How Ima Coffee stays ahead of the curve

Ima Coffee

Ima Coffee unveils its first Pilot Lab and new modular coffee packaging solutions that reflect the brand’s ethos to constantly stay one step ahead.

Inventing cutting-edge technology is a difficult task. It cannot rely solely on current market trends, but must look to where the market is forecast to grow in order to guide the evolution and development of technology, says Nicola Panzani, CEO of Ima Coffee Petroncini and Sales Director of IMA Coffee.

Within the Ima Coffee Hub, Ima Coffee Packaging Division and Ima Coffee Petroncini facility design and manufacture machines for coffee processing and packaging. In this sector, Panzani says it is particularly important to constantly evolve, which the brand does thanks to its top engineers, organisational know-how and strong market overview.

“At Ima Coffee, we initially started with the manufacturing of packaging solutions for single serve paper coffee pods, using a technology similar to our tea bagging machines,” says Panzani.

“Overtime, we started to learn more about the market and through a series of acquisitions and internal developments, we have expanded our machine portfolio into single-serve packaging for capsules, dosing and sealing machines of different speeds along with roasting, processing and end-of-line machineries, contributing to the creation of what is now IMA Coffee.”

The company is set to release its newest batch of innovations in late 2021, which at the forefront, includes its Pilot Lab. Described by Panzani as a “small-scale factory”, the space sees Ima Coffee’s newest technologies combined into a showroom for customers.

From early engineering to the building process, the Pilot Lab has been in progress for over a year, with more than US$2.3 million invested into the facility.

“It is the first facility of this type in the world because it is a complete small-scale factory where customers can see and test, according to their needs, a significant choice of our technologies and portfolio from processing to packaging,” says Panzani.

The new Pilot Lab includes green coffee intake and cleaning solutions, colour sorters and green coffee storage systems, which demonstrate how coffee can be stored before roasting. The Lab also offers two technologies for roasting: traditional and modular.

Nicola Panzani, CEO of IMA Coffee Petroncini and Sales Director of IMA Coffee.

“In this way, the customer can test both the technologies in our portfolio and understand which model is more appropriate for their needs,” says Panzani.

Traditional roasting technology uses a drum roaster with an open cycle based on a time-temperature roasting curve or a temperature-to-temperature curve to determine end-roast time. This technology is the right choice for roaster looking for gourmet coffee and traditional roasting profiles

Modular roasting technology uses convection heating rather than conduction, with only one burner to save energy consumption.

“This can save up to 30 per cent energy. The machine has a very precise roasting control which ensures the highest repeatability and precision over time,” says Panzani.

“We also showcase a roasted bean storage system as well as all necessary technologies to complete the processing phase, such as grinding and degassing systems, as well as a vertical packer for both whole beans and ground coffee. We also have a capsule packaging machine so customers can [walk] away with their coffee packaged from the pilot lab.”

The new degassing system, on show at Ima Coffee’s Pilot Lab was designed last year, and is what Panzani describes a “strong evolution” of existing solutions.

“The innovative degassing system we have launched has implemented all the best-in-class technology and has been designed on four key pillars. These pillars are a reduction in degassing time, increased aroma preservation, reduced nitrogen consumption, and particle distribution preservation,” says Panzani.

“The first pillar, reduction of degassing time, is done through two approaches. One is the use of a vacuum, which reduces the degassing time by extracting the gas from inside the particles of coffee.”

The second approach is done through product recirculation. This sees the ground coffee constantly remixed to ensure that it is homogenously degassed from top to bottom.

“The second pillar, aroma preservation, is done through a recirculation of the gases inside the silo in order to avoid wasting the aroma, which is released during the degassing process,” says Panzani. “We use nitrogen at the beginning of the process to remove the presence of oxygen, which ruins the quality and aroma of the coffee.”

The third pillar is decreasing nitrogen consumption. This is achieved through the recirculation of the gas, which avoids wasting nitrogen, an expensive gas.

The fourth pillar is to ensure particle distribution is kept stable during transportation. “All of Ima Coffee piping and systems inside the degassing plant are designed to ensure the ground coffee particles distribution is preserved, which is a key factor to ensure that the capsule produces a quality brew,” Panzani says.

Alongside the introduction of its Pilot Lab and degassing systems, within the past year Ima Coffee has also designed a new capsule filling and sealing machine.

Until now, the company has produced capsule filling and sealing machines that are capable of filling from 70 to 600 capsules per minute or 2000 capsules per minute.

“We wanted to fill this gap and produced a machine capable of producing between 600 to 2000 capsules per minute. [Our] new modular machine with a medium speed can produce 800 capsules per minute, 1200 capsules a minute, or 1800 capsules a minute,” says Panzani.

“This was created in anticipation of the next market evolution. There is now a greater demand for a single machine with both higher speed and flexibility with different capsules.”

The machine uses a host of futuristic-sounding technologies, including collaborative robot arms, magnetic shuttle plates, and automatic splicing units for lid reels.

The collaborative robot arms have earned their name due to their ability to detect if an operator is approaching, and automatically reduces its speed to the legal limit, increasing operational safety. These robots make it easier for operators to intervene if there is any issues, and can reduce manpower and associated costs.

The magnetic shuttle plates play a key role in the machine’s modularity. Being a compact size that clips in, it is easy to maintain and clean with no bolts or screws needed for changing or installation. This means operators are able to “plug and play”, with reduced time needed when changing capsule formats.

“We have also left behind the concept of the segway belt,” says Panzani. “If you have one big belt you need to move the entire belt at the speed of the slowest station. With this magnetic shuttles we can optimise the speed of each station because they move independently.”

The machine also features automated splicing units to connect two different bobbins of lid.

“[This way], you avoid losing efficiency because nowadays it is necessary to stop the machine every time the bobbin runs out,” says Panzani. “If you have automatic splicing, the machine automatically connects to the new bobbin and production can continue.”

Ima Coffee is also set to release its new C-900 capsule cartoning machine.

Ima Coffee’s degassing system has implemented all the manufacturer’s
best-in-class technology.

“Similar to the capsule sealing and filling machine, we wanted to create a modular machine with medium speed capabilities. This one covers a range of 360 capsules per minute to 900 capsules per minute,” says Panzani.

“We’ve seen that there is a tendency for single-serve producers to need a wide range of cartons. The most common ones are the tube, the 10 capsules with the inlay or 10 capsules nested, or bigger formats with multiple layers.

Panzani says having multiple layers, which is where the market is headed, increases packaging complexity. However, by placing a paper or foil inlay, delicate capsules such as aluminium pods are better protected.

“It starts from flat blanks or flat cartons, because this is a more economical solution and is more environmentally friendly because you do not have to transport pre-glued cartons, which occupy a bigger space, saving our clients logistic costs and materials,” says Panzani.

The future is bright for Ima Coffee. The Italy-based Hub y is aware of the need to shift to sustainable packaging options, and encourages the wider industry to do the same.

“This is an effort which is needed across the supply chain, from customers who recycle to market actors who produce new sustainable materials,” Panzani says.

“In the end, the need for packaging is still here and always will be. We want to stay ahead of the curve and be the ones to lead the packaging industry towards a sustainable future.”

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This article was first published in the September/October edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.

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