There are a lot of ways in which this industry is pulling together equipment selection and process design engineering know-how in order to size properly and begin production faster.
In this webinar, Dr. Rebecca Knight and Mike Anderson from Hawthorne’s Professional Technical Service Department present their findings with open questions and interaction from viewers.
An edited version of this webinar’s full transcript has been provided below for your convenience.
Rob Meagher — Good morning or good afternoon. I’m Rob Meagher, the publisher and founder of Cannabis Business Executive. I am here today to welcome you to our custom webinar presented by our sponsor, Hawthorne. Today’s topic will be a holistic and futuristic approach to cultivation design. Couple of housekeeping points to make. There is a handout available that you can download directly from your dashboard. The presentation will also be archived on the CBE site for the next year. You can reach that by going to our website and to the webinar link and clicking on the archived link as well. And then finally, I just wanted to let everybody know that the intent is for your questions to be welcomed and answered by our two presenters. We’ll have about 15 minutes left at the conclusion of their presentation to field those questions. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce Mike Anderson, the Director of Hardware and Field Support at Hawthorne; and Rebecca Knight, the Director of Cultivation Systems Design. Enjoy.
Dr. Rebecca Knight — Hello and welcome, everyone. So today we’re going to talk about holistic and futuristic approach to cultivation design. This is a topic that we’ve been developing and refining for years. We’re very passionate about this because it centers around technology, construction, integrated equipment, and growers. A lot has changed, and there’s a lot that we can do to make it better. So I’m here with my colleague, Mike Anderson, we’re both from the professional technical services department and we’re at Hawthorne Gardening Company. Hawthorne is headquartered in Vancouver, Washington. You can see the headquarters in the background of the slide.
So a little bit about my group. My team works with growers and our internal sales people. We also work with builders to apply custom cultivation designs that integrate and optimize each room and facility with ideally-sized benching, lighting, irrigation, fertigation, airflow, and more. Each project is unique and all systems are interconnected. Utilizing partnerships with MEPs, in-house optimization tools, as well as photometric and 3D modeling, we provide specifications and recommended equipment that’s needed for each project. We work with all sizes and categories of cultivation design, as well as all sizes of facilities.
My background includes a PhD in plant biology, where I studied the genetic effects, gene expression based on different types of environmental stimuli. I also have an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering. I worked in industry as a process engineer for several years before getting into the horticultural industry. And now I’d like to pass over to Mike.
Mike Anderson — Hi, I’m Mike Anderson. Thank you for joining this webinar. My expertise is really in field support and hardware. So whether it’s lighting or HVAC, dehumidification, any equipment that you have on at your growing facility. Whether you’re just designing it or it’s an up and running facility and you need some technical support, that’s what my team does. I also work with the person who does rebates for our company. We’ll talk more about that later on. So in terms of securing rebates for some of the equipment that you may purchase, we can help you with that as well. My background is basically in lighting. I’ve been in lighting industry for nearly 30 years. My education is in business management. So I look at things really from a monetary perspective, and we’ll see more of that as we go through the presentation.
Dr. R.K. — So today’s agenda is divided into three topics. First, we’re going to talk a bit about Hawthorne and the tech services department. This will provide some context as to why we’re so heavily involved in cultivation design. Next, Mike will cover cultivation build out strategies, what are some key advantages and disadvantages that owners and growers face when they’re building out their production facility, how to build better facilities, and build out planning and budgeting. Then I’ll get into the evolution of cultivation design, how things have changed and what we do in terms of best practices, how things are interdependent, as well as software tools and future development. So with that, we’ll go ahead and get started.
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M.A. — So in Hawthorne, we have over 1,300 associates working in 29 states and four countries. We manufacture and distribute products to over 2,000 retail customers in North America. Our professional technical services department has over 125 years of experience in CEA, controlled-environment agriculture. We produce over 3,000 facility designs per year. We have five R&D facilities staffed with 25 PhDs to conduct product and plant trials to support our customers. And in our headquarters in Vancouver, Washington, we actually have a operational greenhouse that produces and donates over 5,000 pounds of vegetables locally. We also created cannabis Social Justice Fund that has provided two and a half million dollars in grants so far. We also have 10 warehouses across North America with over two million square feet of space. We own and operate 67 trucks to improve deliveries to our customers. And finally, we own manufacturer or distribute some of the most recognized brands in the industry, from General Hydroponics, Gavita lights, Botanicare, Can-Filters, and HydroLogic water systems.
Our brands provide 3,000 SKUs from lighting to nutrients, that includes benching, growing media, environmental controls, and many other categories to outfit any growing space. These acquisitions and partnerships have created the most comprehensive catalog in the industry to provide whole solutions to our customers. We call this our 360-degree offering, but that goes beyond products. We don’t only offer products, we have the technical capability to help our customers design, outfit produce, and produce at the highest capacity and quality levels. So again, we don’t just sell products, we provide solutions to established growers who are having issues hitting yields or quality goals, as well as new growers who are in the process of building their first facility.
