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A Rocky Road to Roasting

A Rocky Road to Roasting

"There are 256 different constituents that change the characteristics in wine," says entrepreneur Boyd Guildner. "In coffee, there are more than 850, and we're still learning about them." The ability to adjust for those 850 characteristics is what makes Guildner's job designing roasters for the San Diego-based Ponderosa Roasting Maintenance & Manufacturing Inc., something he started doing in 2000, such a challenge.

But designing the roasting machines isn't Guildner's only job. He and his wife Cheryl are the only employees of Ponderosa. He brings a background as an electrician who worked with motor controls. In addition to installing and upgrading another manufacturer's roasters, he also installed a complete roasting facility for Krispy Kreme, capable of producing 12 million pounds of coffee per year. Cheryl brings a background in IT, which she applies to the programming of the touch-screen controls on the roasters. But she also welds the roasters together.

What helps entrepreneurs like the Guildners is software, software that takes their vision and turns it into reality. Boyd Guildner has dealt with a lot of software since co-founding Ponderosa, and not always happily. He's had to deal not only his own, but the software of the metal fabricators he's used to take his plans from paper to fruition. Just because he's an entrepreneur doesn't mean he has any less trouble managing the design transition from imagination to reality.

Today Guildner uses Autodesk Inventor, the company's 3D design and prototyping tool, but he started out working with the 2D AutoCAD LT. It wasn't easy, but he persisted. Fortuitously, a Krispy Kreme colleague who designed its retail stores also taught AutoCAD LT at night. But designing was one thing and building was another. "When I first started building the roasters, I would take my 2D plans to a sheet-metal shop, and I learned how difficult it was to make a 2D drawing come out the way I was seeing it in my mind." Too many times, the design did not match reality when the metal pieces were built; they wouldn't fit together when it came time to assemble them.

Those kinds of mismatches don't work generally, but in Ponderosa's custom-built world, it was especially frustrating. "There is a lot of sugar inside a coffee bean," explains Guildner, "and depending on how you apply the heat and change the characteristics of the bean, you change the sugar and the characteristics of the cup." You can change the time of the roast; the ratio between convection and conduction of heat when the beans are roasting; the speed at which the drum holding the beans revolves; even the airflow of the roaster to affect the humidity within the roaster.

Guildner wanted to be able to combine the electronics of the touch-screen with the mechanics of the roaster itself to give his customers a way to roast beans in a highly customizable way, based on their customers' preferences.

That meant the design software had to be easy enough to accommodate smoothly any changes Guildner wanted to make. After a move from Colorado to San Diego, he found himself working with a metal shop that was using Dassault's SolidWorks.

He was still having trouble translating the information from his 2D design tool into SolidWorks, and realized that he'd have to switch to a 3D design tool. He was considering switching to SolidWorks. When Autodesk brought out Inventor, he decided to amortize his current AutoCAD knowledge and stick with the company, and was still frustrated. "I struggled for two years with Inventor," he admits, and was about to make the switch to SolidWorks when another fortuitous connection occurred.

Guildner got a call from a salesperson at an Autodesk systems integrator called Hagerman & Company. "When she said she wanted to talk about Inventor, I offered to sell my version back to her," says Guildner. "But after a visit to check out our needs, she got an engineer on the line with me, who set up a Web conference, and in about four hours, I was drawing in 3D."
Once he had the proper training, Guildner was in a different world. He realized that he had been fighting the software. "I wasn't using the software the way it was designed to work. I'd design the part outside, bring it in to the software, and discover it didn't fit. With Inventor, I realized I could design parts within the software's Assembly module. Now when I make a change, the change is propagated throughout the design. Now I know what I'm doing in the software translates to the sheet metal shop."

"Now when the pieces I design are created by the sheet metal shop and bent, all the holes fit. Everything I struggled with has been taken care of," he says. For the industrial controls, he uses Red Lion Software. "I'd never done programmable logic controller work before, but now, thanks to Inventor, we can take the electrical drawings and route the wires so that when it's ready to be assembled, the wire numbers and the colors are all there in the right length." Boyd had used a few different PLCs prior to Red Lion, but "it the best one on the market for the needs of what we were trying to accomplish in a roaster."

Now that it's easier to design the roasters, the Guildners have more time accommodate their customers, who are all over the world. "Our customers realize that they're getting a one-on-one relationship with manufacturer. I had a customer call from Australia last night wanting to know how to make a change. Because we can view the controls over the customers' Internet connection, we were able to help them do exactly what they wanted to do. That saves us costly travel expenses and time. Better yet, it's a very exhilarating feeling knowing we can do that for our customers."

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