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The Extraction Dream Team

Meet the innovators who set—then exceed—the standard for extraction technology...
By Elizabeth Mcwilliams
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During the Covid pandemic, for some businesses, it was a time to scale back and retreat. A time to dive for cover and hide beneath the bed sheets, waiting for that much anticipated day when the thunderclouds would finally stop their rumbling and roll on by.

Many companies furloughed their employees, some cut their staff by half, while others simply closed shop. Other businesses opted to minimize risk by maintaining only the most essential of departments while their former creativity—perhaps one of their greatest assets—came to a sputtering, if not a grinding, halt.

This narrowing of the lens, a decision that may have proved lifesaving for some, was the opposite approach taken by Decimal Engineered Systems, a cutting-edge company headquartered in Canby, Oregon that specializes in the design and manufacture of hydrocarbon, ethanol, and CO₂ extraction equipment, in addition to other types of processing machinery.

Rather than shuttering their field of vision and operating from a place of defense, Decimal treated the pandemic as an opportunity to pool some of the best talents in the industry and engineer what may very well be the most technologically sophisticated and fully accredited equipment available in today’s market. Extraction is a method used to extract cannabinoids such as THC, CBD, and terpenes from cannabis plant material.

Highly concentrated extracts can be used to create various products, many of which have important medicinal benefits. CBD alone has multiple health applications, from reducing anxiety, inflammation, and chronic pain to treating insomnia. As the demand for cannabis products has increased, the technologies used for extraction have had to keep in step. The legalization of cannabis in certain US states has further catalyzed innovations in extraction methods, especially considering that standardization and accreditation are rapidly becoming a requisite component of the licensing process.

Decimal pride itself in its ability to forecast future regulatory landscapes and designs with tomorrow’s needs in mind. As a result, Decimal is quickly emerging as the frontrunner in fully integrated lab extraction equipment. But how, exactly, has Decimal been able to position itself with such a cutting edge?

THE COVID SESSIONS: TWO YEARS OF PIONEERING, DESIGNING, ANDRETOOLING

Jonah Barber, president of Decimal and former founder of MRX Laboratories, took a hard look at how the pandemic was disrupting business: travel had come to a general standstill, trade shows were being canceled left and right, and no one was visiting facilities. Determined to avoid a complete shutdown, Barber decided to do a deep dive into research and development with a particular eye on Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). But he needed a team to catapult him forward. Looking at a multitude of different industries, from brewing, distilling, vinting, computer numerical control, and robotic automation technologies, Barber found his talent in the engineering expertise of Ryan Benelli and Lance Gunter, and the business development and advertising skill set of Charlie Richardson and Michael Bishop.

“One of the reasons I was so excited to join this team is because we have the greatest level of experience in the industry,” said Ryan Bonelli. “I don’t know of a team who has as much experience as we do touching as many facilities of various sizes, from what could be considered a small facility to an industrial scale facility.” Collectively, the leading talent at Decimal has upwards of forty years in the industry, to say nothing of their combined years of experience gleaned from other industries, such as distilling and automation technologies.

“Ultimately what brought us to this company,” explained Bishop, “are the incredibly skilled engineers and fabricators that can manufacture highly automated machines built to any standard, including GMP. Decimal and our predecessor, MRX Technologies, have always been at the forefront of achieving very high standards of compliance with their equipment. Our anticipation of higher compliance standards, particularly for the international market, is a challenge Decimal can meet head-on.”

Their team thus assembled, Decimal took advantage of the introspection forced upon them by the pandemic, rolled up their sleeves, and went to work. What was born from that period of brainstorming, designing, and retooling are upwards of fourteen new products, ranging from fully-automated extractors to post-processing equipment, including decarboxylation reactors, inline filtration, falling film recovery, thin film distillation, and crystallization. “We’re always innovating… developing constantly,” explains Bishop.

“During Covid, we just put our heads down and started R&D. Always designing something new, trying to find ways to make things easier to operate.” True to their word, the engineering team at Decimal kept operator ease a top priority. In order to design toward the needs of their clients, they closely interviewed multiple extraction teams at companies at leading multi-state operators to better understand the various obstacles their operators’ experience on a daily basis.

Then Decimal embedded the solutions to those problems into their new systems. For example, extraction equipment has to be used within a controlled environment and cannot be successfully rendered in extreme climates, such as a Midwest winter or a Mojave summer. As a result, many companies manufacture within what’s known as an extraction pod. In order to minimize the discomfort and inefficiency of having to exit a pod to adjust exterior equipment or temperature control units, the Decimal systems include technology in which the operators can communicate within the pod via a network or user tablet.

