A closer look at Probat’s Pilot 2020 software

Pilot 2020

Probat takes GCR through its Pilot 2020 software, a web-based control solution that gives users the power to proactively control coffee processes based on targeted data analysis.

Inside a roastery, there are always a number of tasks to fulfil before the final batch of coffee is ready. This can include adjusting settings on the roaster, testing batches, checking moisture, and making sure the final product is consistent.

German coffee roaster manufacturer Probat wanted to enhance the efficiency of these tasks, so it built a control application from scratch with a touch-optimised interface that provides a completely new user experience, focusing on essential information that monitors and controls the roasting process.

“With Pilot 2020, you can directly compare and reproduce roasting profiles, thus making optimisation a lot easier,” says Probat Executive Vice President of Electrical Engineering Sebastian Fichthorn.

The development of the Pilot 2020 software program began in 2018, when Probat reached out to its customers and visited them to see how they used previous versions of the company’s software technology.

“On the old [software], we used a lot of small icons and images. There were a lot of icons to learn what they meant and to memorise,” Fichthorn says.

This became a focus for Probat when developing the Pilot 2020. While the icons have remained, representing small visuals of different settings, they have been altered so that the user can better understand what’s in front of them.

“With the new application, we still have some icons, but they have descriptions in text underneath that explain what it is they do,” Fichthorn says.

Fichthorn says the Pilot 2020 makes a great accompaniment for a local machine control, and the software’s cloud system, Fabscale, is ideal for connecting to a series of roasters in the one operation through any number of devices that the user connects with.

“If you want to compare each of your roasters and how efficient they are, you can do this through Fabscale,” he says. “Fabscale’s core is the dashboard and KPI reporting tool, which provides the basis for many detailed domain-specific analyses.”

The Pilot 2020 system can give instant feedback and data from connected roasters, but the information provided by Fabscale provides a more advanced level of data. Roasters can acquire statistics on new and past roasts, performance, efficiency, bean colour, moisture, density, and energy.

The system can process several tasks at the same time, as more than 150 process values are recorded every second on a standard drum roaster for further analysis, making sure the user is well aware of what’s going on inside the machine.

“Energy is getting more expensive and reducing consumption has become pivotal for our customers, so we have integrated a number of functions and controls to save energy,” says Fichthorn. “Current consumption, for example, can be monitored with a notification of the user in case of deviations from a set target value.

“These notifications are a general property of the application. Users see a calm interface, and when their attention is needed, they are directed straight to the point where the deviation occurred to make adjustments accordingly.”

Probat roasters can also be equipped with a variety of smart sensors that collect data and monitor performance metrics. While each type of sensor has a different function they each enable increased production quality, safety, and productivity.

The inline moisture measurement, for example, allows for precise control of the residual moisture level in roast coffee through a microwave sensor. Inline colour measurement continuously detect the colour value curve of the coffee beans instead of controlling the roasting process as a function of product temperature and time.

In each case, the Pilot 2020 automatically adjusts the relevant parameters to maintain the target values.

Adjustments like this can be seen in a variety of settings on the Pilot 2020, including a customisable interface that enables users to select which statistics are visible.

Once these settings are put in place, the Pilot 2020 system ensures the result meets the set targets, and that each roast produces a consistent product to the satisfaction of the roaster.

Administrative tasks can also be laid out in the Fabscale system, serving as reminders for the machine and staff using it.

“You can schedule maintenance and set up maintenance plans,” Fichthorn says. “With the help of the clear machine status map, it is possible to quickly find out why the Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) of the plant does not correspond to the target value.”

A point of pride in the development of the Pilot 2020, according to Fichthorn, was the multi-layered steps of troubleshooting situations. In the off chance an issue was to occur with a roaster, the program will have a plan in place regardless of the issue.

“We concentrated on troubleshooting with the alarm system,” he says. “Customers are able to build their own knowledge base with the alarm system, as they can put commands on individual alarms which will transfer the information over to their colleagues.”

This allows a fully customisable operation for troubleshooting, as the user can craft their own message for a specific kind of issue. If the alarm were to go off, the Pilot 2020 system issues a notification that explains exactly what the problem is, and a further explanation from the user.

“For different kinds of alarms, you can add your own images and videos that explain what to do in that situation,” Fichthorn says.

This level of customisation is not just featured in the troubleshooting stage. The entire Pilot 2020 solution is designed to focus on the type of information the user needs to know in order to hit the business’ KPIs.

To date, the Pilot 2020 system has been installed in more than 80 Probat machines.
“When you roll out a new tailor-made product, you might expect some issues, but [the developers] did an excellent job and it’s running very well,” he says. “We’ve seen a lot of positive feedback and results from the customers, especially in regard to the usability and the data they can get out of it.”

One customer told Probat that the Pilot 2020 software is “as easy to use as an iPad”, and that they could give it to their child, and they would know how to use it.

“We take comments like that as a compliment,” he says. “We’ve created a good package of technology that is not too much to handle.”

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This article was first published in the November/December 2023 edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.

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