WMF explores robotics technology in self-service cafés

WMF Professional Coffee Machines

WMF Professional Coffee Machines is supporting a new way to enjoy coffee with robotics technology in self-service cafés.

Robotics technology is increasingly becoming a firm feature in the hospitality sector. There are ‘robochefs’ in the kitchen, robot-supported self-service cafés, and to WMF Professional Coffee Machines, it’s just the beginning.

“The greatest potential of digitisation lies in making communication between guests, service staff and coffee machines as efficient and convenient as possible through networking and automation,” says Benjamin Thurner, Vice President Digital at WMF Professional Coffee Machines.

“Businesses must consider the trends of modern customer experience such as contactless payments, fast communication and interaction channels, and customer individualisation. These aspects can be implemented efficiently and impressively with robotics concepts.”

To cater for this growing demand, WMF has partnered with South Korean coffee chain Coffeebanhada and Slovak start-up Rossum Café to supply their coffee machines and provide technological expertise. “High-performance WMF 5000 S+ coffee machines are operated by high-tech robot arms in both

Coffeebanhada and Rossum Café, which not only prepare the desired coffee specialties quickly and simply, but also provide a unique show effect for guests – a very special coffee experience,” says Thurner. Since Coffeebanhada was founded in 2011, the café has focused on modern self-service concepts. In 2017, it presented a self-developed robot barista called Episode Marco, which is used in the café’s unmanned branches. Known as ‘smart cafés, these Coffeebanhada venues account for about a quarter of more than 600 locations Coffeebanhada operates.

Coffeebanhada has combined Episode Marco with WMF automation since the collaboration began in January 2021 through WMF’s local trading partner Dooree Corporation. Since January 2022, Coffeebanhada had equipped 85 smart cafés with WMF 5000 S+ machines.

“At Coffeebanhada, the first step was to examine how the Episode Marco robot could best connect to a fully automatic coffee machine. WMF engineers focused primarily on connectivity and interface programming, as both cashless payment methods via smartphone and credit card and additional devices were to be connected,” says Thurner.

“WMF project managers were able to draw on digital expertise and experience from comparable projects, such as Cafe X, the first robot equipped by our machines about 10 years ago, or MyAppCafé, one of the first autonomous coffee stations with a robot barista to be made in Germany.”

The coffee machines and robot baristas, together with connected ice machines, now supply Coffeebanhada guests with coffee around the clock that reflects the preferences of the South Korean market, such as Caffé Americano, Caffé Latte or Caffé Mocha.

“[The robots] are the centre of attention, showcasing that these futuristic self-service cafés are real customer magnets, even without personnel,” Thurner says.

Rossum Café in Slovakia has also used WMF’s high-performance machines since its first autonomous coffee bars were established in 2020 thanks to a relationship through WMF’s local partners in the Czech Republic.

“Like at Coffeebanhada, Rossum Café uses a high-tech robot arm to prepare delicious beverages with a WMF 5000 S+ professional coffee machine. Here too, the locations are unmanned and rely consistently on cashless payment options,” Thurner says.

“However, Rossum Café locations are not cafés in the classic sense, but self-contained coffee stations which can be compared to small kiosks. Due to their compact design and small footprint, they are easy to set up in busy places such as shopping malls, railway stations or airports, where they attract travellers and other customers with impressive technology and sophisticated design that serve them efficiently with fresh coffee.”

Thurner says the WMF 5000 S+ coffee machine was chosen because of its extensive configuration and customisation options.

“In both Coffeebanhada and Rossum Cafe, the fully automatic WMF 5000 S+ was the best machine for the job due to its high performance of up to 250 cups per day, variety of coffee specialties available, and the flexible technical integration capability into upstream and downstream customer systems,” he says.

Thurner adds that the WMF 5000 S+ machines were used in the first autonomous Rossum Café coffee bars but have since been individually modified for optimum customer experience.

“To allow the robot to activate these correctly, a remote API software interface was implemented and individually adapted,” he says.

WMF coffee machines have different networking options – both locally via a direct connection between the coffee machine and the control computer or robot, or via the cloud.

“After all, seamlessly combining robotics technology with coffee machines to produce innovative and comprehensive solutions is one of the core competences of the developers at WMF,” Thurner says. WMF believes digitisation is an innovation driver of the future, both in terms of business and customer loyalty and experience.

“From a customer’s perspective, the focus is clearly on efficiency and cost benefits, as well as lack of human resources. Particularly when we look at the shortage of skilled workers and employees that is prevalent in many industries, the digitisation of processes is crucial,” says Thurner.

“On the one hand, this relates to recurring work processes that have so far been performed manually. On the other hand, it involves the automation of data flows.”

According to Thurner, in many businesses today, company-relevant information is still managed in separate data silos, the consolidation of which causes high time and cost expenditures.

“If we look at the external view, or the customer and their enjoyment experience, digitisation allows completely new offerings, especially in the self-service area or contactless ordering and payment. The ultimate goal is always sustainable customer loyalty through positive experiences. This is why we have a clear focus on digitisation and view it as the right path for the future,” he says.

Thurner also believes ongoing digitisation will intensify the customer’s need to have access to information and services at all times.

“The desire for round-the-clock availability will further displace concepts like classic opening hours. Self-service solutions will benefit hugely from this development, above all unmanned stores but also robotic cafés with an experience factor,” he says.

“Another driver for increasingly digitised hospitality is the rising expectation of product quality. The demand for digital touchpoints, mobile payment offers, and the convenient integration of customer loyalty programs along the customer journey are a clear expression of this.”

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This article was first published in the March/April 2023 edition of Global Coffee Report.

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