturing automation including direct interface to many machines that support it and distribution processes including packing and shipping.
All of Entrinsia’s products are IoT ready. They can be initially used with no automation, and still enable you to collect valuable information and insights about your workflows. As your operation scales up, inexpensive sensors can be dropped into the workflows with no interruptions to the steps, improving the efficiency and saving costs. You can decide which steps benefit the most from automation, and what the ROI is likely to be, before making any changes. Entrinsia IoT’s include sensors for temperature, humidity, soil moisture, CO2, RFID, badges, light and many others. We also have interfaces that connect to scales to automate reading weights, with many others to follow. All of them can be deployed simply by authorizing the devices (all of our devices use strong encryption and authentication for security) and specifying the step where they are allowed to send data to. They can also be setup to send notifications in case anomalies or error conditions are detected. While we use advanced technology behind the scenes in our products, the products themselves are extremely easy to use.
Whatever operations software you end up using, it pays to make sure that it can grow with your needs by adding automation and intelligence as you scale up. If you have any questions or comments drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are interested in seeing workflows in action, please schedule a demo here