To further explain our complete product offering, let’s look at our brands and categories in more detail. On the lighting side of things, we have Gavita, Sun Systems, and Luxx. When it comes to HVAC and dehumidification, we have Ideal-Air Solutions, Quest dehumidifiers, and YORK air conditioning units. In terms of benching and also multi-tier racking, which is becoming more popular, we have Botanicare and Spacesaver. In terms of airflow and odor mitigation, we have Can-Filters and we have Hurricane, Schaefer, and Vostermans. In terms of nutrients, we have two types of water soluble and also liquid. We provide those in brands General Hydroponics, GH, Botanicare, and Cyco. In terms of irrigation and fertigation, we have Netafim, Jain, Bluelab, and Dosatron. In terms of water filtration and pumps, we have HyperLogic, DAB, and EcoPlus. And then with growing media and containers, we have Botanicare, Mother Earth, Grodan, and GroPro. And finally, we have an exclusive arrangement with Seinergy who conducts rebate searches then also manages the rebate process for our customers.
In terms of our technical services department, that’s where Rebecca and I both work, one thing that we find, and it’s one of the biggest challenges in commercial growing, is scaling your operation. And I always say that, I can cook for my wife, and she and I would be reasonably happy, but if I had to cook for my daughter’s wedding, everybody would be very unhappy. And growers have the same issues. Right? They may have excellent results in a small grow, but they are not capable of scaling that up successively. This destroys your payback calculations and jeopardizes profitability for many of the commercial growers out there. So our technical expertise helps customers select appropriate equipment. We can integrate this equipment. We can conduct trials at the growing facility so that people can get up to speed quickly and stay on track. Many times the growers are running on the ragged edge and need help getting production back into a reliable and repeatable process. So we’re there to work with them to do that as well.
In terms of plant production, we conduct onsite nutrient training, and we also create feed schedules that demonstrate and work well for the growers to help them produce a higher yielding quality. And we can evaluate plant health issues as well. In terms of the hardware, we provide product information and training. We help get the equipment up and running. If there’s troubles with it, we can provide troubleshooting. And then also, if you’re looking at switching from one type of equipment to another type of equipment, we can also work on equipment trials. So as an example, if you’re running high-pressure sodium lighting and you want to convert to LED, we can work with you as well. So with regard to facility design, we do custom equipment and part sizing. We do room and facility cultivation designs, and we’ve created interactive tools and calculations that’ll help you understand what it’s going to cost to build your facility. And Rebecca will review that later in her presentation.
Cultivation build out strategies
M.A. — So let’s talk about the build out process. Really, in this case, there’s two phases of any build out planning or strategy. The first is to design and construct a construction phase, which will include the site location, a review of the utilities and what’s available to supply to your facility and also your building and your room design. And then secondarily, you have equipment and parts selection sizing, which includes understanding the interactions of all the equipment that’s selected. And that’s a really important part of this. That’s why we keep talking about the 360-view. If you provided one piece of equipment from a manufacturer, they may not know how that piece of equipment interacts with everything else in that growing situation. So because we provide all of the equipment, we understand the interactions from all of those.
Let’s talk about architects and general contractors. They’re great people. We find that most of them are very capable at designing and building commercial spaces and industrial spaces, but most of them have never designed or built a growing facility. And as we say, CEA, controlled-environment agriculture, is a new industry really, and it’s very complex. So it’s not something that they’ve done before, or if they have done it before, they haven’t done it very often. So the key advantages to those folks is that they know the local building codes and ordinances, and they may have relationships with governmental agencies that are very valuable for you as somebody that’s looking to build a facility. The key disadvantage that they have is that they really don’t understand how to grow plants or controlled-environment agriculture. And so that’s the big key there. Let’s move on to the next space.
With regard to the growers, as I told you about my cooking experience, again, I can cook for my wife, but not for the wedding. But with regard to growers, many believe what work for them on a small scale will work for them on a much larger scale. The issue with that is, the amount of time and effort given on a small scale, it cannot be given on a larger scale. As I would say, brute force and dedication, that’s used to produce excellent results with a few plants. It cannot be done cost effectively on a much larger scale. So you have to build in a process that’s repeatable. And so that’s what we can help you do.
Now, this is where our technical services people come into the picture. We work alongside your architect or your general contractor, and help to get them up to speed quickly with controlled-environment agriculture. We don’t mind working with them, working with you and working with your general contractor or your architect, to help them size equipment correctly and make sure that you’re going to be successful. Our goal is to avoid costly mistakes and delays that will in turn cause cost overruns in your project. So we’re happy to sit down, review your plans with your team, and design and build a very efficient and productive facility that produces at a high-quality level and on a consistent basis. We’re trying to avoid these grumpy tradesmen who need to complete the project that they’re working on for you, so that they can move on to the next job in their queue.
So furthermore, we continue to be on site to work alongside your growers and your production teams. At many times, we’re brought in after the facility was built and without any input from us. But because they may have selected equipment that was provided by us, we’ll come in and we’ll certainly support that build out. So we’ll, more times than not, try to simplify the production process to get the yields up and the quality up to where you had budgeted for. We’ll show everyone what works. We’ll explain why and how it works so that they can use equipment more effectively.