Decimal has also included other functionalities that enhance operator use, such as workstations for tools, coded valve systems, CIP systems, or “clean-in-place,” which allows operators to clean the machine on the fly while it’s still in use (a GMP requirement). “All these advantages and newest technologies are included in our systems,” explains Charles Richardson, “and there really is no other system like it in the industry.” Barber further explains that the covid brainstorm was essentially dedicated to “identifying the holes in the process flow of extraction and coming up with GMP across all the parts. We really engage with the customer and learn about what their production needs are, and what kind of throughput goals and products they have.

And then we reverse engineer into the exact equipment packages they need instead of trying to make them fit into a box.” Decimal doesn’t stop there. Since worker safety is also an essential component of their design and accreditation process, their collaborative efforts extend beyond the customer base to include municipalities as well. As an example, hydrocarbon extractors can be extremely dangerous since they use volatile gases under heat and pressure. In order to safeguard and comply with operator safety, Decimal works closely with the municipalities of their various clients, including fire and building inspectors, thereby helping their clients navigate through the individual approval process.

Indeed, Decimal designs to very strict parameters and rating standards with a peer-reviewal process. Today, their systems are compliant in all fifty states and they are also working toward compliance in the Canadian provinces.

MAKING AND BREAKING THE MOLD

“Something that’s important to note,” says Barber, “is that we’ve always been at the forefront of staying ahead of need and compliance. This saves our customers considerable money since they will not have to go back and retrofit.” The proof, as they say, is really in the pudding. According to Bishop, “All of our equipment can be manufactured to the highest standards of compliance and we anticipate that as this industry gets more regulated and eventually achieves federal legal that the standards around equipment and the manufacture of extracts will rise to the same levels that we currently see in food production and that would specifically be GMP standards.”

Today, Decimal systems can meet the demands of any current or future regulatory landscape, and come with the following accreditations: an ASME-certified manufacturing facility, equipment that meets the European Union’s GMP standards, a UL-tested electronic panel shop, NFPA certifications, CIDI (Center for Innovative Design & Instruction) & ATEX workspaces and global compliance. “We’re at an advantage because of our automation controls, experienced team of engineers, and in-house manufacturing. We have a unique ability to provide tailored solutions to our customer’s needs and scale because we manufacture all of the components of an end-to-end process,” explains Bishop.

“Let’s say a client wants to manufacture a certain product. We’re able to customize a process for that client. To simplify, a business wants to make a product starting with biomass, with plant material, so they’re going to need many different pieces of machinery in that process chain. Often, that necessitates working with a number of different vendors. They may buy their extraction equipment from one vendor, and their post-processing from several others. Now they’ve got all these pieces of equipment and they’re having to deal with all these different companies. Then it’s up to the operator to bring it all together into one complete process chain. Here at Decimal, we take a more holistic approach. We manufacture all of those pieces of equipment right here, in-house.”

Finally, Decimal also offers a lifetime warranty on domestic steel, thereby eliminating potential supply-chain issues. Decimal understands that, much like creativity, customers are a pivotal asset and they are therefore dedicated to partnering with their clients for a lifetime; their steel warranty reflects this pledge of a lifetime partnership. The comprehensive package that Decimal offers—fully accredited and complete lab solutions from craft to industrial scale, including design, installation, and tutorials— is surely the best return on investment anywhere in the industry. Nobody could have predicted the spark of creativity that was born at Decimal from the unhappy, if not tragic, reality of the covid pandemic.

Talk about a lesson in turning lemons into lemonade! So much is possible in this life, especially when we take the time to run an internal inventory. What is our attitude? What do we experience as a problem vs. what do we perceive as an opportunity? How do we respond when challenged? What do we believe is possible vs. impossible? Barber and his team asked themselves these same hard questions and stepped forward into possibility.

This adjustment in attitude— this determination to stand up as opposed to lying down—birthed a whole new series of fully integrated lab equipment which has every potential, if used with medicinal purpose in mind—to extract all kinds of new health remedies. Who is to say that all strains of cannabinoids have even been discovered? Or who is to say that, through the use of Decimal equipment, some new treatment for Crohn’s disease won’t someday take center stage? It seems that the sky can, in fact, be the limit and that Decimal Engineered Systems can quite easily engineer the launching pad. Goodness knows they certainly designed their own.

Cover, Michigan, Spring 2023