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Reports From the Road
Rancilio Factory Tour
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: March 31, 2011
Article rating: 7.9
feedback: (8) comments | read | write
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In the town of Parabiago, Italy, Rancilio is a longstanding family business. Roberto Rancilio opened his first espresso machine factory in what was not much more than a shed, in Parabiago where he started building a few machines each month. Prior to the Second World War, the business was humble, small, and personal: primarily Roberto working on the machines, developing a few new looks and designs, and keeping everything extremely hands on.

After the war, Rancilio started to really grow as a company. The factory expanded and expanded on its original location near the centre of the sleepy town, until finally business became so big it was time to move and build a new factory: a factory ready for what the future held.

The new Rancilio factory was built just outside of Parabiago, and it is quite big. Big enough that it composes three large buildings: the main factory itself, the administration and showroom offices, and a large social centre / training facility / mega cafe and restaurant for all the Rancilio staff. This is no small operation any longer.

But it is still very much a family run business, and a business were every employee is treated like members of the family. One example is lunch - the workers all have access to some amazing food in the Rancilio cafeteria. I know because we ate there one day, and the food offerings were fantastic - and all for the price of one euro. There is a soccer pitch. There are frequent company benefits, parties, celebrations. Every worker we saw there seemed to really enjoy their work.

As for the factory itself, it is pretty much state of the art when it comes to the manufacturing of espresso machines, yet is still very much hands on. These are definitely hand-built machines (no robots here, save for the ones that control the stock of parts). There is a research and development lab with 10 employees. There is a genuine assembly line with machines on rollers / conveyors. There are countless testing stations along the way for checking and rechecking everything from leaks to electrical problems. There is a torture chamber for machines that we saw in action, where a random machine off the assembly line is made to do things no ordinary machine in a caffe will have to do in 10 lifetimes. There is a great sense of order and flow in the factory that shows Rancilio makes a quality product. The factory can also work quickly - their record day is 112 machines (commercial only) built, which is a phenomenal number when you consider all the work involved and the handbuilt nature.

In our walking tour of the factory, we saw just about everything, and Rancilio's representative, Vittorio Bonissi (our guide and Rancilio's Methods & Standards manager) was extremely open about everything. Nothing was off the record or too sensitive to photograph.

I was also surprised at the number of machines Rancilio builds. They manufactured around 17,000 commercial machines last year, and a mind-blowing 22,000 Rancilio Silvias (counted outside of their commercial production). Those are both extremely huge numbers: think about this - the average commercial machine price is in the $7,500-$9,000 range, and they made 17,000+ of them!

I came away from the tour extremely impressed with how this company started 3 generations ago with Roberto Rancilio and still run today by the Rancilio family, manages to build nearly 40,000 commercial and domestic espresso machines each year.

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In the Showroom
Before our tour, Glenn Surlet (centre) talking to a few of the attendees about what to expect. Trevor Corlett from Madcap Coffee (left) and Sam Lewontin of World Bean (back).
Entering the Factory
Just entering the factory, also on the tour was Paul Rekland from Intelligensia (with bag, right) and Jeff Chean of Supreme Bean (holding cellphone).
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Rows of Boilers
Rancilio makes all their own boilers which go through quite a rigorous testing. All shapes, sizes, materials (copper, brass, steel). Different configurations too, including vertical.
Boiler's First Stage
Boilers are stamped out flat, and rolled on the roller machine in the foreground. I was actually surprised at how thin they were.
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Lining Boilers Up
A worker lines up the rolled boiler "hulls" of different sizes. They can produce 100s a day.
Heat Exchanger Assembly
On the bench are all the parts that go into various heat exchangers inside Rancilio's boilers.
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Custom Leather
Rancilio does a LOT of custom work, including these custom leather panels, which are very precision fitted using the same techniques in high end Italian cars.
Boiler Assembly
Vittorio Bonissi explains how the boilers go together and how Rancilio's heat exchanger system works.
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Weld Testing
One of several quality control checking stations where the boiler's seals are checked and tested.
Welded, Tested, Not Done Yet
These boilers have been welded, heat treated, tested, the works, but still get a final clean and polish.
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Heat Exchanger
Vittorio Bonissi holds up one of Rancilio's heat exchanger systems.
Wrapped Boilers
These are completed boilers, after all their cleaning and testing is done. Wrapped with insulation.
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More Bench Testing
The amount of testing and quality control at the factory is impressive. Seemed like every second work area was dedicated to not building, but quality control.
Body Frames
Here's just a small portion of a huge area containing frames for Rancilio's Class line of machines.
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Assembly Line Starts Here
Vittorio Bonissi shows us the start of a very long assembly line for all the main Rancilio machines (and some 2nd-brand machines the company also assembles).
On the Line
A Rancilio Epoca on the assembly line as it passes through various worker stations.
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Boilers with Groups
Here, a row of vertical boilers are lined up with the group assemblies and solenoids already attached.
These are non saturated groups, but are serious pieces of brass metal attached via heavy brass fittings to the boilers. The design works good in always-on machines.
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Epoca Bodies
Row after row after row of single and two group Epoca body frames waiting to get onto the assembly line.
Lever Mania!
Rancilio makes a variety of lever machines in various group configurations. They even make 110V single group lever machines in the Class 6, 7 and 8 lineup. I may buy one! :D
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Lever Assemblies
Levers are very oldschool, but still some great technology in espresso today. Hoping all levers will be even better tomorrow.
Down the Assembly Line
A Class machine slowly moving down the assembly line.
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Machine in stages
A Class series machine on the assembly line.
The beautiful and polished lever headers ready to be added to machines.
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Rancilio's Preinfusion System
One of the more interesting things in the factory - Rancilio's RE groups. These work much like the Speedster, in that they have a two gear position system - first gear is preinfusion only; second gear is full pump. Solenoid stays open between gears.
Miles of Groups
Miles of polished, completed group assemblies ready to get assembled into machines.
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Torture Chamber
Pity these poor Class machines, randomly pulled and put through massive torture, like constant 4 nozzle milk steaming tests (as pictured).
This is barely 1/10th the entire factory, and it is mainly the storage area for assembled boilers. Hundreds, if not thousands.
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Super Autos
Rancilio became a "Group" company, and a multinational one when they bought Egro in Switzerland a few years ago. They assemble Egro super autos in the Parabiago factory, as seen here.
Super Auto Group Assembly
Glenn Surlett shows us the Egro's brewing group assembly. Very technical stuff, with a fairly large group (around 47mm). Not as big as manual machines, but bigger than many super autos.
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The only real robots we saw in the factory was this ginormous parts sorting system that kept track of every little nook and device.
Stainless Steel Boilers
Rancilio mainly uses stainless steel boilers in their Egro super autos. I'd like to see the tech move onto traditional machines.
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Well, they are, aren't they? Super Automatic assembly and testing area. Quite intense. These are also Rancilio's only dual boiler machines.
The factory was so huge, I only got this photo showing maybe half of it. It's surprisingly quiet in there too (it is noisy, but not earplug-requiring noise).

Anyone in the business of coffee can arrange a visit to the Rancilio Factory. Even competitors, including La Marzocco people have visited in the past. If you would like to arrange a visit, visit their contact page fill out some details and the company should get back to you.

Article rating: 7.9
Author: Mark Prince
Posted: March 31, 2011
feedback: (8) comments | read | write
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