These photos are actually of our team on site, working alongside our customers. In this case, they were looking for an increased yield. You can imagine what an extra one, two or 3% would be worth in a flower room. And many times, we can do much more than that. So the flower on the bottom right side of this screen is from one of our customers after we help them convert their facility from high-pressure sodium to LED. It’s not as simple as just taking out the HPS fixture and putting the LED in because the growing situation changes and we have to modify some things to make sure that it works. But the end result was some of the finest flower that we’ve ever seen.
So things that you should consider before you jump into this, if you haven’t already made the plunge. Whether you’re building your first facility and also if you’re building an additional facility, sometimes it’s a good idea to take a step back and look at what can be improved. One thing I always tell people is that low-quality plants are really easy to grow, but they’ll not pay your bills. And especially in the environment that we’re in right now, with the prices as low as they are, if you have low-quality plant product, you probably can’t sell it. If you have really high-quality plant product, there’s always a market for it. So high-quality plants produced on a commercial scale takes proper and thoughtful facility design that builds in consistency, and with your dedication, it’ll be profitable. But always remember that we’re here to help you.
So here are some critical steps that you should think about when you’re doing your build out planning. Location is critical, and it can stop you in your tracks if you choose a bad location. Electrical supply is a critical thing. You have to make sure that they’re going to have enough electrical supply for your facility. And trust me when I tell you, and Rebecca can also tell you that, we have worked with many customers who are looking at equipment and trying to purchase things, they spent a lot of money on architects, only to find out that they wasted all that time and effort and money without verifying the electrical supply.
Most people would think, and I would think, before I got into this business, I would think the utilities in the business is selling electricity. There should be more than enough. They should want to give you as much as you need. But what happens in many cases is that they’ll tell you, “Oh yeah, you need more power. We can get it to you in a couple of months.” Sometimes they’ll say, it might take a year or more to get more power to your facility. And in the worst case scenario, they might tell you that there’s never going to be that much power available where you’re at. So that’s one of the critical things that you should do before you do anything else, is to make sure that you have enough electrical power coming to your facility.
In terms of the timing, you want to make sure that your payback calculations are realistic. Okay? And lead times for equipment right now can be 30 weeks or longer. So if you haven’t built that into your timelines, you may be in trouble. And timelines keep getting longer and longer on equipment. So that’s also something that’ll stop you in your tracks.
The other question that we get a lot of times is that, “Well, should I build a facility or should I retrofit it? I’ve got this building, it’s sitting there. I can get it for cheap, and I want to just retrofit it and make it into a growing operation.” I think a lot of folks thinks that it’d be easier and quicker to retrofit, but most times this is not the case and you end up with a compromised design. Not to say that it won’t work, but it will be a compromised design. So building new allows you to design exactly what you want. It allows you to design a facility that was meant for growing. So in most cases, I would say that it’s better to build than it is to retrofit an existing facility.
Now, financing is another thing. It’s a hot topic, especially in this industry. But I can tell you that they usually get stretched in most cases. So I would always say that if you have access to reserve capital, that’s fantastic. If you do not, I would work on finding it. So that’s something that can be an issue as well. You want to make sure that your grower, whoever you select to be your head grower, has the ability to work on a larger scale. Many are capable of growing on a small scale with really high-quality plant product, but when it comes down to it, they can’t do that. As I said before, scaling up is always a challenge. So you’d also want to look for somebody that has a less of an ego and is willing to reach out to experts who can help them.
Now, in terms of rebates, there are rebates available in many parts of the country. There are locations that have no rebates available. So what you’d want to do is, if you have the opportunity to pick a location that they provide a rebate, you’d want to build there. So on the screen, we’ve got a map of New York State in the upper right corner, and it shows rebate availability. We’ve also generated maps for all the other states, so you’ll know if there’s any rebates in that location. That’s really important because in terms of lighting and HVAC, we can always find rebates, especially because of the lighting going to LED technology. You can typically find rebates. And if you find out that you’ve got the perfect location, it doesn’t look like there’s any rebates available, please reach out to us. We’ll try and work on it. Because in many cases, we can contact the utility and state the case that it makes sense to put a rebate available here. And we’ve had success in doing that. So if you’re unsure about the location and whether rebates available or not, please reach out to us for assistance.
The other question we get all the time is, “Okay, how much is the equipment going to cost to create this grow?” And with that obviously comes the money side of things, is how much should I budget to create this build out. And then the other thing that comes into play, and most people don’t think about it, but we’ll make sure you’re aware of this is, how long is the lead time and the equipment that’s required. So it really depends on the equipment that’s selected and how long the lead times are. So we can work on that. These are all great questions, and we’re always here to help provide answers. But in terms of answering that question, ballpark numbers for equipment alone are between 200 and $260 per square foot of growing space. And I always caution people that, “Yeah, can you skinny that up?” You can skinny that up. But typically, the lower you have in terms of initial cost, the higher your production costs will be. And that’s trade off that has to be made.
