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Probat displays research and development on the big scale

From the November 2012 issue.

The massive new facility sitting next to Probat’s headquarters reflects the company’s commitment to leading the pack, as the largest roasting machine manufacturers in the world.

At 15,300 square metres, Probat’s new research and development facility is a sight to behold.

With a glass façade of 350 square metres, and ceilings reaching up over eight metres high, the state-of-the art building could be displaying luxury cars instead of the world’s leading roasting and grinding equipment.

Interestingly, Probat’s Director of Sales Rainer van der Beek says the car sales model isn’t far off what Probat are looking to achieve. More than a showroom, the new R&D centre holds Probat’s entire equipment range. It’s been developed to allow clients to bring in their beans, and see and test the results before making a commitment.

“No one just buys a new car without trying it out. With this new centre, it’s like you can take it home and test it for a weekend,” says van der Beek. “We’re providing a physical guarantee on what the equipment can do.”

The new centre was officially opened in mid-September. It came about when a space became available next to Probat’s current headquarters in Emmerich, Germany. Van der Beek says that while their old facility housed the latest equipment, the building itself was getting “old fashioned”.

“This new centre is a nice marketing investment for two reasons,” he says. “We wanted to build and show the most modern research and development centre in the industry. And from a sales perspective, we wanted to allow customers to use the equipment before they purchased it.”

Giving customers this trial run is about more than just demonstrating the functionality of the equipment. As global coffee tastes are becoming increasingly discerning, concerns over taste profiles are paramount. An efficient factory doesn’t necessarily translate into great tasting coffee.

Thomas Koziorowski is Probat’s Director of Product Technology and R&D, and works extensively in this area, collaborating with clients on coffee taste profiles. Koziorowski says the days of guessing which equipment might be best for a client’s beans are long gone. Today, Probat works with customers on the product development side, bringing their beans into the R&D centre and working with them on the best production methods.

“Having a roaster delivered to you on site and working out how to roast it during the production process, with no way to try it out, doesn’t work,” says Koziorowski. With the new R&D centre, Probat is now the only company in the world to have all three roasting technologies – drum, centrifugal and tangential – available for trial, so clients can test and compare the results of each method.

Probat’s research labs support the process by analysing the chemical and aroma make-up of the different results. The labs feature state-of-the-art equipment, for instance an electron microscope, colour and particle size measuring instruments, and a HPLC system (High Performance Liquid Chromatography) for advanced analysis of the final product.

This product development side has now seen Probat take on the task of training. Especially – but not exclusively – in former tea drinking nations, including many countries in Asia, Koziorowski notes that roasting knowledge can be improved. These companies turn to Probat not only for their equipment, but also to inform themselves more in detail about the industrial knowledge available. 

“In these cases, we’re really using the centre as a training facility,” says Koziorowski. “We’re able to provide them with the basics of blending, of Arabica and Robusta use, and of course much more sophisticated information if needed. What may be obvious in Europe is not obvious everywhere.”
Even for companies who do know the standards, van der Beek says that having an advanced training facility helps improve company efficiency.

Operating staff – including everyone from workers in large factories to boutique roasters – can receive their training in Probat’s facility, so they’re trained and ready to work as soon as the equipment hits the ground. For companies replacing old equipment, off-site training allows for limited interruptions in the production process.

Another major advantage that the new R&D centre holds is the ability to show off the impressive flexibility of Probat equipment in handling different products. Koziorowski says that flexibility in production is key in today’s industrial environment, with companies producing everything from whole beans to ground coffee to single-serve capsules – all out of the one plant.

“Companies used to have two or three brands, but now we’re seeing some with 20 brands,” he says. “As our customers are spreading their portfolio, we need to show our flexibility in the production line.”

Adding to the complexity of juggling different coffee products, are requirements in the traceability of modern coffee supply chains. From farm to cup, van der Beek says roasters need to be able to trace the origin of every bag, so that defects can be easily managed. Probat’s technology uses bar code scanning so that bags of roasted coffee can be traced to the green bag received, even with high demand production systems.

Probat’s leading position is not just embodied in the services and technology available in the new centre, but also in the engineering and architecture of the building itself.

The building’s façade is made of heat-absorbing glass to reduce heating costs in Germany’s cold winters, while the air-conditioning is set up through an innovative ventilation concept to keep power use down during summer. The LED lighting technology is supported with flexible daylight support, with hall ceiling lights using a maximum of 60 watts. The building features state-of-the-art control systems that can be extended to fulfil challenging control tasks, meeting the KNX Standard for Operator Systems Interconnections for intelligent buildings. 

“Our message with this building is that you can build to the highest industry standards and still be responsible for mother earth,” says van der Beek. “Why would you use 1000 watts to light a room, when you can use 60 [watts]?”

Van der Beek says that the industry has been heavily focused on carbon emissions, following government activity and steps towards carbon taxes and trading schemes. However, he says there are huge opportunities for energy efficiency that should not be missed, and their new centre demonstrates the possibilities.

To accompany Probat’s sustainable design is their latest in equipment advances, including a green coffee heater system to reduce energy usage during the roasting process.

“We wanted to show what was possible in promoting sustainability in design,” says Koziorowski. “We want to make the link with customers to show what can be done to reduce carbon footprints.”

These technological and service moves forward are something van der Beek says were not necessarily a request by customers, but rather the direction that Probat wanted to take in leading the industry. He notes that around 70 per cent of the world’s coffee supply is roasted on Probat equipment, and the company is prepared to maintain this position by staying one step ahead in supporting their clients.

“We see ourselves as leading the industry. It’s not a trend we’re following, we didn’t see ourselves as forced into to this, but we wanted to maintain a certain direction.” GCR

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