There is no doubt that hemp is a versatile plant used to produce a long list of industrial and consumer products. Of course, CBD readily comes to mind when many people think of the crop, but its uses go all the way from building materials and textile to biomass energy and other less known applications.
But that’s not even the best part. Ever since the plant was legalized in the US through the 2018 Farm Bill, CBD and hemp seed oil have gained more popularity, and more uses of the crop are continuously being discovered.
The crop is largely marketed as a seed or fiber. In some cases, it is also available as a twofold-purpose plant. However, various types of cultivation and processing are involved in hemp production due to its numerous applications. The final product will determine what processing method is applied.
As you may have guessed, the hemp industry requires advanced technology in all stages beginning from cultivation to harvesting and extraction. In this article, we’ll take a close look at the best hemp processing equipment that can enhance both small and industrial-scale production.
Let’s set the ball rolling with the two major hemp processing methods available.
Equipment for Processing Hemp Fiber
The production of hemp fiber involves the removal of leaves and flowers from the plant’s stem. This is done by putting the harvest through a de-stemming or de-budding process. Essentially, this stage entails bucking or drying the hemp.
For efficient fiber production, the ideal hemp processing equipment in the de-stemming stage should gently separate the stem’s delicate flowers without any damage to the flower. A machine that can make a nice cut while leaving the crown buds intact is the best equipment for de-budding. Preserving the flowers’ fragile structure is important because many other industrial hemp products can be manufactured from them.
The next phase is where the bulk of the processing requirement lies for hemp fiber production. It involves decortication and retting of the plant’s stalk to help loosen the woody tissue. This stage requires an advanced machine that uses a reactor to separate the natural fiber on the stalk’s outer layer and convert it into pulp. This phase also involves cleaning, refining, and cutting the natural fiber (or bast fiber) to size.
The last step in this stage is to compress the hemp fiber into bails. Companies that manufacture hemp products buy these compressed fiber bails in large quantities and convert them into various industrial products such as clothing, diapers, shoes, paper, and more.
Not every hemp fiber processing ends up pressed into bails. Some are intended to be used as hemp pellets. In this case, the stalk goes through a different type of processing and requires different equipment. The best machinery for this application is a pelletizer.
Pelletizers for hemp fibers work just like machines designed for producing grass pellets. Keep in mind that hemp pellets require very careful handling because they are fragile. Moving them from place to place should be done with a gentle conveyance system to prevent falling apart.
Equipment for Processing Hemp Seed
All hemp productions might seem like the same thing to the onlooker, but the hemp farmer knows that the processes are very different. The method involved in hemp seed processing is an entirely different ball game from hemp fiber production.
While hemp fiber processing primarily focuses on the plant’s stalk, hemp seed deals with the flowers. The farmer uses harvesting tools such as a combine to carefully cut right under the seed head. This is done in such a way that will reduce the quantity of fiber that finds its way into the combine.
After cutting the seeds, they will go through a drying and cleaning phase. Next, the seeds are de-hulled using a shelling machine. What this equipment does is to remove the outer shell from the seed. The process involves using vibration to carefully separate the shells from the seed.
Apart from the shelling or de-hulling machine, another piece of equipment collects the hull residue and the seed’s separated skin or discharged kernels.
Before now, belt conveyors, bucket elevators, screw augers, and other machinery were the go-to equipment for moving hemp materials. The problem with these systems is that they are not great for maintaining hemp’s consistency.
For one, the design of vacuum or belt conveyors and their speeds are not suitable for the delicate seeds. These factors can cause temperature changes that can negatively impact the seeds and cause significant loss.
It is important to always convey hemp seeds with the utmost care because they are delicate and can get easily damaged. They require gentle handling, whether it is during cutting or drying, or moving them from the bin to the shelling machine. Heat and friction are other factors that can damage these fragile seeds and expose them to contamination.
The best conveyance equipment is one with a gentle conveyor system. This type of machine is less likely to compromise the hemp seed. An excellent example is the tubular drag conveyor (also known as disc conveyor or tubular drag cable). The design includes technology that uses conveyance tubes in addition to discs and cables to carefully move materials inside an enclosure.
This piece of machinery is designed to prevent damages from frail products such as hemp seeds. Conveying seeds between processors and stages is a lot safer with a tubular drag conveyor. The equipment is also an excellent choice for conveying hemp pellets between different parts of manufacturing facilities since pellets are also fragile.
Best Hemp Processing Equipment
Some of the popular machines for processing hemp are as follows.
R-2 Decorticator System
The R-2 decorticator is the brainchild of CannaSystems, one of the largest hemp companies in Canada. The equipment is a semi-portable machine designed to provide fast and efficient hemp separation. It can be used outdoors or in an outbuilding for year-round hemp processing.
The hydraulic unit is powered by diesel and can process between two to four tons of hemp per hour. The R-2 decorticator is a self-contained, integrated unit designed with all critical functions for hemp processing.