Also, on the other side of the things, typically, the more you spend on more efficient equipment, the less you’re going to spend on production costs. So it’s one of those pay me now or pay me later situations. If capital is tight to put the build out together, you may have to go with lesser equipment. And as you get up and running and start to create a profit, you can upgrade at a later point in time.
So with that in mind, a 5,000 square foot facility is going to require a one to 1.3 million in CapEx (capital expenditure). And that’s significant, so you want to make sure that you got the financing to put all that together. The lead time is really very byproduct line, but in some cases, as I said before, it exceed 30 weeks. So you got to think about that. Just because you’ve got the facility and you’ve got the license, many times the license will tell you when you have to be growing, start your growing operation. Well, it’s hard to start a growing operation if you’ve got a 30-week lead time on equipment. So for more exact estimates and lead times, we’re always happy to assist you. With that in mind, I’d like to turn it over to Rebecca to talk about the facility designs.
Evolution of cultivation design
Dr. R.K. — Thank you very much, Mike. Thanks for discussing the build out strategies. And now we’re going to move into the evolution of cultivation design. I want to mention that I started at Hawthorne two years ago, and in that short amount of time, there has been a lot of changes, not just in the product offerings or how we integrate design work, but we’ve also changed the way in which we look at the future and where things are going. However, one thing has always been the case, and that is that it all starts with great design. So that’s me two years ago when I got my job. Okay, that’s actually a stock image, but that’s how it felt. It all starts with great design. And this was told to me on day one by Mike. Everything that we do is revolved around making sure that things are planned out correctly, specified correctly. And in the end, this will save tons of money and time. So for us, that’s our main goal.
So let’s jump in. This is the design team. I’m very lucky to have this group of engineers. As Mike pointed out, there’s three divisions within tech services. Now, we all work with growers. We all work on troubleshooting and product recommendations. We’re on phone calls. But this particular group of engineers, we also really focus on simulations and mathematical calculations. Our mission is to provide sales support and product solutions through developing cutting-edge simulations and system integration tools related to CEA. I emphasize that last part because there is so much that we’re learning in terms of controlled-environment agriculture. I come from a background of process engineering, chemical engineering. We didn’t talk about CEA when I was getting my undergrad. So there is a lot that we’re learning. A lot of people with backgrounds in human comfort, HVAC for instance, are learning a lot now about plant respiration and how to compensate for that. So there’s a lot that we’re learning and it’s all very exciting stuff.
So what I’m going to do is, I want to talk through what we’re doing today. I think that will provide some background for all of you to see what we consider best practices, and that will perhaps guide you and your simulations and your work. And then after I discuss what we’re doing today, I’ll talk about some tools and software that we’re launching for the public and why we think that’s important for everyone to utilize to improve their system design.
We’ll start off by discussing the interdependency of the system. In this infographic, I’m showing the different hardware categories that we work with. I’m not including consumables or nutrients, for example, although those are highly integrated as well into the system, into optimizing everything. But what I’m showing is the hardware side of design. You’ll notice that everything’s interconnected. Not only that, but it’s really critical that we understand what are the process parameters that the growers are looking for, that our customers are looking for, but also what are the constraints. So if we consider benching, for example, maybe they’re constrained in terms of how far away they have to put the benching from the walls or the spacing between the benching for fire code or ADA compliance. That’s going to impact the plant count. The plant count will then impact your irrigation, and your irrigation will impact HVAC.
Same thing with how you place your benching and your utilization factor within the room. That’s going to impact where your light fixtures will be placed, the configuration of your lighting. That lighting also is going to impact HVAC in terms of electricity consumption. So everything’s interconnected. If a grower is trying to optimize yield and increase their plant counts, they might find later on that having that plant count or the placement of those benches has somewhat deleterious effects on the other categories. For example, it might turn out that we don’t get very good uniformity because the benches are placed too close to the wall. Even though we can do some pretty tricky things with light configurations, you can only get the fixtures so close to the wall. So perhaps that’s not the best idea to try to optimize the benching by putting it right next to the wall. Or maybe they discover that with that much watering in the room, then they’re going to have just too much dehumidification requirement.
We have to take into account how it’s all interconnected and related to each other, and then look at the system and provide guidance and recommendations based on the results. So it’s a combination of understanding the cultivation practices, what the cultivator wants to do, understanding the room and facility, the dimensions, what we have to work with, what are the constraints, maybe also things like what are the amp limitations, what is the cost of electricity. Some folks have water that needs a lot more treatment than others. So we have to look at it as a system, yet at the same time there is dependency. So that’s a very interesting challenge and thing that we work with.
