jroach Senior Member Joined: 6 Jul 2011 Posts: 19 Location: Chesterfield, VA Expertise: I love coffee
Espresso: Elektra Micro Casa,... Grinder: La Cimbali 6S, Baratza... Drip: EVA Solo, Moka, Press Pot,...
Posted Sun Jun 23, 2013, 12:07pm Subject: Re: Collaborative Coffee Machine Prototype Design
From what you are asking and have presented this sounds like a (college) senior project or maybe a master degree project.
I'm not trying to be degrading but if you intent is to create a true commercial product you need to do a lot more leg work and flesh some things out. I would say I think you should look at the ZPM Espresso project. This is a start-up project from some college grads to make a PID'ed thermoblock machine at a moderately low level price. I'm not going to go into the project but there are a lot of lessons to be learned for anyone looking to develop at product.
Some questions you might consider: who is your target consumer? are you trying to make the best espresso machine, the best at a given price point, trying to address a specific issue with a type of machine, combining elements in a new/unique way, trying to be a low cost leader, etc.
I understand your concept of a collaborative design but you need to put out more of a frame work. If not some people may want a DB machine, some an HX machine, some may want a low cost SBDU, etc. I like lever machines (I own an Elektra) but I won't use it if I'm planning on pulling a lot of shoots. Different machines for different purposes.
One design question, you mention a lever and then a plenum. If the Plenum is meant to control pressure, why not just use a pump? It almost sounds like you want a pressure tank similar to what you would use in a home with a well for water. If you want to be able to vary the pressure (with the lever) are you thinking you need the plenum to be able to read the pressure? (If you want the pressure one option would be to use a transducer mounted between the lever and the piston.)
I'm don't want to discourage you but just to have you do the groundwork so you don't get frustrated or discouraged later. Just for reference I'm and engineer with experience in manufacturing and machine design and hold a PMP (Project Management Professional certification). I've seen many a project fail or go through tremendous pain for lack of proper preparation and understanding.
Please offer your votes Up/Down on these concepts :
These concepts use current technology to ensure that the water dose temperature will be exact at the pull whithin a short delay, when starting from cold.
Concept 1. Water kettle reservoir, instead of boiler, with adjustable set point temperature heaters to +/- 1 F (electric or induction) for feeding the dosage chamber.
Concept 2. Coffee block comprising cylinder + piston + plenum chamber all heated to set point temperature to +/- 1 F using either cartrige type or cast in type electric heating elements set in the block.
If for any reason the Pull is to be aborted (temp not right, change of mind, etc), how should the water dose be expelled ? Choice _31 : Remove the Porta filter and flush the chambers into the bottom pan reservoir. Choice_32 : Have a flushing port that is opened by way of a valve thereby emptying or syphoning all the chambers ?
Based on your insight, how often an occurance might this be ?
ChaCha, before we go any further, have you actually used an espresso machine? What are your experiences?
I think before theorizing on the basics of what an espresso machine should be, you should pull a few shots with your own equipment so that you get a better feel for the coffee making process. Then you can determine what you like and dislike about it.
Now, let's say I hired you on as my lead engineer for a theoretical espresso machine company I wanted to start here in Canada.
The first thing I would think of is not all of those tiny little details. Steve Jobs said it best, it is not the technology that makes the product, but rather the end user experience. For that, all aspects of the espresso machine have to matter. How it sounds, how it looks, how easy it is to use, feature set, etc. All of the technology can come into play later when the requirements have been met. Ultimately, what ends up in the cup matters as well, but a machine can only do so much.
Now, in saying that, I would tell you that going with lever based machines is passe, outdated and is too much of a niche market. (I'm sorry lever lovers, but this is my own personal opinion.) If I was going to develop an espresso machine which was based upon a lever, it would have to be a direct competitor to either the Elektra Casa Da Leva or to the Londinium machines. If you are still focused on lever machines, PLEASE do your research on these machines first.
Realistically, I would take a look at the market and decide that while espresso is a niche market, I would enter into the market with a prosumer grade pump-machine using as many off-the-shelf components as possible just so I could get a foothold into the market. Then, only after I have established a customer base and developed a source of income, would I then consider the idea of building out a custom engineered saturated brew group which would make the machine stand out.
For example, Model I would be a clone of the Izzo Alex, built in North America, preferably Canada since there is absolutely no manufacturers in Canada right now. (At least none that I'm aware of.) Model II would be the same machine, but with double boilers instead. Model III would be the DB machine but with the custom engineered brew group. Model IV would move towards more proprietary components which would add functionality which isn't found in the off-the-shelf components.
From a business standpoint, It makes absolutely no sense to design and build a machine meant for the consumer market because the production volumes have to be very high just to break even because the profit margins for those machines are very small.
I would start off by engineering machines designed for heavy duty commercial use and scale down from there. An emerging coffee shop may finance or lease a $20,000 machine to get started. Whereas, a consumer may spend less than $2,000 once. This company may sell 10 commercial machines Canada-wide in a year and may sell 100 consumer machines in the same amount of time. The difference is that the consumer machines require 10x the labour, 10x the manufacturing capacity and 10x the materials (Roughly) for exactly the same amount of profit margin. (Let's say $2,000 per machine instead of $200 per machine.)
Just to clarify though. it makes absolutely no sense to engineer something from scratch and re-invent the wheel if it doesn't have any potential of making you money. The goal of any company is to move product and make profit. I don't give a damn about plenums or whatever, what I care more about is that they'll sell, sell, sell.
There has to be absolutely no compromise in quality to stay competitive with the Italian espresso machine manufacturers. Since everyone would be first time buyers, there is absolutely no room for engineering mistakes. One mistake and the whole company goes into the toilet, a bad reputation is earned and the loss of business puts everyone out of work.
You could start out by engineering a new grouphead, but can you do better than an E61?
I'm a firm believer that what goes into a coffee shop should also go into the home as well and have the same durability and capability, but better adapted to the market which it is designed for. For example, the commercial versions just have larger boilers, more powerful heaters and more groups, the home versions are designed to fit under the cupboards and have a single group only.
It is also a matter of cost cutting when the prosumer versions of a machine can share lots of components with commercial machines. The more specialized parts a company makes for a particular line, the less of a profit margin they can make on those parts.
So, to answer a few of your questions:
Boilers are absolutely mandatory on espresso machines IMO. For a few reasons. Temperature stability, thermal inertia and serviceability. Hard water will cause scale to form, so the boiler must be flushable and serviceable. Any sort of thermoblock won't last, not in a consumer machine and sure as heck not in a commercial machine. Boiler PID control is an absolute must, not really required in heat exchanging machines but are a must in double boiler machines. I'm not a big fan of pressurestats in a consumer setting, but in a commercial setting they're OK.
A three way valve is an absolute must in any machine which is not a lever machine. Read up on the E61 group, it already has a very quick fast way to blow off pressure if the shot is to be stopped. IMO, It's like a very complicated three-way tap and works like a hot damn. Now I can't recall if saturated group machines actually have a three way valve or not.
Garbage In, Garbage Out, for every step of the process. From Beans to grinder, grounds to machine, coffee to cup.
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