Other features include:
- Dust handling system
- Waste handling outlets
- Built-in fire suppression system
- Built-in safety shields and emergency stops
Continuous Countercurrent Reactor (CCR)
From PureHemp Technology comes the Continuous Counter Reactor (CCR), a decorticator that streamlines the hemp extraction process. The reactor converts hemp stalks into lignin, sugars, and pulp by running the plant in the opposite direction to a reagent.
Large scale biomass production is achievable with the CCR. This is a huge plus to the environment because it reduces the overdependence on fossil fuels.
Precision KPD Series
The precision KPD Series is an extraction system designed specifically for industrial-scale processing. It can churn out more than 200,000 pounds of hemp per day for the production of CBD oil.
The KPD series can provide continuous operation for the manufacture of high-quality THC and CBD oil. The extraction system has the following major features:
- Fully automated capabilities
- Continuous feed processing
- Modular plug and play design that is very scalable
- Remote monitoring and data logging
- More than 99% of solvent recovery (compatible with ethanol, hexane, and heptane)
- Requires only two technicians to operate the system
The HempTrain is specialized equipment developed by Canadian Greenfield Technologies (CGT). The hemp decorticator machine is engineered to process the highly versatile plant into a wide variety of consumer products, including:
- Skincare products
- Potting mixes
- Hemp-based cat litter
- Shopping bags
- Paper and cardboard
Hemp Farming Equipment
While we are on the subject of hemp processing equipment, it is important to briefly mention the farming equipment, too. Obviously, the crop needs to be farmed before any processing can take place.
The farming equipment you choose depends on whether the hemp will end up as CBD oil or textile. Typically, CBD production requires planting a maximum of approximately 1,600 plants for every acre. On the flip side, a higher density of about 400,000 plants in one square acre is ideal for textile production.
CBD hemp farming is more delicate with easily damaged flowers, making it necessary to use gentler farming equipment for oil production. Textile hemp is grown and harvested in a similar fashion to wheat. Instead of small leaves close to the ground, the crop has tall stalks that are processed for industrial uses.
There are specific machines for whichever application you prefer. The farming equipment includes:
Getting a high-quality seed is a good first step to greater yield, but it takes a bit more than that to increase efficiency. A seed drill is necessary to make the sowing process more efficient and lets you easily plant several acres of hemp.
The machine is designed to plant seeds at the correct depth and to properly cover them. The chances of the hemp seeds wasting away due to birds or wind are greatly minimized with a seed drill.
If you prefer clones to seeds, a transplanter is the safest way to move a substantial quantity of fragile and young hemp plants to the field. The major benefit of this machine is the precise positioning and spacing of the crop.
The best equipment for cutting and collecting industrial hemp stalks is a combine. The tool combines reaping, threshing, and winnowing in one efficient machine, which explains why it is called a combine. It works best for harvesting textile-based hemp because of its rough harvest process that can damage delicate CBD flowers.
CBD Hemp Harvester
This is the best equipment for CBD oil production. It is designed to carefully harvest and load hemp crops onto vehicles without causing any damage to the plant’s delicate structure. The machine can also be used to harvest cannabis crops and will typically process up to five acres of CBD hemp daily.
Alternative Equipment for Hemp CBD Farmers
Here are some alternative harvesting machines for hemp CBD farmers who are not into large-scale hemp farming. This set of farmers need to be extra careful during harvest, as the wrong tool can destroy the plant’s delicate buds and lead to major losses.
Manually cutting hemp CBD-rich buds with heavy-duty shares is one way to guarantee the integrity of the seeds.
Obviously, it is a significantly slower process than using a combine. However, for the small-scale hemp CBD farmer, using this tool ensures that the crop maintains its full range of cannabinoids, including flavonoids, therapeutic terpenes, and of course, CBD.
Screen-Drying or Hanging
Proper drying is another crucial aspect of hemp CBD processing. This phase needs to be done immediately after harvest and can take between three to seven days. Farmers that get this part right will get the best of the flower’s fragrance, flavor, terpene profile, as well as the final product.
While mechanical drying is an excellent option for large-scale farmers, many small-scale hemp CBD farmers will be better served with screens, wires, or racks to lay or hang the stalks. Manual drying ensures proper monitoring of individual buds. Farmers will be able to prevent terpene damage since they can keep an eye on larger buds, which typically take a longer time to dry than the smaller ones.
Manual drying requires the use of ceiling fans or dehumidifiers to maintain an appropriate temperature and provide adequate dry air to remove moisture from the flower.
The hemp industry and cannabis-related businesses witnessed a tremendous upward surge in production and revenue with the passing of the Farm Bill. However, there is still room for improvement, considering the relatively young age of the industry.
Harvesting and processing hemp by hand is fast becoming a thing of the past, thanks to advanced machines that simplify and streamline the various hemp production processes. Whether you plan to process seeds or fiber, you can contribute to the industry’s overall growth by using gentle hemp processing equipment to minimize damages to the delicate crop.