Alcorn Café Engineering has been helping breathe new life into old espresso machines, grinders, and roasters with its bespoke parts and tailored solutions.
Sean Alcorn from Alcorn Café Engineering (ACE) has built his company on finding unique solutions to problems that can arise with a variety of coffee equipment, from espresso machines to grinders and roasters.
Starting as a repair business, ACE has transformed into a business that sends bespoke machine parts the world over so that business owners can extend the longevity of their coffee equipment.
“We design and engineer improved parts for the specialty coffee industry,” says Alcorn. “We find the Achilles heel in a particular machine and, if we can we develop a better part, then hopefully it gives the roaster or the café owner greater longevity, and that’s what we are known for. I’m proud of the fact that I can count the number of breakdowns our customers have had over the past few years on one hand.”
Alcorn points out that it is just not just the down time or the cost to fix the problem that concerns café operators when a coffee machine ceases to function, it’s the loss of coffee sales plus the loss of the food revenue in many businesses.
“Despite the fact that this industry loves loyalty, if the machine is down on that day and a customer walks down the road and the barista happens to be better on the day, then that customer is gone simply because the machine was out of order,” Alcorn says.
Alcorn Café Engineering has a broad understanding of a range of coffee machines, and it can often spot issues that manufacturers may not be aware of.
Alcorn tells the story of a machine that would never fill the steam boiler due to the reliance on mains pressure. The machine had a steam pressure of 1.45 bar and by simply opening the tap at the handwashing sink, the pressure at the machine immediately fell to 1.15 bar. As the machine was relying mains pressure, ACE added a pump and a motor to resolve the problem. In subsequent versions of the machine, the machine manufacturer added a fill boost pump as an option at time of order once it became aware of the issue.
Alcorn says while coffee machine manufacturers are quick to highlight the benefits of using original parts, ACE has created a following with some devoted fans of its bespoke parts.
One of ACE’s most popular products is its shot timer. The shot timer generally picks up a signal from the machine’s solenoid valve so when the valve opens, it times the shot that is being brewed.
“Time is important in the extraction of a good espresso. At the time, we knew most machines came without a shot timer, so we went and developed our first one and we called it the ShureShot. What started as a simple shot timer like many projects, was moulded by customer needs. The ShureShot has three fully programmable outputs and we can drive the brew valve, the pump, and a bypass valve,” Alcorn says.
“The displays can be programmed green, indicating the ideal shot range was achieved, or red, providing the user an indication that the shot was out of range. This tool is particularly ideal for training and education for new staff.”
This solution was not for everyone however, and ACE has since moved on to more basic shot timers. Alcorn says there are certain areas of the coffee industry that have a cult-like love of the ShureShots, so much so that ACE has recently filled an order for several ShureShots and is wondering if they might be making a comeback.
Another popular part is ACE’s Kronos touchpad that sells particularly well in Australia. The touchpads were designed and developed in Australia by ACE and are a direct replacement for keypads in many other traditional machines.
“Customers were looking for a more reliable solution. We made our enclosure from a more temperature resilient material and added eight machined brass inserts for screwing our supplied stainless steel machine screws into metal, rather than self tappers into plastic – which are prone to premature breakages. Then, customers were telling us that they loved the feel of the touchpad,” Alcorn says.
“I had never thought about it but our keypads had a much nicer tactile feel than a lot of other manufacturers. They just work well and they don’t miss a beat.
“They are Australian made and we just applied for the official Australian Made label this year, and we now have that on the shot timers, too.”
Alcorn learned his skills in the Australian air conditioning industry and was trained as a refrigeration and air conditioning technician at his family business.
He is now keen for ACE to “fly the flag” on Australian products because the Australian coffee industry is well respected globally, and so is ACE. Alcorn says the reason the company’s parts have such a solid reputation in the US market is because of their longevity.
“They like the idea that our parts last longer because the repairers have to drive long distances to repair machines and they don’t want to have to come back too often,” he says.
ACE also repairs espresso machine control boards, in some cases completely rebuilding a thousand-dollar board for a fraction of the cost.
It was Alcorn’s knowledge of designing and manufacturing of control boards that led to ACE offering of a repair service.
“There is a view in certain parts of the industry that a repaired board is not as good as a new one but if I can design and make boards, we can certainly repair them,” Alcorn says.
The ACE Volumetric Board has connectors for shot timers or keypad cables, and is available for a variety of machines.
The company’s Instagram @aceservices highlights ACE’s variety of products from the ACE Shot Timer to custom machine switches and the ACE touchpads. They also have a collection of o-rings, valves, elements, and screws.
Alcorn continues to move away from simple repairs and into the design and manufacture of coffee machine parts, as well as some grander Australian-made design plans that are still under wraps.
For Alcorn, he says the satisfaction of his work is helping customers get the most out of their equipment.
“We are retrofitting machines that have been working for decades and they show no signs of stopping when you give them a bit of love and attention,” he says. “Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the problem and we come along and ACE it.” GCR