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Flexibility and Control with Probat

From the September 2015 issue.

German plant manufacturer Probat is working with roasters around the world to give them the technology to respond to the growing demands of today’s coffee market.

As one of the world’s leading manufacturers of plant equipment for coffee roasters, Probat occupies the perfect vantage point from which to observe the rise and fall of trends within the industry.

While specific products and technologies such as capsules are the impetus for change within the industry, Probat’s Director of Product Technology and Research and Development, Thomas Koziorowski, says that these end products are driving two broader trends in production.

“The two main drivers for our technology are the demand for quality – this goes in both directions, both higher quality and lower quality – and an overall demand for flexibility in production,” Koziorowski says.

“Our customers are now offering their customers a much wider range of different products than before, and therefore they require much more flexibility in their own production processes.”

Koziorowski says the growing sophistication of consumers has forced roasters to continue to push the envelope in order to capture and keep their customers’ attention in an ever more crowded market.

This has led roasters to develop numerous ranges to appeal to all segments of the market, thus requiring a production facility that is capable of producing a whole range of products across the whole spectrum of market segments.

“Twenty years ago our customers would have two different types of roasted coffee in the market, whereas today they offer 25 different types of coffee to their customers – filter, espresso, mocha, single serve, the whole range,” Koziorowski says.

At the same time as roasters are looking to expand their offering, however, the trend in manufacturing is towards developing leaner manufacturing processes, meaning each bit of equipment needs to be versatile and capable of playing a role in the production of a number of different products.

“We have to think about building in fast reactions across the whole production process so that we can make changes quickly within the plant system to adapt to the requirements of different batches and different products,” Koziorowski says. “Some customers are preferring now to use mobile bins instead of silos as they are working with smaller batch sizes and faster handling so they can produce the coffee on demand.”

With many of Probat’s customers racing to keep up with the growing demand for single serve coffee around the world, many production lines need to be adjusted accordingly.

“No one plant is like the next – we are always supplying individual solutions for our clients,” he says, adding that two of the key areas for attention are in grinding and degassing.

“The grinding process must be very stable – it must react to the different types of capsules that are on the market and their special needs – if they need more fine particles or more coarse particles, the grinder must have the flexibility to accommodate that,” he says.

As a result, Probat has developed the UW 300.3 Capsule and Micro Grinder.

This precision machinery produces an average particle size of 50 microns, with automatic calibration systems, and individual roller speed adjustment to provide greater control over the production of fine particles.

The machine is also temperature-controlled thanks to an in-built water cooling and heating unit.

With both automatic and manual options for gap adjustment, users can either set their own preferences or rely on the computerised system for minimising the grinding gap.

The machine is finished with an automatic cleaning function to ensure that all of the particles are cleaned out of the grinding chamber after each use.

For degassing, Koziorowski says Probat had to develop new technology specifically to cater to the requirements of capsule manufacturers.

“The degassing requirements for capsules are different than for other forms of coffee, so we need to accommodate that, but we also need to work with the different types of coffee going into the capsules,” he says.

“We started with just one unit to measure the degassing behaviour, but we now have five units to measure that behavior and that demand is coming from the customer side.”

But while capsules are in the spotlight, there is another, more traditional product that is quietly growing in popularity, according to Probat’s Director of Sales, Ingo Binzen.

“If you look at what the biggest trend is worldwide, it is the growth of whole beans in the traditional markets,” he tells GCR.

“We have seen a growth of automatic machines in the home, bars and restaurants and this is driving up the value of whole beans in the market,” he adds.

This growing trend towards buying whole beans for in-home consumption on domestic automatic machines has led to a greater emphasis on careful handling of the beans throughout the roasting process, Binzen tells GCR.

“You have to avoid breakage, which means you have to create gentle solutions – gentle conveyors, you have to use roasters that handle the coffee gently as well and especially after roasting, when the coffee is more sensitive, you have to avoid breakage then,” Binzen says.

Probat’s answer to this challenge has been the development of mechanical conveyors in place of the traditional pneumatic systems, which tend to break the beans in transit. They have also developed much more advanced processing technology to sort the beans at the end of the chain.

While much of Probat’s new technology is geared towards helping roasters produce products for home consumption, another big area of growth has been the trend for café owners to do their own roasting in-house. While this is trend that has been emerging in developed coffee markets for a number of years, it is now starting to spread into newer markets as the consumers there develop their tastes.

“We have seen a growing demand for shop roasters and with that, a growing demand for flexibility and control over the machines, both on the machine and in apps,” Binzen says.

This has led to the development of a special Probat app, which café owners can use to control their machines remotely, storing roasting profiles and recipes in their smartphone.

In fact, Koziorowski says, much of the drive for innovation is coming through the demands of in-shop roasters.

“They are driving developments both in flexibility and responsiveness, as the roasters themselves are very hands on, but is also driving trends in automation in terms of capturing and storing data,” he says. GCR

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