This interview details Revolution Micro, an indoor farming technology company based in the United States. The interview is with Gregory von Richter, CTO and Managing Director at Revolution Micro.
I’ve been in the software and embedded electronics business for at this point about 35 years. When Rev Micro got started, I was building electronic equipment mostly for aerospace - cockpit automation auto pilot EFIS, FMCS, that sort of thing.
It’s what I’m most known for. I got connected with a few guys in the CEA space and they asked me to look at their controllers because they were becoming hard to manufacture. The parts were not available. They were expensive. Some of the parts are very difficult to source. The one thing I remember is they were using a photovoltaic cell, like a solar cell, instead of a simple CdS cell to see if the lights are on or not for a CO2 sensor—the difference between a two dollar part a $.15 part at the time. I thought wow we can do a lot better than this.
Ended up building our own controllers, lights, and both for Hydrofarm, Kind, and quite a few others.
Controllers for CEA and grow lighting were a very niche market when we got into it originally. Now it’s become one of Shenzen‘s favorite things to build. Growers are a small niche compared to say, cell phones, so it’s big enough to make a decent living doing it, but not big enough that anybody’s going to look very closely at how these things are designed.
One of the hardest things to do is to build quality products to last a long time and compete with value-engineered products from China that may not last through the warranty. Take a quick look at Amazon and you can see lights listed for sale at dramatically less than a decent light can be produced for. Add the availability of slave labor, and prison labor, and it’s hard to play on that field.
I have several articles, which you can find on Google, about grow lights that eliminate a lot of the EMI filtering necessary to pass FCC. There was a time when people radios looking for grow operations to switch from 18-6 to 12 and 12 to see when it was time to harvest, and when it was time to introduce themselves forcibly to the growers.
Deleting these parts made those grow targets, and also made them not very good neighbors. Those cheap lights would wipe out cell phones, Wi-Fi, and cable TV. It was the cable guy who mostly had the problems with the grow-ups back then. Still to this day, I see a lot of lights come into the country that absolutely won’t pass FCC but it’s not a big enough market that anybody’s checking.
It’s nearly perfect storm electronics: a market, big enough to be worth getting into, but too small for the regulatory to pay much attention to it. If you’re going to build a high-quality product like we do, spectrum agile, long life, low temperature, it’s really tough to go up against Companies that ignore UL ignore FCC. I know there won’t be any enforcement action because the markets too small to pay a lot of attention to it. Would be a great topic for another article.
Way back in the battle all day, growers would veg on halide, flour under sodium, and finish with those amazing 10,000 K, Hart deluxe blues. Fast forward a few decades and now people either grow under HPS exclusively CH exclusively or under LED. One of the things that we did very early on was, investigate photomorphogenesis, one of my favorite fun-sounding words that essentially means crop with light.
As far as I know, we were the first guys to commercially, have a spectrum agile LED light. That makes for a much less stressful migration from clone into veg, a much less stressful migration from veg into flower, and the ability in flower to steer the crops to produce different phytochemicals based on the wavelengths of light you provide. You can emulate the old three-bulb protocol and get spectacular results, and a lot of people do, or you can tune your light recipe to get the results you want for this particular strain for this particular set of desired outputs.
We did this seven years ago and it was considered pretty radical. I’m happy to see others emulating us and it becoming more common. Our lights are spectrum agile, and they also run at very low temperatures. Most LEDs if you put your hand on them you regret it instantly. They just too doggone hot. Our chips run at about 55 Celsius, which is to say 30° cooler than the manufacturer recommends for long-term use. By the law of Arrhenius, this means that we will last eight times longer, which is a big deal when you’re looking at 1000 bucks for a light.
We don’t manufacture in China and we don’t use any Chinese components. Not one nut bolt washer or screw. It’s just too hard to control quality. Our lights are made proudly in Thailand, and regulations there for industrial pollution and working conditions are every bit as stringent as you would expect in California.
We also don’t sell new lights. Our testing is twice by machine and twice by people means that every time a light leaves the factory, it has over an hour of full-power testing. As I said earlier, my background is in aerospace, and it is nearly impossible, Hubble telescope notwithstanding, to send somebody up to fix something in orbit that has a little design Oopsie Woopsie. We use X-ray, Computer vision, and all our boards are conformally coded. Someone on Instagram once asked I think as a joke, if we solder to NASA specifications. I didn’t answer him but I did post a copy of the certificate by way of saying Yes.
Designed in America, made in Thailand to aerospace specifications. They’re extraordinarily good and reliable lights.
Rev has six people full-time in the US and a contract manufacturer in Thailand that is significantly bigger than we are! Last fiscal year we did just under 6 million in sales, expected to do about the same this year. I see you’re asking about growing size and team size etc. but that would be for our growth operations which I guess would be the subject of a different article. Yes, we do use our own products and yes, we get spectacular results. Can have other growers have all the fun after all.
revolutionmicro.com is the best place to start! Phone numbers are there, email is there everything‘s there. Give us a buzz or drop us an email. It’s like I tell people when they call for tech support — call anytime we’re probably in the shop.
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