We finished our bean inspection table that we mentioned a little while ago. We’re really happy with how it came out. To make the table, we first talked about the design before sketching some ideas out on paper. Once we had a general design we were happy with, we started the real production process.
The first step in that process is modeling the pieces in AutoCAD. It took a few iterations to get something we were happy with. Once we had everything modeled, we used MasterCAM to create the toolpaths for the CNC desktop router we’d be using to cut out the pieces. Getting the toolpaths exactly how we wanted them also took a bit of time, but we ended up with a nice, efficient cut. After getting everything set up in the digital world, we went to the Tech Shop to bring the parts to life. We started with an air cut to make sure our toolpath wouldn’t hit anything (work holding, bottom of table, etc) and then we cut the pieces out of foam. The foam pieces looked good, so we started cutting the pieces out of HDPE. We had to adjust the feed rates slightly, but, after a little less than an hour, the parts were all done. After that, we assembled the parts, added the mesh, and sealed the joints using a food grade silicone sealant and the table was done!
posted by cam
It’s important to inspect the beans before throwing them in the roaster as there can be lots of junk tagging along in the bag. We decided to build a bean inspection table (a glorified bin with some mesh to let the small junk fall through) to make that step better. We’ve taken some classes at the Tech Shop in the past and this seemed like the perfect time to apply those skills. We modeled the parts using AutoCAD and created the toolpaths using MasterCAM. The video shows the desktop router cutting the pieces out of HDPE. Now we just need to assemble those pieces, add the mesh, and seal everything and we’ll have a fully FDA compliant inspection table.
posted by cam
The trip was fantastic! I met a bunch of great people, including a few other chocolate makers. We know a lot about our own process but it was interesting to hear how other people approach some of the same challenges. We compared notes on machinery, roasting profiles, bean sourcing, permits, packaging, problems, etc.
Julio was an amazing guide to all things historical and natural, including this guy:
It was also great to pepper Steve with questions constantly about all kinds of topics (e.g. growing cacao, fermentation, drying, roasting, refining, bean genetics, monilia). Steve was extraordinarily generous, putting up with everything we threw at him without complaint.
I learned a bunch on the trip, particularly about how to select the best beans and what happens before they show up at our door. One of my favorite things we covered was the cut test using a device call a magra:
By cutting 50 beans all at once, we can inspect for ripeness, fermentation level, average size, and contamination and get a sense of the average quality of the beans in the bag being tested. We can then use that data to compare beans from a number of different growers and identify the best beans.
We also visited a number of different places cacao is grown in Costa Rica, including a large, well-run plantation (Finmac), a native Bribri settlement, and a “permaculture” facility. It was very interesting comparing the different techniques and results used by each group. Here’s the head of workers at Finmac showing a split open, ripe cacao pod:
It didn’t take long for people on the trip to figure out I’m a dog lover, as I’d stop to photograph many of the strays that seem to litter Costa Rica. They were often very thin and showed the scars of a tough life, but they were, for the most part, people friendly:
If you want to see more photos from my trip, I’ve posted the rest of them on Flickr.
posted by cam
After doing a bunch of tests, we realized that winnowing was easier and our yield was better when we sorted the beans into different sizes (i.e. small, medium, large). We started out doing this by hand but it was really tedious and time consuming so we decided to build a sorting machine. It took a little while to build, but we’re pretty happy with how it turned out. It sorts a lot of cracked beans quickly and it kind of sounds like rain (chocolate rain?). Now we just need to have a better loading system and rebuild it out of stainless steel…
posted by cam