One of the offerings that we provide, this was already shown by Mike, this is something we use in house, but you may create something similar for yourself. And we found this to be very helpful. What this does is, let’s say, you’re not quite ready to get that photometric report, or you’re still trying to decide if you want to do single tier or double tier. You’re still trying to optimize your space diagram, so maybe you’re still working and collaborating with the architect, the MEP, or the construction firm.In that case, you might want to do something like a budgetary estimate. You might want to have a tool where you can change the dimensions of the room, change the aspects of it, or the number of tiers or the light level targets to see how that affects the cost, not just the capital cost but also the operating cost. So we developed this tool, and we’re happy to run this. For anyone who’s interested, we’re happy to work with you. By the way, there is a link at the very bottom on the PDF that you’ve received. The bottom has the Hawthorne 360, and that’s a hyperlink that takes you to a website. You can fill in your information, and we’ll reach out to you.
But the interactive report, what that does is, it looks at benching, lighting, irrigation, fertigation, fans, and consumables. Each section’s interactive so what we do is, we can change it around. So for instance, if you want to look at the CT 1930 fixture, but then you say, “You know what, maybe I need to look at the HPS instead. Maybe I don’t quite have the capital yet for LEDs. How would that change things? How would that change my operating cost? How would that change my fixture count? And how would it change the estimated capital cost if we switch to HPS?” So we can do those things on the spot, and that allows you to compare pricing.
And then this is especially useful when you’re wanting to break it down by category, so let’s say, you want to have an idea of how much is the irrigation, fertigation component going to be compared to the airflow, compared to the lighting. So that’s why we did it this way. If you want to know just a general ballpark number, we also have calculators that are more based on just a square footage, and we’re happy to run those as well. This is an example of one that kind of breaks it down by category.
And then I should mention that the tool that we developed, we took thousands of simulation results. So the irrigation and fertigation costs, the fertilizer costs, even the lighting estimates. Although lighting estimates, you could look at how much light comes out of the fixture, and then estimate the number of fixtures required to get the light level. We actually looked at past designs to make sure that the numbers that we were coming up with were realistic. So using thousands of simulation results and data from the past, we created this interactive tool that we can use to run with a customer and figure out some ballpark figures.
Now, this is how we’re doing our room design. Now, we’ve divided it up by room design and facility design because the room design is really going to be dependent on the dimensions of the room. And for that, we have three hardware types. So benching, lighting, and fans. This is how it looks. We do one page per room per design type. So as you can imagine, every project we do, every room, it’s unique, it’s a snowflake. And because of that, we have to take the dimensions of the room, but also, we have taken the information about the cultivation practices. What light level are they looking for? What bench height are they looking for? Sometimes we’ll provide recommendations. We’ll say, “Well, your ceilings are a bit low, so we’d recommend we go with the one foot bench height. We could do the 30-inch, but we’re going to drop in light uniformity if we do that.” So we’ll sometimes work with them and discuss alternatives. But a lot of times, growers, pretty much, they know what they want, so we take those constraints and then we build it out one room per design type.
You can see some examples. On the bottom left, we have some example benching screenshots. So flower room three is showing what the benching looks like in that case, how many benches of what size, what’s the height. We created in-house tools that optimize for the sizes that we have available, and the space that the grower says is their constraint. Growers provide us what are the egress constraints on the sides, the back of the room, the front of the room based on equipment piping, things that could be in the space. And then we use our tool to optimize the benching. The lighting, once we know where the plants are going to be, there’s a few things we take into consideration, including we have to look at the bench height but also the plant height. It’s very important to know what the plant height of that cultivar is going to be so that we can find that sweet spot.
We don’t use only one calculation surface. We actually take into account two calculation surfaces when we’re doing our photometric mapping. We look at the height where the plants will be when they start out in that room and then the height where they will be when they finish. In doing so, we’re able to place the fixtures at the right XYZ coordinate so that we can get optimal uniformity. And it’s not a grid. It’s rarely a grid. We nudge and move and get those fixtures in the exact XYZ coordinates so that you can get optimal uniformity. Uniformity’s very important for indoor growing. Because unlike outdoors where plants get the same amount of light from the sun, no matter if they’re six inches tall or 60 inches tall, when you have indoor growing, when plants are a little closer to the light, they get a lot more light, and that’s very confusing to the plant. So we try to make that environment as uniform as possible in terms of light. And to do so, we do a lot of nudging and moving of the fixture replacement. So that’s very important.
Each slide is going to show the total wattage and power density, and that’s helpful for later on when we’re doing HVAC loads and calculations. Also, we include 3D and plain imagery. So we show the surface, the working surface, which gives you an idea of how the light shows up in the aisles, where the canopy is not, compared to where the canopy is. But then we also show like a 3D view of what that looks like. In many cases, we’ll include controllers and ancillary equipment. For fans, we’ll always show what controller we recommend and how many would be required based on the number of fans that we recommend for this space.
Now, the next type of design is facility-based design. So this is different in that oftentimes the facility design requires a lot of the outputs from the room-based design in order to do, in order to size properly. A lot of times it comes after the room-based design. If the grower already has their lights, fans, and benches already figured out, we’ll go right into the facility-based design. This includes water system design, which would be irrigation, fertigation, reverse osmosis and water treatment. It includes HVAC design. And what we have on these different documents is a ton of information.
