How often have we heard that, “The shortest distance between two points is a straight line”? But in coffee we ask, “What is the gentlest way we can get from point to point?” We move tons of coffee in our shops no matter how big or small. It is just a scale of tons that determine the method to be used.
We’re lucky we have roasters to listen to – they’ve told us what’s important to them – gentle conveying + low breakage rates = happy customers – they’re referring to their customers of course! But we recognize a bit of pride in the processes they’ve nailed down in-house.
Karl Seidel, Marketing Manager
This article will explore the problems that need to be solved in moving product in a coffee plant. When you think it through there are a dozen places or more that you have to move the product. The next logical step then is exploring solutions to the problem by different conveyance systems.
No matter what the scale of your shop, you have to move product for the same reasons. This chart shows the basic flow of coffee from green to shipping in a coffee plant. As a plant operator you will make conveyance decisions based on the following criteria:
It would be awesome to start an operation completely scaled for your business over the next 10 years and have unlimited funds to put in the ‘perfect plant.’ But in the real world we start up, chase the business, grow, and make plant decisions based on where we are and where we think we might grow. This can lead to an interesting selection of different systems.
Running the convey systems requires manpower and energy consumption. The best system is one that requires the least amount of manpower and the least amount of energy to run. If you still have to manually feed a convey system then you only save the manpower of the actual transport. It is better to also automate the feeding of the convey system. As far as energy goes, it comes down to how many motors and how much horsepower is required to run them. With today’s energy prices, that can be a huge operational consideration.
When your plant relies on convey systems to do the work of strong backs, it is important that the machine operates without down time. Most plants have to come to a screeching halt if a convey system anywhere in the plant fails because everything backs up. You will also probably no longer have the manpower in place to do the work that the convey system does. So having the systems vigorously maintained is crucial for long-term success.
Effect on coffee quality
In specialty coffee, we are concerned about coffee’s physical appearance as well as cup quality. Certain convey systems like bucket elevators, and load systems that drop from tall heights can cause a lot of broken beans and affect the appearance of the coffee. While this might not affect cup quality Jeremy Raths of The Roastery in MN says, “Broken beans shows a lack of caring for quality.” Darryl Blunk of Apffels Coffee points out that some pneumatic conveyors can release a lot of the volatiles of coffee, especially ground coffee so another method is preferable.
Choosing a system based on your size, and scalability for forecasted growth is important. I had a small roasting plant. I used the ‘Rocky-vey’ system and it worked for me. I lost weight and did not need big expensive equipment. I would probably use a different system next time because it cost me in time. That was time I could have used to grow my business.
A different approach was taken by Apffels coffee when building a new roasting facility for their nearly 100 year old roasting company. “We wanted to control dust, reduce labor, have flexibility, speed and a system that would not harm the quality of the coffee,” said Darryl Blunk, CEO. They installed a versatile Cablevey system to transport coffee from the multiple production stations. “From the time we open the bags of green coffee until it leaves the shipping dock, the coffee is never touched by human hands.” Says Blunk.
Jeff Dudas, CEO of Spiroflow Systems Inc. has to deal with all sorts of products that need conveying besides coffee. All plants however express similar needs. “One of the big requests we get is to reduce dust in production.” Spiroflow Systems continues to work on their cable pull system to machine the puck size to minimize dust. These systems also have dust collection areas to help in that regard.
Spiroflow Systems also created a ‘super sack’ loader that continuously limits the fall height of product to eliminate both dust and breakage of beans and thereby maintaining the quality appearance of the coffee.
So, consider your options carefully when building upon your plant’s equipment and layout. There are lots of ways to get from Point A to Point B, but hopefully you have a basis to at least start to make an informed decision.