A closer look at Probats Pilot 2020 software

Probat takes GCR through its Pilot 2020 software, a web-based control solution that allows users to proactively control coffee processes based on targeted data analysis.

Inside a roastery, there are always a number of tasks that must be completed before the last batch of coffee is ready. This may include adjusting settings on the griddle, testing batches, checking moisture and ensuring the final product is consistent.

German coffee roaster manufacturer Probat wanted to increase the efficiency of these tasks, so it built a control application from scratch with a touch-optimized interface that provides a completely new user experience focusing on essential information that monitors and controls the roasting process.

“With Pilot 2020, you can directly compare and reproduce grid profiles and thus make optimization much easier,” says Probat Executive Vice President for Electrical Engineering Sebastian Fichthorn.

Development of the Pilot 2020 software program began in 2018 when Probat reached out to its customers and visited them to see how they were using previous versions of the company’s software technology.

“On the old one [software], we used a lot of small icons and images. There were a lot of icons to learn what they meant and to remember, says Fichthorn.

This became a focus for Probat when he developed Pilot 2020. Although the icons have remained, representing small images of various settings, they have been changed so that the user can better understand what is in front of them.

“With the new application, we still have some icons, but they have descriptions in the text underneath that explain what it is they do,” says Fichthorn.

Fichthorn says the Pilot 2020 is a great accompaniment to local machine control, and the software’s cloud system, Fabscale, is ideal for connecting a number of burners in one operation through any number of devices the user connects to.

“If you want to compare each of your burners and how efficient they are, you can do this through Fabscale,” he says. “Fabscale’s core is the dashboard and KPI reporting tool, which provides the basis for many detailed domain-specific analyses.”

The Pilot 2020 system can provide immediate feedback and data from connected burners, but the information from Fabscale provides a more advanced level of data. Roasters can obtain statistics on new and previous roasts, performance, efficiency, bean color, moisture, density and energy.

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The system can process multiple tasks at the same time, as more than 150 process values ​​are recorded every second on a standard drum burner for further analysis, ensuring that the user is well aware of what is going on inside the machine.

“Energy is becoming more expensive and reducing consumption has become essential for our customers, so we have integrated a number of features and controls to save energy,” says Fichthorn. “The current consumption can, for example, be monitored with a message to the user in the event of deviations from a set target value.

“These notifications are a general property of the application. Users see a calm interface and when their attention is needed, they are directed directly to the point where the deviation occurred to make adjustments accordingly.”

Probat roasters can also be equipped with a range of smart sensors that collect data and monitor performance metrics. While each type of sensor has a different function, each enables increased production quality, safety and productivity.

The inline moisture measurement, for example, enables precise control of the residual moisture level in roasted coffee through a microwave sensor. Inline color measurement continuously records the color value curve of the coffee beans instead of controlling the roasting process as a function of product temperature and time.

In each case, Pilot 2020 automatically adjusts the relevant parameters to maintain the target values.

Adjustments like this can be seen in a variety of settings on Pilot 2020, including a customizable interface that allows users to choose which stats are visible.

Once these settings are in place, the Pilot 2020 system ensures that the result meets the set targets and that each roaster produces a consistent product to the satisfaction of the roaster.

Administrative tasks can also be laid out in the Fabscale system, acting as reminders for the machine and the staff using it.

“You can schedule maintenance and set up maintenance plans,” says Fichthorn. “With the help of the clear machine status map, it is possible to quickly find out why the plant’s overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) does not correspond to the target value.”

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A point of pride in the development of Pilot 2020, according to Fichthorn, was the multi-layered steps in troubleshooting situations. In the event that a problem should arise with a grater, the program will have a plan in place regardless of the problem.

“We concentrated on troubleshooting the alarm system,” he says. “Customers are able to build their own knowledge base with the alarm system as they can put commands on individual alarms that will relay the information to their colleagues.”

This enables a fully customizable troubleshooting operation as the user can create their own message for a specific type of problem. Should the alarm go off, the Pilot 2020 system will issue a message that explains exactly what the problem is and a further explanation from the user.

“For different kinds of alarms, you can add your own pictures and videos that explain what to do in that situation,” says Fichthorn.

This level of customization is not only shown in the debugging phase. The entire Pilot 2020 solution is designed to focus on the type of information the user needs to know to hit the company’s KPIs.

To date, the Pilot 2020 system has been installed in more than 80 Probat machines.
“When you roll out a new custom product, you can expect some issues, but [the developers] did an excellent job and it’s running really well,” he says. “We’ve seen a lot of positive feedback and results from customers, especially in terms of the ease of use and the data they can get out of it.”

One customer told Probat that the Pilot 2020 software is “as easy to use as an iPad” and that they could give it to their child and they would know how to use it.

“We take such comments as a compliment,” he says. “We have created a good package of technology that is not too much to handle.”

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This article was first published in the November/December 2023 issue of the Global Coffee Report. Read more here.

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