For example, in the irrigation and fertigation, we’ll show how we divided up the room into zones and what pumps we calculated would be best for the flow rates and piping sizing that we calculated for each zone, the total amount of water that’s going into each room and each zone. And daily use estimates, we recommend tank size in gallons. We recommend a lot of things. We also provide the build materials, which is really huge when it comes to irrigation. So the list of parts is massive, how many elbows and emitters and all of that is provided. So it’s a very helpful way to get up and running with your irrigation system.
Then, for example, in the HVAC sizing, it’s a small image there, but in that case, you’ll notice that there’s different weeks. So you have week three to five and week nine. The reason we do that is because, depending on the cultivators practices, a lot of times they will change the temperature or humidity set points throughout the growth cycle. So we need to know that such that we can size our equipment, dehumidifiers appropriately. And in doing so, sometimes growers will look at the results and say, “Wow, I had no idea we’d need that many dehumidifiers,” or, “Okay, that’s going to require a rooftop unit. Our roof won’t be able to handle that. We need to go back and figure out what we’re going to do and backtrack, and maybe change up the cultivation design altogether.” So it’s really important to take a look at the needs of the plants over the course of the cultivation timing. So that’s why we separate by growth stage.
This is a video, and it’s kind of running on its own. So I apologize, it’s going to keep looping again and again. But what this is, is an example DIALux simulation that we did for a customer that’s showing what some of the things are that we encounter. Of course, the rooms are not just square boxes. We have all kinds of unique shapes. We have columns. We have to take into account all of those constraints and parameters that we talked about earlier. So in doing that, we work with the growers to figure out what would be the ideal light placements in order to get the uniform light levels and the light levels that they’re targeting.
But we also, as I mentioned, look at two light levels, so you’re going to see two calculation surfaces appear right now. You’re going to see that’s the low level and that’s the high level. So we take a look at the light levels. In this case, they wanted 800 PPFD. So we got really good, really close to that, and you can’t see the uniformity, but it was above 90%. So that’s what we’re looking for. We’re looking at the light levels. Really important to make everything biologically relevant.
Dr. R.K. — Now that we’ve talked about what we do within the design team and how we’ve evolved our practices and what it is that we think is really important, I want to shift gears into the future. This is really exciting because we’re constantly looking at, well, what can we be doing better, where are the pain points, and how can we make the system work better and faster and easier for the growers and for the cultivators? So we started looking at how things work out. Mike touched on this quite a bit when he talked about the build out strategies, and he described some of those pain points.
He described how the way that things have evolved. Architects and MEPs, sometimes they don’t know all of these tips and tricks when it comes to cultivation. And yet, a lot of times growers are having to work with MEP firms or design firms and architect firms, and they’re getting their designs done, they’re getting their construction documents and their blueprints, and then they come to Hawthorne and they’re looking at all the different brands. And then they come to us, they come to our design team. Now, what that means is, we’re at the very end of the process, and now we’re looking at it and we’re saying, “If you had major ceilings, 12 feet tall, we could have done this,” or, “We could have gotten you 30% more yield with the same amount of energy,” or, “Actually we’re finding that the flower room ratio to the bedroom should have been a little bit different, especially considering your limitations on amperage,” whatever it might be, there’s so many different constraints and situations out there.
But what we find is that this happens quite a bit. We do our cultivation design. We do the engineering calculations. We present that to the grower cultivator and they go, “Oh man.” Okay, so now they got to go back to the construction company, which goes back to the architect and MEP, which maybe they even have to go back to the original designer. So all of this costs a lot of money, hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially. And it also takes time. So it might delay the construction six months to a year. So wouldn’t it be nice if we could somehow instruct or help or guide those folks that are doing the original design, that are putting in, that are specking in, as basis of design on the blueprints, the equipment? And wouldn’t it be great if we could provide some of the knowhow that we’ve gathered over the last few years so that they could do the designs and get it in there from the beginning? Growers would save a lot of time and a lot of money.
So what we’ve started to do is, we started to create these tools in Revit. Revit is a program that we found a lot of architects use for 3D modeling. We created this equipment… We’re working on creating instructional guides that will cover more about how to design with our equipment, but we’re also finding ways to make it so that you can’t mess up. And I’ll show you this quick video to show you what I mean. This is showing you the assets of our benching, Botanicare benching. And you can see that we made it so that when you put in different dimensions for the bench, it only clicks to the available options. So you can’t put in a bench height or dimension, width, or length that is not actually available. We also do things like we’re putting in limitations for how close you can put the fixtures together, depending on the fixture type or how far from the ceiling or wall they should be located.
So by doing this, we think we’ll be able to kind of bend the software in a way that would allow for architects and MEPs to put in our equipment and then hopefully not mess it up, but there’s still going to be more to it. So that’s why we’re really happy to reach out and work with MEPS and architects. We hope that this will be something we can do more in the future because we think that at the end of the day, this is going to help the grower and it’s really going to help them with what they’re trying to do.
