Cafe bar, series 6B, metal / plastic / glass, designed by Nielsen Design Associates, made by Cafe Bar International, Australia, 1987
In 1964, a bulky metal Cafe Bar was designed to replace the office tea-trolley ritual. Unlike tea attendants it didn't need to be paid a wage and didn't answer back! in 1974, the 'Compact' version was developed by Nielsen Design. Its smooth, easy to clean plastic lines and 'butterfly' dispensing valve led to exports to 18 countries.
When Cafe Bar International targeted 'yuppie' tastebuds in the 1980s, Nielsen Design came up with this machine, the 'Sensorbrew'... percolated coffee at the touch of a button. It won an Australian Design Award and Prince Philip Prize in 1982.
Originally designed by Nielsen Design Associates 1977-1980. Made by Cafe Bar International. First released on the market in late 1981- early 1982.
Winner of an Australian Design Award and Prince Philip Prize in 1982
Nielsen Design Associates were approached by Cafe Bar in September 1977 to design an alternative to the Compact. The patent on the butterfly valve was due to expire in 1983, raising the possibility of more competitors entering the market place. Market research had also indicated that there was and opportunity to enhance the image of the Cafe Bar product by providing a greater range of functions. Of particular interest was the requirement for fresh brewed tea and coffee in addition or as an alternative to the instant drinks.
Design work began in November 1977. The brief required the development of a machine which as well as supplying the usual drinks such as tea, coffee, soup and chocolate plus sugar and whitener would also allow the user to make a litre of fresh brewed tea or coffee. The optional brew facility was to include a temperature controlled hot plate. Additionally the maintenance and cleaning was to be made easier for the customer and service deparment and a 'new look' was required to take the product through the 1980s. Most important was to find an alternative to the butterfly valve as an ingredient dispensing mechanism and if possible, single point dispensing operation. In addition was the option for the unit to be operated by a coin or token.
An electromechanical device was used as the new dispensing mechanism which allowed electronic control of ingredients and 'modern' push button operation and timing for the brewer option. The water tank was placed in the base of the machine and water pumped up as required. This reduced the bulk of the machine, made it more stable and easier to clean. This new configuration also made it easier to add on the optional brewer components within the confines of the body.
The final design proposal presesented to Cafe Bar in February 1979 consisted of three models, the Brewer, the Vendor and the Standard, created by simply adding mechanical components to the standard model. This was a new approach for Cafe Bar and provided them with a considerable marketing advantage.
The proposal was received positively by Cafe Bar and detailed development continued with Cafe Bar technical staff and culminated in a full sized prototype which was tested for several months. In parallel with this activity Cafe Bar staff were finalising the development of plumbing and electronic components. The first production machines were produced in February 1981. However delays in the development of the electronic control system and production of the circuit boards delayed the Series 6 launch until May 1981.
Most structural/appearance components of the machine are moulded in ABS, the hot water tank is stainless steel. The colour was aimed at blending in with office environments, and conveniently the beige colour was one of the few available in food approved ABS. The working surface of stainless steel adds a visual contrast and also provides a more appropriate surface for mounting the hot plate.
At the launch of the product, Cafe Bar was excited about this totally new concept in dispensing. The 'ultra-modern' design with new features and benefits was the first such electronic machine at the time. The sales and advertising commenced immediately and the response was very high. The Series 6B model was most popular with the Corporate sector and the fresh brew facility a major selling point.
However, shortly after the release of the Series 6 range, almost every machine failed in use. This was a major crisis for the company, but the electronic faults and service problems persisted, and a difficult decision was made to recall the early production models. The prevented further problems from occurring and protected the market credibility of the product.
The three models were released again in late 1981- early 1982. Work continued in research and development and in 1985 a new Series 6 range called 'Sensor Touch' was released. The Sensor range had new electronics and more advanced features, however technical problems continued and in 1987 Sensor Mk II was released, with most if not all the problems rectified.
Despite these problems the Series 6 model received an Australian Design Award and the Series 6B, the Prince Philip Prize in 1982.
This period was the most difficult that Cafe Bar had to endure in its operating life. But despite all of these problems the Compact remained the biggest selling unit world wide.
Nielsen. C, 'Cafe Bar Series 6 case study', Design in Australia, Dec 1981, p 12-13.
'Cafe-Bar: a history', Cafe-Bar International, Brunswick, Vic. 1990