In late June, Health Canada released a report detailing the increase in demand for medicinal cannabis. The numbers showed an increase in medicinal cannabis sale of 125% and a sizeable increase in production of 116% over a one year period.
The most seismic increase was in the production of cannabis oil which saw an increase of 597% in the span of 3 months. As patients and healthcare professionals become more aware of the health benefits of medicinal cannabis, acceptance and understanding is leading more patients to opt-in to this alternative form therapy.
Smoking of the dried organic matter is still not without its consequences. The health concerns associated with smoking, combined with the inadequacies in controlling dosage explain the rise in popularity of cannabis oils. So far, 22 of the 33 licensed producers in Canada are authorized to produce and/or sell cannabis oils. Many more are currently navigating the licensing process.
With increasing demands on cannabis oils, producers are finding a bottleneck in the production process — ironically, in the bottling of the oil itself.
Located in Burlington, Ontario, ATG Pharma is a Canadian company poised to render the bottling and packaging process more efficient for producers, with benefits that may be passed along to consumers. They currently have two pieces of proprietary filling equipment: the RoboCAP-200, and the higher capacity RoboCAP-300. These are designed for small to mid-size companies seeking to increase efficiency.
There are options for adding multiple dispense nozzles and customizable bottle holders to fit bottles of any shape and size. The unit is also versatile, as it can fill capsules, bottles, vials, and e-cigarette cartridges. Pressure created by the compressor is normalized through a regulator, allowing the unit to deliver consistent injections with a fill volume of ± 1.25 – 1.50%.
As Mike Lio, current CEO of ATG Pharma explains, the idea for an affordable automated liquid filling apparatus began when he was the project manager for an engineering validation company: “We’ve had customers come in who required liquid filling. There was a void there with regards to small foot-print, affordable, good quality, something made locally.” He explained that at the time, “the only thing that was available was semi-automatic large production equipment with a price point of $120000 and above.”
Small natural health companies and e-cigarette companies were left out and most were bottling their products manually. At a price point of $17000 to $29000 (depending on the size and customizable options) many smaller companies, including licensed cannabis producers, are doing the math and figuring out just how quickly the machine will pay for itself.
Consider that an average worker in the vape industry could fill 400 x 60mL bottles per day. The RoboCAP can fill 1500 to 8000 x 60 mL bottles in just one hour. Mike encourages companies to consider the cost savings: “think about how it can pay itself off? By reducing manual labour and just simply increasing productivity.”
The first bench-top liquid capsule filling system was launched in 2013 out of Mike’s garage in Burlington. He began by selling to natural health companies. On a sales visit to companies in Montreal, he stopped by in Kingston to visit his son Devon Lio at Queen’s University. Devon and fellow Queen’s University housemate, Chris Sharanewych, proposed to start a business together selling the liquid filling system and since then, the company has been approached by many licensed cannabis producers both in Canada and the US and has forced the burgeoning company to move out of Mike’s garage in order to accommodate the rise in inventory.
ATG Pharma prides itself on using local manufactures with GMP certification (Good Manufacturing Practices) and dedicated customer service. It’s not often you’ll find a CEO of a company fielding customer phone calls on a Sunday night. Although a small operation for now, the company is expanding and is currently in the hiring process, hoping to alleviate some of the work load. Mike explains “when you’re running a business on your own, you hit a plateau. You’re working 6-7 days week, sometimes almost 12-16 hrs a day. My wife would literally turn off the computer and say bedtime cause it’s 2 in the morning.”
The company’s plans for the future include regular appearances at trade shows. In fact, ATG Pharma had a great showing at the Lift Expo in Toronto and has since received numerous calls and visits from licensed producers in Canada. “We saw a tremendous spike in interest since attending the Lift Expo, and from that point on I would say 70-80% of the people that had interest actually came from the Lift Expo.” ATG Pharma plan to improve their RoboCAP system as the market dictates. They will be at the Lift Expo in Vancouver this September.