We had the privilege of meeting Neil Maree on our travels around the country. He is a man passionate about coffee in all it's forms and with his studies in Electronic and Computer Engineering, we think he definitely found the best use possible for his skills, building coffee roasters! An accomplished barista and a judge at this years National Barista Championship (a Technical judge of course), he is a face to watch in South Africa's growing coffee industry!
This is the story of how it all began, according to the man himself:
"After moving to Potchefstroom from Knysna to study Electronic and Computer Engineering at the North-West University (Pukke) I started making coffee for my friends at parties. I trained using YouTube videos and later entered the barista champs. In 2009, I placed 3rd in Gauteng and 5th National and was also the only home barista to ever compete in the Nationals. After that, I had to combine electronics with coffee for my engineering thesis. So I developed an automation system for coffee roasters and built a small 2.5kg machine that is still in use today. The project won every prize that the faculty had available.
After university, the coffee plans were put on ice and I worked underground on Rustenburg's platinum mines. I still developed coffee roasters in my spare time. I soon got bored and approached George to help me finance a business called Genio Intelligent Roasters. The "Intelligent" stands for the automation software that I developed which is based on a dynamic PID controller algorithm, something which no other manufacturer has ever attempted.
That's Neil, the one getting up close and personal with this beautiful piece of machinery.
I spent the first 8 months developing and building our first commercial 5kg prototype which is still in use today, 2 years later. After prototyping, I went back to designing for 3 months to perfect the production model 6kg Genio Mezzo (meaning "middle" in Italian) that is in production today. My welder and I build everything by hand and it takes around 3 months to build 4 roasters. Every machine is custom built and I travel with each machine to install it personally. International quotes are never even given without including my personal travel to accompany the machines.
In 2012, George and I committed to a 3 year long research project with the North West university of R3 million. It will start in early 2013 and will be headed by a professor of control theory at the North-West university’s Electronic engineering faculty and will involve a total of 12 Masters Degree engineering students from Electronic, Chemical and Mechanical engineering. I am heading the project but will also complete my Masters degree under the project. The project will focus on developing green technologies for the coffee roasting industry. We will also develop our fully automated 15kg roaster under the project."
"Engineered to be powerful. Designed to be beautiful." We can see what you mean Neil.
This is an incredible project and TheCoffeeMag will be watching keenly as it progresses. Thank you so much to Neil for giving us a brief insight into how it all came about. Next we will have to pick his brains on the inner workings of these glorious contraptions!