Probat on innovation’s origin

The year was 1969, and in the age of coffee roasting the drum was still king, recounts Thomas Koziorowski, Director of Product Technology and R&D at Germany-based Probat.  This meant roasting times of anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. Although a manageable time frame for the artisan crowd, at the industrial level, demands for a more efficient production line meant that operators were looking to decrease their roasting times to generate a speedier operation. “Coming from 15 minutes, they weren’t thinking of what we can do today in 1 – 2 minutes. They were hoping for maybe 6 minutes,” explains Koziorowski. “Also, they had made some trials on roasting profiles and observed some advantages to shorter roasting times in terms of extraction yields and flavour profiles.” The challenge, explains Koziorowski, in reducing roasting times was changing the way the heat was transferred to the beans. With drum roasting equipment, the beans are packed in volume, and get their heat either directly from a heating source, or via bean-to-bean heat transfer. “They knew that if they wanted a shorter roasting time, then they needed to find a more efficient way to transfer the heat. They would need to maximise each individual bean’s contact with the air,” says Koziorowski. The solution was the Rapido Nova, a new system that equipment manufacturer Gothot patented in 1969. The system integrated airflow in a closed chamber that could transfer the heat directly to the beans. A paddle mixer would ensure the constant movement of the beans so that their travel wasn’t dependant on the airflow. “That was the idea behind it all, it was a completely different kind of equipment,” says Koziorowski. Probat purchased Gothot seven years after the first patent was filed, taking into their family this revolutionary equipment design. The air is pushed tangentially into the roasting chamber to maximise movement, which led to Probat changing the name to what the roaster is known as today – the Tangential roaster series. In 2007, Probat named its different series of roasters after the planets, and the Tangential Series became known as the Jupiter Series. “The basic principle of mixing the beans with a paddle and the air movement has stayed the same,” explains Koziorowski. “But as the industry has developed, there’s been an increased need for shorter roasting times. That single bean is always in the air stream, so the question becomes: ‘How do we get the most out of that?’ The next step is to get the most efficient heat transfer to that bean.” Hence the original Rapido Nova (Italian for ‘new speed’) underwent several development phases over the years. The first major innovation was in 1980, with the release of the Rapido Nova UIII, following by the RT series. In 2000 the Rapido Nova 5000 was released as the world’s largest serial roasting equipment. Perhaps one of the most significant advancements was in 2001, when the machine was integrated with a reflection roast control system. Up until that point, the operator managed roast control externally, manually adjusting temperature and flow control as needed. Probat’s Reflection Roast Control system would change that, and impact on the role of the operator for years to come. Via Reflection Roast Control, a smart computer system measures the temperature of the beans and automatically adjusts all of the inputs accordingly. At this level of measurement and adjustment, the result is a highly accurate roast, set to a specific recipe, regardless of external conditions. “Imagine if you keep your silo outside,” explains Koziorowski. “In summer your beans are coming into the machine at 30 degrees Celsius. But in winter, they’re coming in at zero degrees. With the reflection control, the system will automatically adjust to change for these variations.” The operator uses the fully automatic, PC-based operating station Pilot Roaster control system to manage and monitor the roasting machine. The system displays the actual and target temperatures, as well as a range of other relevant parameters, on its display screen. This Pilot Roaster program communicates with the Reflection Control module to adjust the machine parameters of air supply and temperature to bring the product back on curve. In 2002, the Tangential series was fitted with a green coffee pre-heating system developed by Probat. The system pre-heats the beans in an external chamber as they wait to enter the roasting chamber. The pre-heater uses precious recycled heat from the roasting process, and cuts down on roasting times, maximising efficiency while minimising energy inputs. Until this point in the early 2000s, the development of Probat’s Tangential roasting system was all about these themes, maximising consistency and efficiency in operation. A major revolution in the nature of the roasting process, however, was introduced in 2011, in the patented Hybrid concept for the then-named Jupiter series. Over the years, the Jupiter series had continued to develop along the lines of shorter and shorter roasting times. One customer, however, had given some feedback to Probat that for some of his roasts, he preferred the aroma components of a longer roast time. As a result, he had to have two roasting machines in his facility. This, coupled with other customer feedback, inspired the Hybrid. The Hybrid Jupiter series used a new stirring mechanism that improved the mixing of the coffee inside the chamber. The new stirring mechanism put less demand on the air supply to move the coffee beans, making it far more flexible than before. The machine can generate roasting air inlet heat levels of 260 degrees Celsius to 550 degrees Celsius. With these characteristics, an operator can create the same roasting profiles as a drum roaster through to an air roaster. “Our Tangential roasting solution is really a one-of-a-kind worldwide,” says Koziorowski. “It’s possible to create special flavour notes by using the roaster’s flexible supply air solutions.” The modular design of the latest series means that roasters can customise their orders based on what characteristics they need. “Some customers don’t need to roast their coffee in one and a half minutes, or they don’t need such a high level of flexibility,” says Koziorowski. “It’s like in the car industry. Sometimes you need a station wagon, sometimes a family car, or sometimes a sports car. It’s like that with the Jupiter series. The base model is always the same, and you can integrate what you need into the design.” As a result of this history of innovation, the Jupiter today is a market leader in industrial coffee roasting equipment. The machine ensures even moisture distribution within a batch, even colour distribution, and less water consumption (via less condensation inside the roaster). Thanks to its design, it can offer flexible batch sizes, fast cooling systems, and full automation. The machine also offers some of the industry’s most advanced safety features. Koziorowski explains that the fully automatic process means that the operator can control the roasting process at a safe distance. “The roaster has the flexibility to play around with the roast, all while working in a safe environment,” says Koziorowski. The system has safety elements in the Programmable Logic Controller, and features carbon monoxide monitoring, overheating alarms, and software that undergoes regular safety checks of the equipment. As for the future, Koziorowski hints to GCR Magazine at what’s to come. He says that in addition to measuring temperature and colour elements of the beans, equipment of the future might be able to chemically measure aroma components throughout the roasting profile. Seeing the impressive evolution that Probat has led in Tangential roasting technology over the past four and a half decades, it will be an interesting time to watch this space for future advancements. GCR

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