Kristina Etter   |   July 05, 2018

Engineering in the Cannabis Industry

Regardless of the product, when a new industry emerges, opportunities arise for early adopters to jump into highly rewarding positions in an exciting new field. With industries as promising as cannabis and hemp, many people are finding new ways to incorporate skills and expertise, learned from more mainstream industries, to forge a new path during the early days of the Green Rush.
Before becoming a freelance cannabis writer, Kristina Etter, spent 20 years in corporate information technology with companies including Maytag Appliances, Wells Fargo Financial, and DuPont Pioneer. With a niche in mobile technology and…

Engineering positions are a great example of the vast range of opportunities available in the ever-expanding industry of cannabis.  Indoor growing operations, extraction production, food manufacturing, and retail management are just some examples of businesses which require engineers. The cannabis industry combines the complexity of each of these entities with the strict standards and regulations required by individual state laws.

Michael Kadonoff, Founder, and CEO of BrainGrid, a high-tech, agriculture sensory program which provides real-time monitoring and automation of cannabis cultivation operations, moved into the cannabis industry after working as a hardware designer for GE. With a degree in Electrical Engineering from McMaster University, he understands the urgency for qualified professionals in the industry.

“The cannabis market's viability is threatened by anecdotal growing practices, unfounded 'potcom' hype and an unfamiliarity [with] production costs.  These are not just growing pains, they're ongoing in all segments of the cannabis market,” Kadonoff stated in an email to CannabisTech. “Whatever the vocation or focus, delivering critical, unbiased and pragmatic thinking and processes will separate opinion from reality.”

 

What Do Engineers Do?

At the most basic level, by using math, science, and intellect, engineers solve problems. Engineering positions come in several different disciplines. These are just a few areas of engineering specialty which are key to the cannabis industry:

Computer Engineers

Software and hardware engineers are vital to the industry as the technological advances continue to climb. Whether coding a new mobile app, programming sensors to monitor plant health, or designing a software to analyze lab data, in today’s world, technology reigns supreme, and computer engineers are in high demand.

 

Mechanical and Electrical Engineers

Indoor cultivation utilizes intricate mechanical systems, and mechanical engineers help to design, create, and maintain these systems. Many times, the buildings themselves involve high-tech irrigation plumbing and ductwork for ventilation, as well as, complex HVAC systems.  Additionally, lighting systems and other power requirements create additional problems and challenges which engineers can resolve.

 

Chemical Engineers

As with other food, pharmaceutical, and biological industries, chemical engineers help to ensure safety and efficiency in several segments of the cannabis process. Multiple extractions and laboratory processes in the cannabis industry require the use of chemicals. Chemical engineers help design and troubleshoot the production processes.

 

According to the Experts

AEssenseGrows, another high-tech cannabis company that's focused on grow automation, agricultural advancements, and lighting products, is a prime example of the increased demand for engineers in the cannabis industry. Phil Gibson, Vice President of Marketing for AEssense stated their company employs approximately 30 engineers, which is roughly 25% of their total staff globally. Additionally, over the next 3 years, Gibson stated they expect to hire two to three times more engineers.

When asked what advice he would give to incoming interns and college students, he stated, “Indoor farming has a great future with the technology growing more complex from a ‘control systems, environmental, and a power technology’ standpoint.  There are many great opportunities to pull those different functional areas together to solve known and future challenges.”

 

Another Perspective

Maybe the noblest response as to why engineers should consider the opportunities in cannabis, came during an interview with Dylan Wilks, Founder, and CEO of Orange Photonics, portable cannabis analyzer. As a third-generation Optical Engineer in his family, Wilks recalled how his grandfather worked on projects like perfecting the periscope during World War II and how there’s a lot of push for engineers to enter the field of defense.

“The cannabis industry is the exact opposite of defense,” Wilks stated. “Why utilize skills to destroy things, when here in the cannabis industry we get to help people and still have a good, high-paying engineering job.”

Today, Wilks and Orange Photonics employs a total of 5 engineers including himself, and the one intern they currently have on staff but stated their staffing needs have doubled over the last year. Additionally, he expects to double, if not triple, staff requirements again in the next 3 to 5 years. “Engineering is the core of our business,” he stated.

As the laws continue to change and the veil of prohibition lifts, the cannabis industry is going to continue to grow exponentially. As the industry blossoms, the opportunities for highly-skilled, professional engineers in a myriad of disciplines continue to grow with it. Regardless of whether your motivation is a lucrative career or something more intrinsic like helping others find health and wellness, the cannabis industry may be the best of both worlds for many graduating engineers.

 

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