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Probat and Cropster launch Fabscale cloud software

From the November 2019 issue.

Probat and Cropster have partnered to launch fabscale, an independent software company that can manage the data of the entire coffee production process.

As with many industries, coffee production is becoming more advanced. Technology is becoming smarter, producing data and insights into the roasting process that weren’t available to past generations of roasters.

German roasting plant manufacturer Probat and Austrian software specialist Cropster estimate that there are 1500 data points generated in the typical roasting process, and have discovered that their customers struggle to capitalise on the sudden and heavy flow of information.

“There are some isolated software solutions, but not really anything that can handle data from different machines or manufacturers and bring it together,” says Sebastian Fichthorn, Head of Software Engineering and Information Technology at Probat.

“[Probat] has knowledge about handling coffee, running the whole plant, and installing the sensors and equipment that collects this information. We set out to aggregate this data, combine it with that from other equipment like packaging machines, and show it in a smarter way. Our software typically operates at more of a local, plant level, so we looked for a partner with experience in cloud-based solutions.”

They found this in Cropster, when CEO and Co-Founder Andreas Idl attended Probat’s Connecting Markets Symposium in September 2018.

“We started to talk, explore ideas, and discovered that what our engineers thought would be good solutions for the sector overlapped. At the same time, we heard matching requests from our customers,” Idl says.

“We had to look at a few different things while developing a platform. First, you have a plant with thousands of sensors, motors, and controls. You need to see how you can bring that data out. Next was finding out how you make and scale up a cloud system that works worldwide and runs on solid infrastructure. Finally, we thought about how to connect that plant to the cloud.”

Once the technical logistics were worked out, their attention turned to ensuring the user could get the specific information they need to act.

“In all my years of experience, what I’ve learnt is that good software is judged by its user interface and usability,” Idl says.

“You may receive 1500 data points, but no person can take in all that information at once and act on it. We had to determine how we present and aggregate that data in a form that is informative and supports the user.”

The result of this collaboration is fabscale, a software service that handles and collates the data of the entire roasting production process. Idl says there were a few reasons behind the name.

“We think a lot about the growth of our customers. They already work at scale, but they’re also still growing and continuing to scale up,” Idl says. “Fab is obviously short for fabulous, and it’s a fabulous way of growing their business. But it also comes from the Latin word for ‘bean’. The name has many sides that just came together.”

Fabscale recruited experienced manager Christian von Craushaar, who brings profound knowledge of the start-up and software industry, as its CEO. Von Craushaar says despite fabscale’s ongoing partnership with Probat and Cropster, it is important it remains an independent company.

“This means nothing we do with our customers or of the data we collect will be shared with Probat or Cropster,” von Craushaar says.

“On one side, it’s important to have such big trustworthy partners backing us, but on the other, we have to gain the trust of our customers that their information is safe and private. We actually deliver two important things: one is the good technology and the second is security.”

Fabscale will begin its rollout with Probat customers at the beginning of 2020.

“The first part of it will be incorporating the roasting machine and then we’re going to add the entire plant step by step, manufacturer by manufacturer, in order to be able to combine the data of the entire system,” von Craushaar says. “Then it depends on the age and technology of the plant. The newer it is, the more data we can obtain.

“There are a lot of values that can be gleaned from the roasting process, including from a quality perspective, energy consumption, how long a roast takes and if it’s running overtime, and following a profile and reproducing the quality customers expect.”

Fabscale is targeted at industrial coffee production, though von Craushaar says any large-scale roaster will benefit from the insights fabscale offers.

“If something is wrong with the coffee and you don’t have the data readily available, it will take a long time to figure out what went wrong. It can take a lot of time to go through these different systems to see what happened,” he says.

“You have that mistake and need to take counteraction. The faster you can do that, the better for your whole-day production, because otherwise you get into delays or lose money. If you have the data, it’s not likely to happen again.”

Probat’s Fichthorn says fabscale is also valuable from a research and development perspective, analysing blends pre-roast as well as optimising them post-roast.

“The quality control and research and development people want data to be available for significant quality-related events within a roast profile or lab measurements, so they can better control the process and make better decisions on what machine to use,” Fichthorn says.

This information, and it being cloud-based, is also beneficial to people in plant management.

“The production manager would like to see directly if production is running out of target or below value. They want to see key performance indicators laid out in a smart, prepared way so they can directly react if performance is not at maximum,” Fichthorn says.

“They would also like to monitor production, not only when sitting at the plant, but when they’re travelling or out of the facility. The best solution is to work from the cloud, connect from wherever you are with different devices, and access the data.”

He adds that fabscale also offers the possibility of predictive or preventative maintenance.

“You can compare the normal state of the plant with the current one,” Fichthorn says. “If a machine is not functioning to its full capacity, repairs can be made before something completely breaks down, saving time and money in the long run.”

Ahead of fabscale’s 2020 launch, von Craushaar says the company’s focus is finishing the interface with input from roasters, incorporating feedback from the platform’s announcement, and promoting the benefits and security of cloud technology.

“The industry can be reluctant to give away data to someone else, and we need to gain its trust. What helps is that the industry is already moving towards the ideas of smart manufacturing or industry 4.0. This is going to help us translate this message to customers,” von Craushaar says.

“After this, there’s multiple avenues we can go down. Ultimately, we will work with customers to determine the right direction and to fulfil their biggest needs.”

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