Espresso machines are a technical marvel. These expertly crafted appliances have come a long way since their first inception in the late 1800s. The 19th-century steam pressure system has evolved into pump-driven and electrical technology. Baristas are now able to dial in using apps on their smartphone, without even touching the machine itself.
But what happens when a machine breaks, or becomes a bit outdated, and needs to be refurbished? To find out, I spoke with Francesco Bernasconi, Sales Manager at espresso machine manufacturer Dalla Corte and the man responsible for the inception of their refurbishment programme.
Lee este artículo en español Cómo se Reacondicionan Las Máquinas de Espresso, Paso a Paso
A shot of espresso. Credit: Julio Guevara
Why Do We Buy Refurbished Espresso Machines?
There are many reasons refurbished machines are in demand, but two of the biggest are the reduced environmental impact and the huge financial savings.
Some refurbished espresso machines can cost as little as half of their original sales price, while still maintaining high standards of appearance and quality. With brand-new commercial machines selling for thousands, refurbished ones can be a tempting choice for those on a budget.
It can also be a more sustainable and environmentally conscious investment. It reduces the number of new parts that need to be manufactured and the amount of material that needs to be recycled or taken to landfill. Refurbishing generates less waste, as well as using less resources.
Refurbishing an old machine can also make it less hazardous. Piping and soldering in older machines can contain lead, which can leach into the water that comes into contact with these components. The continuous ingestion of this water could have potentially harmful effects on our organs.
Francesco explains that at Dalla Corte, replacing old piping and soldering with lead-free components is of huge importance in the refurbishment process. The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) law created by the European Union inhibits the use of any components and substances containing over a certain amount of lead in electrical products.
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Boxed and refurbished Dalla Corte Evolution espresso machines, ready for shipping. Credit: Dalla Corte
How Espresso Machines Are Refurbished
While the steps needed will vary according to the machine and its issues, the process will follow this order:
1. Receiving The Machine & Diagnosing Issues
The first step is evaluation. Especially with older machines that may not have been used in a while, pest control is important. This involves removing the outer casing and visually checking for any signs of insects or rodents, such as droppings or nests. If such signs are discovered, the appropriate means are used to eliminate pests and any traces of them.
Once the outer casing is replaced, the espresso machine can be plugged in and switched on. Some issues will be immediately obvious, e.g. electronics that no longer work or a steam wand that doesn’t function correctly.
However, some issues may be more difficult to locate and fix. Trained technicians will be required in order to find and resolve them. Francesco oversees Dalla Corte’s Second Chance programme, in which inmates in Bollate Penitentiary, Milan work alongside technicians to disassemble, fix, and refurbish Evolution espresso machines.
He tells me that they use a software program to detect issues. “Our machine can tell you via alarms what the issue is… Our [technicians]… will know exactly what to do and how to promptly fix the problem.”
Two espresso-based beverages. Credit: Neil Soque
After diagnostics have been run – and most importantly, after the machine has been completely switched off and unplugged – then it’s time to disassemble the machine.
It should be stripped down completely. All panels and trays need to be removed to leave the frame with the piping, group heads, and boilers still intact. From there, each part can be carefully removed from the framework. They should be inspected for any signs of damage and thoroughly cleaned.
Francesco tells me that some components can be recycled. “The most important parts… copper, brass, and metal parts are completely, 100% recycled. Sometimes [we send] them back to our main suppliers, like the foundry that forges our… group heads.”
Once the machine is disassembled and cleaned, it’s possible to know which parts need fixing or replacing. Certain components will usually need to be replaced such as pumps, valves, and screens. Gaskets and O-rings will need to be reordered and replaced. These would have been cut away from the machine during cleaning.
Refurbishing the tubing of an espresso machine. Credit: Dalla Corte
Now, with the espresso machine completely disassembled, descaling can begin. “Calcium and limestone are the worst enemies of any machinery working with hot water!” Francesco says.
These stubborn substances will quickly form on any metal surface. Excessive amounts of them is the biggest reason why a machine might need refurbishing in the first place.
The boiler and pipes are the main components that will need descaling. They must be dealt with carefully since indentations could attract further limescale buildups.
“We have dedicated machinery able to descale the [required] parts,” Francesco tells me. “But again, we completely replace all [metal] parts with new ones, avoiding any future issues. The old ones will be 100% recycled.”
Without the appropriate machinery, the descaling would have to be done by hand. This would mean soaking all the components in what is typically citric acid for a long period of time. The machinery both saves time and ensures the descaling is appropriately thorough.
Descaling can be a lengthy process, especially if the components have been exposed to particularly hard water. Yet all visible evidence of the limescale must be gone before the boiler and pipes can be refitted. Sometimes, this may be impossible. When this happens, these parts should be recycled and replaced with a new boiler and piping.
A single espresso shot. Credit: Fernando Pocasangre
4. Quality Control Checks & Legislation
Using experienced and well-trained technicians is the best way to ensure quality. Francesco explains that Dalla Corte is selective about which inmates participate in the Second Chance project. “[It] is based on their basic mechanical, electronic, and hydraulic know-how,” he says, adding that they then receive extensive training and are overseen by experienced onsite technicians.
Yet quality control checks are also imperative – both for legal and ethical purposes. They guarantee that the refurbished espresso machines are not only safe to use but are of a high quality.
For example, in the UK, any equipment or machinery containing fluid at over 0.5 bars of pressure is affected by The Pressure Systems Safety Regulations (PSSR) 2000 legislation. It applies to the manufacturing, repairing, and refurbishment of equipment, even if it was originally manufactured prior to 2000. Quality control checks should make sure that the machine adheres to this, as well as reaching the technician’s standards.
Every machine should receive a quality control check, ideally performed by a different technician, and a record of this and any comments should be kept. While spot checks are often performed when there is a heavy turnover of items, for high-quality products such as refurbished espresso machines, it is better to check every single item.
An espresso-based beverage and an espresso shot. Credit: Fernando Pocasangre
5. Reassembly & The Finishing Touches
The reassembly will usually happen in reverse order to the disassembly: the boiler will be reattached to the frame first, then the piping, then the components, and finally, the trays.
“We completely rebuild the machines with brand-new material, piping, group heads, and the electric board,” Francesco tells me, adding that they all are “certified” according to European requirements and to the same standards as “a brand-new machine”.
All wiring should be double-checked by qualified electricians before the panels are attached. Then it is time for the last quality control check. “Before sending the unit back to the client, we do the final test with our… [internally used] machinery,” Francesco says.
Finally, any superficial work such as redoing the paintwork or adding branding can be done.
The Second Chance logo on a refurbished Dalla Corte Evolution. Credit: Dalla Corte
The refurbishment journey is time consuming and labour intensive, but the result is impressive. It breathes life into broken or outdated equipment. Espresso machines with history and character can perform on the same level as brand-new ones. And as refurbishment encourages more sustainable and environmentally conscious manufacturing, it brings the coffee industry further into the future.
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Feature photo: Dalla Corte espresso machines at the Second Chance project. Feature photo credit: Dalla Corte
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