The Chocolate Life

Discover Chocolate and Live La Vida Cocoa!

This series of articles is not about what machinery you need to make chocolate from the bean. It is intended to help people setting up a factory decide how to get the machinery they need, once they know what they want.


Your starting a new chocolate factory and you need machinery. You have a limited budget and you want to get it all happening asap. Buying second hand looks like a pretty good option: fast and cheap(er) and you will be making chocolate in no time ... There are pitfalls to watch out for though. I will try to outline the worst of them:

1. Reliability
2. Matching capacity
3. Opportunity cost
4. Quality/suitability


1. Reliability. Worn out equipment may be difficult to maintain and keep running. You may find that a secondhand machine costs you more in the medium term than buying new if the device breaks down repeatedly. Think of it like a second hand car: if the monthly maintenance cost is higher than the monthly repayments on the new model then you are better off upgrading even if you own the machine outright. This does not take into account the environmental cost of the upgrade, which should also be considered.


2. Matching capacity. Second hand machinery will never be a matched set. You take what you can find and what you can afford. Inevitably you will face the dilemma of having to buy a roaster that can process 100 kgs of cocoa per hour and a winnower that can process 1000 kgs per hour. This sort of compromise means that you will end up with bottlenecks in your operation and as the business grows you will find yourself continually thinking about upgrading the next piece of equipment. However if you have time available, then you can wait until the right machines come along and buy pieces that are reasonably well matched to each other


3. Opportunity cost. This can be a killer. What does it cost you to have your (second hand, forty year old) roll refiner down for weeks or months while it is pulled out, gearbox stripped down, broken part removed, a replacement fabricated, re-assembled, cleaned, and re-commissioned? And I am not talking about the direct cost of that work (that will be bad enough), I mean the cost of sales that you can't make, orders that you can't fill, trained staff that you might have to lay off (and subsequently loose).

Heavy industry like mining learned long ago that preventative maintenance was much, much cheaper than downtime. The same thing applies here and even more so for small businesses that may not have big cash reserves and definitely can't afford to risk loosing customers through delays. An unreliable, or fragile machine may appear to be a bargain, but you need to be sure that it is not a false economy


4. Quality/suitability. This issue should be a no-brainer. If you buy something, will it do the job? Yet often people don't really consider this, and it is a growing problem in our "disposable" economy. Yes, it may be cheap, but will it really do the job?

Ultimately the only way to know is to try the machine out. Most second hand machinery sellers will allow you to "try before you buy". I have been offered a two month trial of a $15,000 machine. If it didn't work the way I wanted it to, I could just send it back. Don't be afraid to lean on equipment dealers for terms like this, or an unequivocal demonstration. They want to make the sale and they know the realities of second hand machinery. For instance, don't be afraid to take a sack of beans along and run them through a breaker to be sure that the thing really does work (but do be prepared to clean up the equipment afterwards if you don't want it!).

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