Breaking new Grounds(An Engineering Exploration in Building a Coffee Machine, part I)

After reading several books this summer I was inspired to share my story about an engineering and design exploration to build a custom coffee machine.

This story starts with a trip to Europe. Unlike other trips overseas, I had started this one while on a brief hiatus from coffee. The moment I touched down, I wanted espresso, cappuccino, or a simple well brewed cup. I should have known that would be the case, the aroma filled the air, the taste and caffeine were already pre-programmed by years of coffee drinking and the neurons were already wired and waiting for that jolt of lightning to reactivate them.

What I didn’t know at the time, is that would be the start to an engineering question: Could I design a coffee machine that produces a great cup of coffee? In retrospect, this was an insane question to be asking. There are plenty of great machines out there, from the simplest French press, to the siphon brew, to the various vacuum presses, to the high-end espresso machines. I suppose what I really wanted was to go beyond my experience in software development and engineering management to challenge myself to be more of a polymath and expand my knowledge and skills into IoT, mechanical, industrial, electronics, machining, design, and material science. The fastest way for me to learn has always been to dive deep into a new space, answer all of my most pressing questions, come back up for air, and repeat. This seemed like a fun adventure.

With most of my experience being in software, and engineering management, it was a big undertaking. When I start to build something, I like to build it with taste [pun intended]. As I would do with any engineering project, I laid out the goals, the non-goals and eventually this turned into something akin to a working requirements document with research spikes, draft designs, mini experiments, milestones and eventually a fully working prototype.

The prototype plan started with deceptively simple goals:

  • It needs to make coffee consistently, and repeatably.
  • It needs to have an aesthetic that I would appreciate on my counter (I’m a big fan of Apple® design and engineering).
  • It needs to be software, and hardware controllable for precision
  • It needs to be operated via web/mobile and Alexa®
  • It needs to be food grade, and easy to clean
  • It needs to support multiple filters, and work for different grains/grounds
  • It needs to be easily serviceable


  • The first version would not need to boil water itself, that could come later

With a rough plan in mind, and a few mini tests with off the shelf parts, plus some pen & paper sketches I had an initial concept that I thought was elegant, easy to clean, repeatable, simple in operation and able to be iterated upon. My initial drawings were embarrassingly oversimplified, lacking electronics, wiring, and proper detail but they did serve as a rough blueprint and a path to get started.

After a bit of research into what tools I would need a basic mastery of, I dove head first into learning Fusion 360®, how to code for Arduino®, learning about materials that were food safe, electro-mechanics, machining different materials, and put a rough plan together, including how to acquire the appropriate tools to the assembly plan.

In the second part of this series, I will share more details on the progress and evolution of “the machine”, the tools I’ve acquired, the skills I had to up-level on and my growing interest in HW/SW systems, 3D printing, robotics, industrial design, and engineering.

Stay tuned to learn more about the working prototype and the quest to engineer a great cup of coffee. Feel free to reach out via email @ smithxlabs [at] gmail, and follow me on twitter @ smithxlabs, and ig @ smithxlabs

© 2020 Bryan Smith All Rights Reserved.


The author assumes no responsibility or liability for any errors or omissions in the content of this site. The information contained in this site is provided on an “as is” basis with no guarantees of completeness, accuracy, usefulness or timeliness.

Fusion 360® is a registered trademark by Autodesk Inc, and is a great tool for designing and drafting

Arduino® is a registered trademark by Arduino AG and has been a great environment for getting electromechnical systems up and running.

Apple® is a registered trademark of Apple Inc

Alexa® is a registered trademark of Amazon Inc




Explorations in Engineering and Design.

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