JavaBot: Automating Coffee?

The next time you’re on the lower east side of Manhattan, you might want to check out the Roasting Plant Coffee shop at 81 Orchard Street. There you can get a steaming cup of your favorite variety made from freshly ground beans — by a robot. Sort of a robot, anyway. You’ll still see the familiar baristas working with customers, but a machine, known as the JavaBot, will make yo...

06/01/2008


The next time you’re on the lower east side of Manhattan, you might want to check out the Roasting Plant Coffee shop at 81 Orchard Street. There you can get a steaming cup of your favorite variety made from freshly ground beans — by a robot. Sort of a robot, anyway. You’ll still see the familiar baristas working with customers, but a machine, known as the JavaBot, will make your cup of coffee. What’s more, you can watch the whole process.

Mike Caswell, a manufacturing engineer and former Starbuck’s executive, owns the shop. He and Matt Youney, president of Youney Inc., collaborated to build Caswell’s design for an automated coffee-making concept. The system, dubbed the Roasting Plant JavaBot, has essentially enabled Roasting Plant Coffee to automate the entire coffee-making and product-delivery process.

In the shop you’ll see clear bins of coffee beans of different varieties and roasts. Each of the bins has a clear polycarbonate tube running up to the ceiling. Those beans are roasted under the supervisory control of a Wago PLC, each type according to a preprogrammed recipe. Each recipe has been developed in conjunction with leading coffee experts to optimize the preparation process, placing an emphasis on any number of variables, such as temperature, that best suit a particular bean type.

After the beans have been roasted, they are transported to holding chambers, where they await input from a barista via an HMI touchscreen. After the barista inputs the order (which can consist of a mix of beans and caffeine levels), the raw or freshly roasted beans are then delivered via a pneumatic conveyor system through polycarbonate tubes to a custom-designed grinder. During the process, patrons can watch and hear beans tumble overhead through the tubes to the grinder. As with the roaster, each grinder has been pre-programmed to ensure optimum quality and flavor.

“The entire dispensing process takes approximately three seconds, from the time the beans are delivered and processed,” says Youney. “We’ve utilized analog control and PID functionality. It’s all distributed on a network and completely integrated into the business systems, from the point-of-sale HMI terminal to bean storage in the back.”

You might ask yourself, if the barista is there anyway, why doesn’t he or she make the coffee the old fashioned way? The answer is that this isn’t an old fashioned cup of coffee. Each cup is specially made down to specific blends of beans required to provide a particular flavor and even caffeine level. While human expertise can make for the best coffee, humans aren’t always consistent. Variables, including the individual barista’s skill level, the time of day, and how many customers are waiting in line, all influence how good that cup of coffee is going to be. The JavaBot, however, will create a perfect cup every time.

“It has led to a better cup of coffee,” says Youney. “All of this is driven by repeatability — there is virtually no room for human error. The recipes have all been developed in conjunction with international roast masters. These experts sat next to us as we dialed in those recipes. Here, you taste exactly what the experts taste.”

The end of baristas?

Baristas are still a critical part of Roasting Plant Coffee. In many respects, they have more opportunity to interact with customers and assist in the selection process. They can discuss bean varietals, highlighting subtle characteristics, which helps patrons select the ideal blend for their preferences.

At the same time, JavaBot has significantly reduced wait times. In just three seconds after a patron has placed an order, the brew will begin to fill a waiting cup. Moreover, having a reproducible product also creates opportunity for savings, as efficient replication can virtually eliminate the profit-eroding “make-goods” used to placate unsatisfied patrons.

If you can’t make it to Orchard Street, rest easy; more JavaBots are on the way. Roasting Plant Coffee has plans to open up three additional stores in the New York City metropolitan area.



Author Information

Paul Garcia is creative/technical writer for Wago Corporation. Reach him at paul.garcia@wago.com .




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