Modern Process Equipment convey success for Elcafe

As one of Latin America’s largest producers of instant coffee, Elcafe has long been in pursuit of not just the best end product, but also the best ways of achieving that result. Established in 1978, the Ecuador-based company sources coffee from all over the world and exports its freeze-dried products around the globe. Producing top quality freeze-dried coffee is a technically intensive process, and so Elcafe has long been focused on ensuring that they have the best equipment for the job. However, in recent years the company became dissatisfied with their old set-up, and was looking for a solution that would reinvigorate their production processes, bringing greater energy efficiency to their operation, reducing wastage, and making their facility a more user-friendly environment for their workers. In order to upgrade its production facility in Ecuador, Elcafe approached Chicago-based Modern Process Equipment (MPE). Initially, Elcafe was interested in the Chain-Vey tubular drag conveyor to transport their roasted whole beans as well as their ground coffee. At that time Elcafe was using all pneumatic transport systems, but had found that they were loud, energy inefficient, and dirty, blowing coffee dust everywhere.  The biggest downfall of these systems was that they were breaking the coffee apart during transfer. The broken ground coffee particles were not optimal for their extraction tanks and Elcafe was losing yield and clogging filters as a result. This was a problem that MPE had witnessed quite a lot in other facilities and was one of the main benefits of the drag conveyors. “We like to say grind the coffee in your grinder, where you can control it and grind it properly, and don’t grind the coffee in your conveyors,” says MPE’s Director of Sales Scott Will. As well as better protecting the coffee during transport, the Chain-Vey Conveyors are self-cleaning, clean, and quiet, which have resulted in great improvements to the working environment at Elcafe, says the company’s Deputy Director, Bernardo Arosemana. “With the new fit-out by MPE, we have experienced noise and pollution reduction, which has really made the facility a much nicer place to work in,” he says. The new Chain-Vey Conveyors were five times more energy efficient than Elcafe’s previous pneumatic conveyors, which also resulted in some substantial cost savings, especially in Ecuador where energy is relatively expensive. Elcafe was also interested in MPE’s line of UltraUniform Particle Distribution (UPD) Coffee Granulizers, which are designed specifically for soluble coffee producers.  MPE’s UPD Coffee Granulizers are different to the standard coffee grinder in that they are engineered for the specific extraction technology being used by Elcafe. Prior to installing MPE’s UPD Coffee Granulizers, Elcafe was not precision grinding the coffee. As a result, it was getting inconsistent extraction results, had little to no control or consistency with the grinding operation, was losing yield due to the poor particle sizing, and was often clogging downstream filters after the extractors. Originally, Elcafe asked MPE to install one new UPD Coffee Grinder and four Chain-Vey Conveyors to replace existing pneumatic systems for one complete line.  However this was later expanded to the remaining seven lines for a total of eight complete lines – or eight new UPD Grinders and 32 new Chain-Vey Conveyors. Each line consisted of four Chain-Vey Conveyors for whole bean and ground coffee as well as one UPD Coffee Granulizer. The project took about a year to complete. While much of the brief was for work that MPE had done numerous times before, there were some elements of the project that required some creative thinking. “The science was engineering the grinder to provide a very uniform and optimal grind size for the extraction technology being used by Elcafe,” Will says. “This is something we have lots of experience with here at MPE, so it was performed quickly with some lab testing and historical data analysis.” With the improvements made through the installation of MPE’s UPD Coffee Grinders, Elcafe found it was getting a greater yield from its production processes, as well as a significant improvement in the quality of the end product. “This was primarily driven by MPE’s UPD Coffee Grinder doing a much better job of precision grinding the coffee to the proper size and the Chain-Vey conveyor preserving this exact grind size during a long transfer to the extraction tanks,” Will says. While it was not used in the Elcafe fit-out, MPE has addressed another topic of interest related to instant coffee with its development of a new line of MicroFine Coffee Granulizers, which are capable of grinding roasted coffee down to powder size. This MicroFine coffee powder is much smaller than even traditional Turkish ground coffee, and is often added to finished instant coffee powders to provide natural coffee aromas and improve coffee taste. The G7 is one of MPE’s most popular MicroFine Coffee Granulizers, and is capable of grinding coffee down past 40 microns (µm). The water-cooled design and “NASA” roll materials allow for MicroFine Coffee Powder production with temperatures below 40 degrees Celsius. This low-temperature grinding preserves the aroma and pleasant tasting volatile oils in the coffee. Adapting the required machinery to fit into Elcafe’s facility did present its own challenges, Will says: “The remaining challenge was engineering the Chain-Vey conveyors into an existing plant that was loaded with existing equipment such as roasters, storage silos, extraction tanks, and building structure beams.” Some of the Chain-Vey transfers were upwards of 25 metres vertical and 35 metres horizontal, performed with a single system. It is in these long transfers where Chain-Vey really proves its advantages against all other types of conveyors. “Chain-Vey was necessary for a number of reasons, one of which was to protect the precise size of the ground coffee after it was ground,” he says. “Pneumatic systems will continue to break apart the large ground coffee particles and increase dust [particles below 0.3 millimetres], which is not ideal for the extraction process. Chain-Vey is a gentle conveying process – similar to a bucket elevator in terms of product preservation – and therefore protects the coffee during transfers, which is ideal.” As well as improving the transport process, the extraction process was also greatly improved. “Because this was an existing plant, where the liquid extraction tanks, spray drying, and freeze drying operations were unchanged, Elcafe was able to record some real value in terms of extraction yield increases and improvements in product consistency,” Will says. Elcafe’s Arosemana certainly agrees that the MPE equipment has led to a remarkable improvement of their operations. “The new machinery has led to a much more stable extraction process, and it requires less ongoing maintenance from our staff, as well as giving us much better yields and a higher quality end product,” he says. GCR

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