So this is another quick video that shows a neat walkthrough. One thing that we would love to be able to do more in the future when we partner, if we partner with more and more folks that do the architecture work, is we’ll be able to include other equipment. So we currently really focus on dialects as our lighting photometric software. It’s the best in the industry, but we’re not able to include all the other equipment because that would be too computationally expensive and simulations would take forever to run. So by partnering, we think this is another way that we could create better visuals, better layouts, considering all the other equipment that, I have to say, it’s unfortunate, but sometimes it doesn’t get discovered until the very end, when the grower realizes that their duck sock is actually going to be hiding some of the light, or the light’s going to have to get moved a little bit because there’s a fan that people didn’t realize was going to be in a certain location. So those are some of the things that we are really looking forward to working on and approving.
Dr. R.K. — Okay. Now I’m getting to the most exciting part of the presentation. I mentioned DIALux. DIALux is a software that we’ve been using for many years for our photometric simulation. We continue to come back to it, even though I’m always looking out there to see what other kind of innovative programs are available, it’s the best. We made this really big decision a few months ago, and that decision was to release all of our IES files to the public. Now that was a very big decision because I don’t think there are many companies, especially horticultural companies, that have released this. We released the IES files so that people can do their own photometric design work with the catalog of fixtures.
Now, this is really common in the construction world and MEP world. All of the major lighting companies have their catalogs online, but it’s very unusual in horticultural lighting. So horticultural lighting has traditionally kept their IES files private, probably out of concern that people would not do the design correctly, that people might take their products and incorrectly put them too close together, or kill their crops by not doing the right PPFD. So, what we’ve done is, we’ve released all of our IES files, and we’ve also created some really fantastic tutorial videos. And the tutorial videos show people, step by step, how to download the software, the software is completely free, and then how to access our catalog of fixtures, how to set up rooms, how to build out a facility.
So now everybody can figure out how to set up their own cultivation space, whether it’s a tent and they just want to know what the light level’s going to be at different heights, whether it’s a closet or garage, a small caretaker facility or a bigger. It could be a massive 20 to 30 room facility. So this is something that we are very proud to have recently launched. In the chat, they are going to provide the link to the YouTube video. That YouTube video gives you all the instructions on how to set up your own rooms and spaces with this software.
So I would like to just summarize that planning is everything. Make sure that you surround yourself with people who can help you. Mike talked about this quite a bit. That’s really important that you find the right folks and that you have a good support network. Keep in mind that everything’s interconnected. And it’s not just interconnected, but there are certain dependencies on each other. There’s always going to be bumps in the road. We’ve encountered them. And I know all of us have. This is relatively a new industry, and it’s combining a lot of industries together. So there’s going to be bumps. Make sure that you create and use the right simulation tools, and that will allow you to quickly and accurately size your equipment. So if you don’t have an estimator tool, maybe try to put one together or reach out to us and we’ll be happy to run your system and look at how things will compare.
Don’t ever hesitate to ask for help. The way we look at it, we feel like working together and creating partnerships and figuring all this out, the future is now. I mean, we’re really excited about how things are going and how they are innovating. And we’re just jumping right in, and we hope you are too. So we look forward to working with you guys. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Let us help you come talk to us. You can go to that link or click on the link at the bottom of the slide. And with that, I would want to thank everyone for their time and attention today. Mike and I, we’re going to answer some questions now. So thank you everyone.
R.M. — Thanks so much, Rebecca and Mike. Really informative and love your enthusiasm and excitement about the products and solutions at Hawthorne in a lot of growers in the industry. We’re running a little short on time. We’ve got about five minutes. I’m going to jump right into the questions that have come up. One specific one to contact, was whether or not people could reach either of you directly. Hawthorne will have all of the contact information and questions that have been submitted. So I want everybody to know that the easiest way for that to occur is in the follow-up after the presentation, if that works for you guys.
M.A. — That’s fine.
Dr. R.K. — Sure.
R.M. — Okay. Question on, and I guess, for either of you. This is from WM. His question was, does the 200 to $260 a square foot apply to total facility, square foot or solely to canopy square footage?
M.A. — You usually look at canopy, not the square footage of the facility because it doesn’t really matter. So it’s canopy square footage is what we’re looking at there.
R.M. — Okay. This one is from Connor. Connor was wondering for HVAC, do you typically see dehumidifiers, air handlers, or packaged equipment, or central plant type systems?
M.A. — We see almost all the above, including chillers, depending on the size of the facility. So it goes back to what Rebecca was saying is. The thing you got to think about is, it goes back to your irrigation practices, how much water you’re pumping into the room and how much you have to get out. And then you’ll look at any solution that’s available, that’s cost effective to accomplish your goals. Again, this is a complex situation because they might change their goals in terms of temperature and humidity throughout the row. So to answer the question, we take a look at all the above and we have people on staff who are experts in that area, in HVAC and dehumidification, and they’ll make recommendations. Again, as I said before, cold water chillers are expensive, and that’s the most expensive option, but in some cases it’s the most cost effective over time. So you got to look at all your options and figure out which ones you can afford and which ones you’re willing to invest in.
R.M. — You kind of building off with an answer. Curtis asked, when would you use a chiller for growing?
