IMA Coffee Petroncini’s vision for innovation

IMA Coffee Petroncini

BeanScene talks to IMA Coffee Petroncini Sales Manager Luca Giberti about the past, present, and future plans for the 102-year-old Italian manufacturer.

When a beloved family member turns 100 years old, it’s cause for celebration of a life well lived. But when coffee roasting and processing manufacturer Petroncini turned 100 in 2019, it was an injection of energy to prepare for the century ahead.

Since Ruggero Petroncini founded the company in 1919, just after the First World War, Petroncini has been globally renowned for its quality manufacturing of roasters, using a cast iron material that has become synonymous with the Italian manufacturer.

After the Giberti family acquired the business in 1991, Petroncini started producing complete coffee plant solutions, encompassing green bean coffee intake, fully automatic roasting, storage, and packaging options.

As the company has grown and evolved over the years, so too has the batch volume of Petroncini roasters, starting with its one-kilogram specialty shop roaster, TT Traditional range for small- to- medium-sized production, and its best-selling TMR models for industrial-scale needs. The largest in the range is the 720-kilogram drum roaster.

“We continue to innovate in our field and are always developing our roasters. The biggest difference from the past to now, is our roasting control system, which is able to guarantee reliability, consistency, and repeatability of the end product,” says Luca Giberti, IMA Coffee Petroncini Sales Manager.

“Once upon a time, an operator would switch on a flame to roast the coffee and follow instructions on a piece of paper. Nowadays, a computer manages the entire process by monitoring time and temperature via set roasting curves. It also has to compensate for a range of different parameters such as the different seasons and moisture in the air.”

Luca says the TMR model roaster is one of Petroncini’s greatest technical innovations thanks to its Recirculation and Heat Recovery System. The first unit was installed in Chile in 1995, and ever since, Petroncini has been committed to updating and upgrading the system to better maintain consistency.

Petroncini Co-Tube accelerates coffee’s degassing time with maximum aroma preservation.

“Now, the technology is so efficient it allows us to have no more than one second between one batch and the next, so consistency is extremely high,” Luca says.

“The benefits of these machines are considerable, and we can affirm – thanks to our customers – that TMR [is one of] the most reliable roasting control [systems] present on the market.”

The TMR excretes less carbon dioxide by using just one burner that acts as a heat generator and after burner. Profiling is controlled with fresh air intake that allows the operator to be very precise. The TMR saves, on average, 30 to 35 per cent more energy compared to traditional roasters.

Most importantly, Luca says, is its repeatability. “I always tell customers that repeatability is not about the quality of the coffee. It’s about achieving the same taste in the cup customers expect time and time again,” he says.

Luca says IMA Group’s acquisition of Petroncini in 2018 was needed to take the company to the next level. He says it’s thanks to the synergies between Petroncini and IMA, a world-leading company specialising in the manufacturing of processing and packaging technologies for pharmaceuticals, cosmetic, food, tea, coffee and more, that enabled the creation of the IMA Coffee Hub in 2018 – a one-stop shop for roasters all over the world.

“Nowadays, IMA Coffee provides complete turnkey solutions for customers, from green coffee intake systems to roasting and grinding, and from primary packaging up to the end-of-line,” Luca says.

“In this global, competitive world, customers want something new, innovative, stable and safe. Many customers have money but not knowledge, so they turn to us for our know-how and experience, and we teach them how to make the best roasting factory for their market needs. Then, there are other customers like multinationals who want everything from high-end engineering solutions to mass technological and customer support. This is all possible because of our partnership with IMA.”

Since the establishment of the IMA Coffee Hub, the company has been growing exponentially. Thanks to the support of IMA, Petroncini now has all the resources to explore new technologies and markets to keep on evolving. This includes expanding its business to Switzerland, Japan, Korea, and the Middle East, where Luca says big multinationals are recognising Petroncini’s capabilities in full plant production.

Another exciting project, to be finalised by the end of 2021, is the launch of IMA Coffee Petroncini’s new Coffee Lab, entirely dedicated to coffee technology and analysis. Covering 2000 square metres, with a more than US$2 million investment (about AUD$2.7 million), the Coffee Lab will be the starting point for many new products and research and development solutions dedicated to the coffee industry.

“The lab has been my dream since I joined the company in 2005,” Luca says. “It’s a visionary of a full industrial pilot plant within our own factory. It will demonstrate everything we are capable of producing – green coffee intake, cleaning with optical sorting, our two types of roasting options – traditional and modular, storage, degassing systems, grinding and different packaging machines for capsules and vertical bags.”

Customers will be able to test the most advanced process technologies, supported by highly qualified coffee processing trainers and consultants.

“For some customers, it’s really important to see the product before they buy. They can’t visit other customer’s factories while in production, so we’ve created our own facility for the customer to try the full line. They can come in with their coffee, use our lab for cupping and analysis, and leave with their coffee in a bag or capsule format. It’s very unique for the industry,” Luca says.

Some Coffee Lab projects are already in progress. This includes ‘AI-learning to roast’, a new control model that uses machine learning intelligence to automate the roasting process and ensure product consistency regardless of external factors.

The company is currently partnered with two universities – one in Italy, the other in the United States – to explore the possibilities of artificial intelligence. Next year, Luca says Petroncini has big plans to release the first prototype of a fully automated, ‘AI-operated’ roasting plant.

“In this way, the system becomes autonomous and less dependent on the skills of the operators,” Luca says. “AI is a new trend being used in many industries, so we thought, ‘why not apply it to coffee?’ The first step is to develop a big roasting brain that collects data on the kind of coffee and the type of product you want to achieve. Then, the machine will control all the parameters to achieve an entirely independently run roasting plant. It’s something really challenging but something very exciting.”

Another project is Petroncini’s next-generation coffee degassing system called Co-Tube, that can accelerate coffee’s degassing time with maximum aroma preservation.

“This is possible through the use of vacuum technology, which reduces the degassing time by the forced extraction of the CO2, combined with a practically zero-oxygen process condition thanks to the closed-handling system we have engineered,” Luca says. “In this way, we have maximum aroma preservation with significant impact on the product shelf life.”

Another advantage of Co-Tube is the recirculation of the product inside the silos. By controlling the nitrogen temperature, the perfect homogenisation of product and nitrogen results in a further acceleration of the degassing time.

With five per cent of Petroncini’s budget always dedicated to research and development, Luca says it’s important to continue presenting new innovations to market.

“Commitment and continuous research have worked as essential tools that have enabled Petroncini to reach very important milestones over the past 100 years,” he says.

Luca adds that an R&D team specifically dedicated to the design of new prototypes for roasting and green processing technologies has been strengthened. The research team will work in synergy with the IMA digital division to develop important projects related to Industry 4.0. IoT technologies, remote factory acceptance testing, virtual commissioning, plus cloud connectivity, with the aim of drastically improving machine quality and productivity.

Today, supported by the R&D, sales, and service organisations of IMA Group, IMA Coffee Petroncini is witnessing an important turning point in its long history, and it’s one Luca is proud to be part of.

“We have a big passion for coffee. We love what we do. We always aim to work with the customer to make their life easier, and we will continue to look to the future and grow and invest to be the best we can be,” says Luca.

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This article appeared in the October 2021 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.

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