Is revolutionising the system cleaning
With the Schaerer ProCare cleaning system, Schaerer is completely rethinking everything we know about the system cleaning of professional coffee machines: The Schaerer ProCare add-on module provides acidic and alkaline cleaning agents for one hundred fully automatic cleaning cycles of the coffee and milk system. This system cleaning can be carried out for up to three months without staff involvement. The desired time can be individually programmed by the operator. This means the Schaerer ProCare ensures maximum hygiene, has positive effects on the service life of the coffee machines and also reduces operating costs thanks to the optimised cleaning agent supply and less need for servicing. The Schaerer ProCare came on the market in the spring of 2023. Laurent Häfliger, Project & Life Cycle Manager at Schaerer and Felipe Quintans, Product Manager, are part of the 15-person development team. We talked to them about the background of the development process and the special features of this innovative solution.
Laurent Häfliger: The development of the Schaerer ProCare started in 2019 as part of an innovation project. The focus was on the idea of fundamentally changing the cleaning process by automating it to such an extent that system cleaning is basically no longer an issue for our customers. Hygiene, servicing, handling, transport – the aim was to improve all this with the new solution. We had many ideas of how to do this; for example, one was meant to work similarly to our Uptime decalcification cartridge. With this system, the decalcifying powder is stored in a cartridge that is screwed directly into the machine. The idea was for the new system to also automatically feed the cleaning agent to the machine and supply it over a long period of time.
Laurent Häfliger: There are already automatic systems on the market that store cleaning agents for a certain period of time. The unique thing about the Schaerer ProCare is that we use cleaning agents in powder form, which is filled into bags. In the Schaerer ProCare module, they fill with water to supply the two solutions necessary for the cleaning process: Alkaline for the coffee system and alkaline and acidic solutions for the milk system. The chemical laws of supersaturated solutions are decisive for the operating principle: A solvent – in this case water – can only dissolve powder until it is saturated to the maximum. For the Schaerer ProCare, this means: Powder remains at the bottom of the bag until it has dissolved completely in water. This is the case after one hundred cleaning cycles. The highly concentrated solution created at the top is suctioned off, diluted with water and fed into the machine. It is continuously checked by a sensor and water is added in a controlled manner to make sure that the optimum concentration is achieved until the end. Only when the powder is completely used up does a new bag have to be inserted. We have applied for a patent for this unique operating principle.
Felipe Quintans: Reliable cleaning that ensures maximum process reliability and hygiene on the one hand and that makes work easier for staff on the other has always been in demand. The cleaning systems installed in Schaerer coffee machines already work very reliably. However, operating errors do still occur in practice: For example, people forget to add cleaning agent or add too much, thinking “a lot helps a lot”. In the worst case scenario, cleaning is sometimes unfortunately put off to the last possible minute, which is not only questionable in terms of hygiene, but also shortens the service life of the machine. Customers have informed us of these challenges and their feedback has confirmed that our decision to push ahead with the development of the Schaerer ProCare was the right one, especially considering that the industry is increasingly facing staff shortages or high staff turnover. This means that ensuring that new staff are adequately trained or that a small number of employees carefully carry out all the work steps under time constraints is getting harder and harder. With the Schaerer ProCare, our customers have one less worry, since the cleaning process is completely taken out of the hands of employees. The time can also be individually programmed and the complete system cleaning takes about 15 minutes.
Another requirement, which also stemmed from the market, has to do with business models that offer self-service coffee, for example in offices or in public areas such as airports. The goal here is to reduce service work on the machines done by staff, thereby saving on staff deployment and travel costs. Operators also benefit from the Schaerer ProCare in this case, since staff don’t have to worry about system cleaning for up to one hundred days. That means the service requirements are significantly lower.
Laurent Häfliger: For our approach, we needed a cleaner that dissolves slowly in water, unlike the cleaning tabs we are all familiar with. This was one of the biggest challenges. That’s why we brought our existing partner on board, which makes the cleaning tablets for Schaerer coffee machines. Together with the professionals, we managed to develop something that met our needs. The next step was to find a partner to produce the bag. Wipf AG, one of the leading packaging manufacturers in Europe, won us over. They presented us with a bag that we could use to achieve our vision of the Schaerer ProCare. The self-contained unit consisting of bag and lance impresses not only with its easy handling. Since everything is made from the same kind of plastic, the empty bag can be recycled very well. However, the extreme conditions in which the module has to operate reliably were also challenging. High temperatures and the cleaning solutions put a strain on the components, for example the valves. We invested a lot of time to achieve a stable process in the end and to ensure a long service life of the module.
Laurent Häfliger: We decided against this for two reasons: Tabs need to be refilled regularly in one of two ways, the first by completely replacing the empty magazine with a full one. However, this creates more waste since the empty plastic magazine is thrown out. The other way is for the staff to refill the magazine with new tabs. This works like with PEZ candy dispensers for children. But anyone who has ever done this knows how tedious it can be. And another point is that the highly concentrated powder mixture in the bag means we can produce a large amount of cleaning agent with relatively low weight. 600 g of powder and about six litres of water will result in an optimal cleaning solution for 100 cleaning cycles. If we wanted to stock the same amount of ready-made solution, there would have to be a 6-litre canister next to the machine. And because the Schaerer ProCare has two bags, there would actually have to be two canisters. So the bag system requires much less space. It is also more reliable and takes up less space during transport, which also has a positive impact on logistics costs and the environmental footprint. Also: In the mid-term, we plan to expand the Schaerer ProCare for machine descaling. We have already created the foundation here by stocking the acidic cleaning solution, because acid dissolves all mineral deposits, so limescale as well as milk stone or magnesium.
Felipe Quintans: We wanted a holistic solution that would provide as much assistance to staff as possible. That’s why the Schaerer ProCare module holds one bag of alkaline and one of acidic cleaning agent. The alkaline solution is used for the coffee system, and both are used for the milk system, as this is the most efficient way to clean parts that come into contact with milk. Cheesemakers and other milk-processing companies have used them for centuries. Only the so-called last mile, meaning the connecting hose between the machine and the milk container, still has to be manually connected to the Schaerer ProCare. But this is very simple and is done when filling up the milk, for example. Simply take the end piece out of the milk container and insert it into the Schaerer ProCare module. The hose is then rinsed automatically. A nice side effect: When filling or cleaning the milk container, the end of the hose is out of the way, so it does not hang down and drip on anything.
Felipe Quintans: At the Internorga 2022 in Hamburg, we had the chance to present the Schaerer ProCare to the public for the first time as a “showcase” and, of course, gather feedback from the market. Another milestone was when we connected the system to the coffee machines in our offices. We were very pleased that the feedback from the housekeeping staff, who take care of the machines, was entirely positive.
Laurent Häfliger: Our pre-host event in the autumn of 2022, when we invited partners and customers from all over the world to Zuchwil, was also special. We presented the operating principle of the Schaerer ProCare in a very creative way. When a team member asked me if I had tonic water at home, at first I didn’t know what he was getting at. The explanation: The quinine in tonic water glows when UV light is shined on it. And so the idea for a “night club” presentation was born. So I got some quinine at the pharmacy, we dissolved it in water, and at first nothing happened! Then we realised that it only works with acidic liquids – so when we added it to our acidic cleaning solution, it really wowed us! At the event, we presented it to partners and customers in a darkened room, which really amazed them.