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Growing use of robotic arms in the coffee industry

Robotic Arms

From bean to barista, the processes involved in creating the perfect cup of coffee have been turned on their ear over the last few years. 

A brief history of coffee 

The cultivation and trade of coffee originated in the Arabian peninsula in the 15th century. Within 200 years it had spread as a morning beverage of choice, well across Europe and into the US. In America, the Boston Tea Party firmly cemented coffee as preferable to tea, in 1773. 

And it was no longer cultivated in only one or two places: whole economies sprung up around the coffee bean, and now, it is responsible for a thriving $200 billion dollar industry.

To understand how modern processes have changed coffee making, let's take a quick look at traditional methods:

The ripe coffee was harvested by hand. The whole bean that we know so well is actually the seed of the coffee cherry (or coffee berry). After harvesting, the bean must be removed from the cherry; then it must be dried; and finally, roasted. Each of these processes used to be done manually, and was very labor-intensive: picking the ripe cherries, laying the fruit on large tables to dry, removing the dried outer layers of the coffee beans, and then exporting, roasting, grinding, and brewing the coffee.

Happily, nearly every part of the process now uses some level of automation.

Robotics in agriculture: harvesting coffee

Brazil is an interesting example. Without the same low-cost labor of other coffee-producing nations, they have turned to automation to speed up their processes and achieve better results. Their harvesting machines will fully harvest a crop with 2 or 3 passes, allowing fruit to ripen and dry on the tree between passes. 

Using automation for the perfect roast

Critical to a good coffee is a good roast. Here, too, innovation and technology are changing the game. Robotics in coffee roasting allows for precise control of critical areas like humidity, temperature, and airflow. This leads to more precision and consistency in the grounds, and an efficient supply of top-quality grounds.

Packaging and palletizing robots pack coffee for transport

Like for other products, robotic arms are highly effective in the packaging stage. They can be far more precise when filling bags and can seal and label the packages. Once the coffee is in bags, robotic arms stack boxes and prepare the coffee for distribution.

Retail and coffee shop robotic baristas

Perhaps the most novel part of robotic coffee production is the robotic barista. Because they are client-facing - as opposed to robotic arms on the production line, which are out of the customer's sight - they are what most people think of when they're discussing robotic coffee systems.

These are still relatively rare, but you'll find them occasionally: robotic arms used as baristas in coffee shops. They can handle everything from grinding beans to making and serving the cup. 

As with other applications where robotic arms are used, the benefits of using robotic arms for serving up coffee include consistency, efficiency, safety, and cost savings. 

Brands of robotic arms for coffee manufacturing

Among the brands of robots you already know so well, you'll find several that have solutions specifically tailored to coffee manufacturing:

Doosan Robotics are known for their safe and effective collaborative robots. This company makes Dr. Presso, which it calls an "unmanned cafe module, open 24 hours".

Kuka robots also have a solid reputation, and are known for their ability to automate many different tasks. As part of quality control, one of their robots takes a sample from every bag at a coffee manufacturing facility in Belgium. (https://www.kuka.com/en-us/industries/solutions-database/2018/10/avt-seabridge)

ABB collaborative robots are used extensively in the food and beverage industry. They are a leader in packaging and palletizing solutions for the coffee industry.

Conclusion: robotics in coffee production is more than robotic baristas

Robotic baristas are taking coffee creation to new levels. They can adjust grind size, brewing time, milk froth levels, and water temperature. They can replicate the exact process for each cup - serving up coffee much faster than their human counterparts can. And they can manage complex tasks such as tamping coffee grounds precisely and steaming milk to the right texture. They can even up the ante on latte art.

But remember, a lot of the real robotic magic is happening behind the scenes. The harvesting, the drying and roasting, the quality control and the packaging and distribution of coffee: all of these aspects of coffee production are increasingly benefitting by robotics and automation. 

No matter what phase of production you're looking at, we'd be glad to offer you some insights and tips for adding robotics to your processes. Ask Devonics Automation for a consultation today!


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