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RFID Tracks Cannabis from Cultivation to Distribution

Green Growth Brands has deployed a UHF RFID system from Yobi to automatically track plants through cultivation and harvesting, thereby reducing labor and human errors, with a dispensary solution planned next.
By Claire Swedberg

Once the plants are ready for harvest, they are cut and hung from a scale wet. The Yobi app running on the handheld device can link to data on the weight scale via a Bluetooth dongle in the handheld reader. When a plant is hung on the scale, an operator can pull the handheld's trigger, causing the reader to capture the tag ID and also automatically prompting the capture of the plant's weight. That data is then integrated and stored in the Yobi cloud-based software.

Previously, Laughlin says, the weight capture was also accomplished manually. Operators had to stand on a stool to view the scale data, then manually record each plant's weight and serial number in order to create a permanent record that can then be shared with the state.

RFID captures the data automatically, which eliminates the manual step of recording during that harvest process. "That's where RFID is so valuable," Laughlin explains. The plants then all go into a harvest batch. The tags that were attached to those plants are stored along with the entire batch as it dries. By reading those tag IDs during the drying process, the company creates a record of what took place for every plant harvested in that batch.

After the plants are dried and trimmed, the resulting product is sent out for state-mandated testing. It is then packaged for retail sale, and a new RFID tag is applied and input into the system. The unique ID number on that tag is linked to that harvest batch and the tag ID number of every plant in that batch. The technology doesn't provide more information than the company had previously collected, Laughlin says, but it accomplishes the same task with a reduction in labor costs and a guarantee of accuracy.

Since the system was taken live in April 2019, Laughlin says, "We're saving a ton of money in labor," and it also offers a failsafe against human input error. That's important, he adds, since any error can lead to the state opening an investigation, which could be time-consuming and costly. Yobi provides an app that is downloaded onto the handheld, thereby displaying data about each plant as it is being read.

The company's next step will be to track the tags on the packaged goods as they move through distribution and to stores. One product type that may be tracked first is cartridges of THC oil, which the company can track via an RFID tag as they move from manufacture to dispensary.

Initially, the company will tag boxes of 100 cartridges, while in the long run, the system could track a tag attached to each cartridge. The use of RFID is expected to reduce labor at warehouses, O'Keefe says, by reducing the number of hours employees spend taking regular inventory counts in order to ensure the product (which can cost about $60 per cartridge) does not go missing. During the coming months, some companies are scheduled to test Yobi's RFID solution for use in automated dispensaries at retail sites.

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