M.A. — Well, it depends on where you’re growing. And that’s something that we didn’t touch on here, but something that people that work in multiple states might be interested in, is your approach to what you’re going to do in Arizona is going to be completely different than what you’re doing in Michigan or Florida or the Northeast. Right? So what we have to do is, we have to take a look at where you’re located. And as an example of that, I can remember when Denver and Colorado was just building out, most of their HVAC people out there didn’t even know what a dehumidifier was because it’s so dry. It’s a high desert, right? But because it’s controlled-environment agriculture, all of a sudden they have to learn real quick how to put dehumidifiers into the situation.
So the bottom line is, there’s no one answer that fits every application across the country. Again, I might say that it might affect your lighting choices. If you have an area that’s very cold and you want the heat from high pressure sodium to help heat the growing area, you might say, “Okay, I’m going to use HPS here,” but in Florida you might say, “Well, I want to get away from as much heat as I can and go with LED.” So there’s really no one easy answer for everything. It might be affected from location to location. And unfortunately, that’s the complex answer.
R.M. — Okay. Questions are pouring in now, guys. So sit tight. The next one on the list is, what’s the biggest source of delays in a project, not including change ordinances, or a change order, I’m sorry?
M.A. — Right now, the longest lead items that we’re running into is HVAC. They’re 30 weeks out. And that’s the real tough one, but I think everything is on a case-by-case basis. In terms of lighting, from that perspective, most of the stuff we have in stock, so it’s not really a lighting issue. But when it comes to HVAC equipment, that’s the longest lead times right now.
R.M. — Yeah. Is there a kind of a turnaround time for building plans that people should keep in mind?
M.A. — I don’t know, Rebecca, what are your thoughts on that? How long does it take to turn around a plan for somebody? It depends on how complex the plan is, but where are we at now?
Dr. R.K. — Well, for the room design, if we have the parameters and constraints, we can do those within a few days. We go through them very quickly. I think Mike pointed out the infographic, we do over 3,000 a year. So we do a lot of these. If it’s facility-designed, that’s much more iterative. It’s a lot of calls and conversations with the grower and changing parameters and doing things more consultative. So they can take a couple weeks. It depends on how much information we get up front. We need a certain amount of info to get started, but once we have that information, it’s pretty quick.
R.M. — Cool. We’ve got time for probably a minute or so. Another question: When plenty of facility room size lay out square foot ratios is flowering mother vegetable, dry and fertigation, are they all typical things that go into that layout planning?
Dr. R.K. — Yeah. That’s where we want to help get more involved. We are seeing the end product. So typically, those conceptual plans and layout plans are done very early on when the grower reaches out to a construction company or architect, and then it goes through several stages.
So they work with them on the layout, the conceptual plan, then it goes into a construction document, and then they’re looking at what equipment to specify, and then it comes to us. So we’re often seeing them after they’ve gone through months of planning and creation.
So what we would like to do is, we would like to work closer with those folks at the beginning, help them, and work with them to using our data and our knowhow and what we’ve learned and see in terms of average utilization spaces and conceptual systems that we’re seeing in the industry. We’d love to be able to share that knowledge and try to create smarter plans from the get-go. We would love to be able to do that. So currently, we’re mostly seeing it at the very end. And currently, that’s the way the systems worked out, is growers will tend to do those conceptual plans with the architects before they get to us.
R.M. — And I’m going to wrap it up with one last question. This one is from Ellan. Is there a generic per plant or canopy square to footage dehumidification design value?
M.I. — No, there’s not. And the reason for that is because we don’t know the growing method. We don’t know what the irrigation plan looks like. So there’s no way to know how much water you have to get out of the room. That’s why we say it’s so important to take all the… Rebecca knows, many times we get into this situation, we’ll say, “Okay, how often are you going to feed your plants and how much?” Everybody says, “Well, I don’t know.” But they hedge on the high side because well more is better. Right? When it comes to plants, you don’t want them to die so you got to have more water.
So they plan, they’ll say, “Okay, we’ll pad the plan and we’ll put more water in there.” Well then when it comes to us and on the HVAC and dehumidification side, we look at and say, “Oh my God, you realize how much more that little bit of water adds up, how much more you’re going to have to add in for dehumidification and HVAC?” So no, there’s not a one-size-fits-all for that. You got to take a look at the whole situation, all the way down to the growing media and the feed schedules and your irrigation design. Unfortunately, it’s complex.
R.M. — Well, thank you very much, Mike and Rebecca. A lot of knowledge shared today. I come out of it from the publishing side, looking at it and saying, you guys are good partners and are doing a lot of the heavy lifting to help people plan successful and sustainable businesses. And that’s what CBE’s all about, and we appreciate you sharing that today. For anybody that is still with us, again, we will be archiving the webinar on the Cannabis Business Executive site for the next year. So feel free to pass that link on to any of your peers that are looking for help. And I believe the guys at Hawthorne will be doing the same on their site. So stay tuned, keep your eyes and ears open. Again, thank you so much. We will catch you next time. Have a great afternoon.
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