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Engineering Requirements for Cannabis Processing Facilities

Engineering regulations for cannabis facilities can range depending on the type of facility that is being designed. In our last post on cannabis cultivation spaces, Tec Inc. Director of Engineering, Tim Pool, PE, RCDD, provided some tips that all cultivators should know about the specifications of the elements needed for production facilities.

Cannabis extraction / processing labs where the natural plant is processed into other consumable types of cannabis also require special consideration in electrical, mechanical and security design. The labs are high-hazard spaces (C1D1 rooms) because they use natural gases or propane to heat up products that release cannabis oils. To ensure proper filtration of the space, the design must be a clean room environment that complies with fire protection requirements of C1D1 rooms.

The fire protection requirements for processing lab facilities, the NFPA 1, Fire Code, is specific to the processing facility environment because it is only required for C1D1 rooms. This code provides protection to the property and references more than 130 NFPA® codes and standards.

John Milenius, Principal and Director of Mechanical Engineering at Tec Inc, notes that our firm is familiar with a future standard that is currently in development—NFPA 420. This code will include requirements for inspecting, systems testing, and maintenance of cannabis growing, processing, and extraction facilities. It also will be used for the general skills, knowledge, and experience required among facility operators and facility managers responsible for ensuring adequate levels of safety at these facilities.

What is an Extraction/ Processing Laboratory?

Cannabis extraction facilities extracting oils from the cannabis plants and process them into products for consumption by removing the oil to collect dense, consumable compounds. The conversion of one form of cannabis into another usable form is complex and requires a safe and efficient lab-like setting to precisely and safely transform the material into usable products.

There are a few types of facilities in the realm of extracting and processing cannabis. One is in-house laboratories that may be used to test products, and the other is third-party labs that are government certified to perform tests under cannabis mandates and regulations. The in-house labs can be part of cultivation facilities and the data from the tests can be used by the grower/ extractor for research and quality control issues.

It takes about a full year to build out an accessible and organized lab that is operational for cannabis extraction purposes. In-house lab spaces can range from 500-2,000 sq. ft. in size depending on the processes being done in the lab. Laboratory testing spaces can range anywhere from 2,000-5,000 sq. ft. in size depending on the operation.

Whether you are adding an in-house space or a larger testing facility, the sophisticated lab will require full mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering as well as security and technology to protect the entire business. Lab spaces in general are immense power users, so there is importance placed on the electrical engineering of the space.

In addition, ventilation and proper air circulation is a must throughout a processing facilities ensuring staff are not exposed to harmful chemicals or product offsets. Cannabis Extraction/ Testing labs must also include hazardous waste storage areas that require their own individual ventilation system. Waste storage may require stainless steel materials to withstand the chemicals that are output.

Codes, Regulations & Security

Mechanical, electrical and plumbing engineering each play an important part in the planning and construction of a cannabis processing facility/ laboratory. The engineering and design processes are essential in creating a safe environment for your lab and products, as well as meeting standards and regulations set by states and relevant departments.

Security design is an important aspect of these spaces to keep the plants, products and environment safe. Various tools are available to ensure the processing environment is kept from exposure to outside contaminants. The types of security devices used to protect cannabis facilities can range from security cameras, to door locks and alarms, to other types of protective entrance and exit-way hardware.

According to The Secure Equipment Act of 2021, cannabis business owners are now mandated to have specific video surveillance technology implemented into the business. Overseas manufactured video equipment threatens national security, so all video surveillance that includes these facilities must be replaced eventually. To ensure your security system in in compliance the assistance of a technology and security designer that is familiar with codes and compliance will help your facility avoid exposure.

Contact Tec Inc for Inquiries

For those who are interested in obtaining more information on engineering or designing a safe and protective cannabis processing laboratory or facility, contact Tim Pool, PE, RCDD or John Milenius for additional tips or information.

Tec Inc is looking forward to expanding our market expertise and working on projects in this growing field of business. Stay tuned for our next and final blog in the Cannabis Facility series that will focus on engineering and design aspects of medical and recreational cannabis dispensaries.

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