Editor's Note: Download the audio version below and click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
This week, Harold Bouchard, President & CEO of PreRoll-Er, joins the podcast to discuss his award-winning pre-roll machines.
Harold Bouchard has been the president of Procepack for more than ten years. The company provides used packaging equipment for various industries. About four years ago, Bouchard, an engineer by trade, was building packaging machines for the pharmaceutical and food industries when a former employee called him to talk about cannabis pre-roll automation. According to Bouchard, the former colleague had designed a prototype that didn't work, but it excited him about a new industry.
The conventional industries he worked in were stable, with nothing really innovative coming out. He still had Procepack, which remains highly profitable, but Bouchard has spent the last three years developing packaging and automation technology for the cannabis industry.
After his introduction to the cannabis industry, Bouchard was curious and began developing a prototype that became the award-winning PreRoll-Er. The automated system produces 1,000 high-quality pre-rolls per hour with just one person working the machine. The best part? No rework.
The PreRoll-Er's success has allowed Bouchard to expand. His company now has more than 120 machines in the market and also manufactures a packaging line for flower, a filling machine for cannabis oil and a labeling machine.
The excitement of new product development keeps Bouchard invigorated. "We're like kids; we love it," he said when talking about R&D. But it's been a bumpy road; designing machines for a new industry can be challenging. In a way, Bouchard future-proofed his initial designs by making them modular and upgradable. He knew it was challenging to make a machine that works perfectly immediately, so he prepared for the future by making all software and hardware upgradeable. It worked out well; the first three iterations of the PreRoll-Er required some upgrades and fixes.
Still, the modularity helped the team advance the technology and swap out subsystems without having to replace an entire unit. Meanwhile, Bouchard invested heavily in R&D, including creating a specialized team dedicated to cannabis equipment development.
While the first machines didn't work as expected, the company now has a stable machine and many repeat customers.
The PreRoll-Er is popular because it can fill pre-rolls of different sizes, made by various manufacturers, using a multitude of strains. The company recently moved into the infused pre-roll market as well.
The machine is flexible, capable of making pre-rolls that range from .25 grams to more than 3 grams. It works with cones that range from 70 mm to 140 mm in length and can even process slim and small cones. The machine's versatility and the end product's consistency have allowed cannabis operators to create a higher quality pre-roll.
Initially, filling pre-rolls was a challenge. Bouchard previously tried to use screw- and auger-type fillers as well as a conveyor, but they didn't work. Cannabis is a harsh material, the fillers would get dirty, and product quality and consistency would suffer.
The filling issue led Bouchard to design a new tumbler feeding system. The innovation came around the third generation of PreRoll-Ers, and every machine on the market was upgraded as soon as the tech was proven. The patented tumbler slowly feeds ground product to the scale. The product is never compressed, and the tumbler keeps it homogeneous as it gently feeds the tubes. Bouchard said it was a "game changer" that quickly surpassed vibration-based filling causing pre-roll inconsistency because it was separating trichomes as it was moving product.
According to Bouchard, the tumblers are easy to clean, and changeover takes a few minutes.
While he remains driven to create a more consistent end product, he also wants to make his cannabis equipment line more user-friendly. As a result, he's working on integrating more artificial intelligence (currently in testing) to make the machines easier to operate.
Pre-Roller-Ers are not that big. The original was 4 feet by 5 feet until customers asked for a smaller version, and Bouchard squeezed it into a 3-foot by 4-foot design. He's now working on an even smaller version for entry-level customers.
When Bouchard first started designing cannabis automation, he specifically didn't focus on speed. "You better be running constantly at a very high quality with very low rejects," Bouchard said, "rather than trying to produce a large amount of product that needs to be reworked."
He admits that speed remains essential, and now that he has quality and consistency nailed, he's working on tripling the work rate in the next iteration.
Please make sure to like, subscribe and share the podcast. You could also help us out by giving the podcast a positive review. Finally, to email the podcast or suggest a potential guest, you can reach David Mantey at David @cannabisequipmentnews.com.