© Mattia Balsamini | Fotogloria

Incubators: Better than any hen

The Italian company Borotto manufactures incubators for people who want to raise hens, ducks, or other birds as a hobby. ebm-papst’s technology helps to ensure that healthy and happy chicks can hatch.

Andrea Borotto has a passion: raising hens. It is one that runs in the family. He is the third generation of chicken enthusiasts in his family. But as passion alone wasn’t enough to make a living from, he made it a career. He became a salesman and started selling incubators to others who also keep a few birds as a hobby. However, his customers were not entirely happy. He kept receiving feedback about one shortcoming or another. So, Andrea decided to build the units himself. “I wanted to design professional appliances that are still affordable for private households,” he says. In 2008, he thus founded his own company in Buttapietra, south of Verona.

Maintaining warmth and moisture

Andrea’s devices are more reliable than any hen. Because hens do not always brood (sit on their eggs) as much as necessary, chicks do not always hatch. It takes around 21 days, and Andrea knows exactly what it takes to make this undertaking successful: “For the first 18 days, there must be a constant temperature of 37.7 degrees Celsius, at 40 to 50 percent humidity. Then the hatching phase begins, where 60 to 65 percent humidity is required. To ensure that the same conditions are present throughout the incubator, a fan distributes the air evenly.”

In addition, the eggs have to be moved again and again, or the embryos will die. This is why Andrea has integrated a kind of tilt mechanism into his units, which tilts the eggs 45 degrees from left to right every hour. Once the chicks hatch, they remain in the incubator for a few hours to dry, before going outside.

Andrea Borotto in his production facility. The next project for a larger machine is already being planned. (Photo: Mattia Balsamini | Fotogloria)

Andrea offers several versions of the incubators, from a small one for eight eggs, to larger ones that can hold 49. The specialist also includes larger incubators for up to 900 eggs, for the professional sector, in his product range. More than just chickens can be hatched in these incubators. Other birds which could peck their way into the world for the first time in them include guinea fowl, ducks, pheasants, and even exotic species such as parrots. His business is buzzing, and he is also finding an increasing number of buyers outside Italy. “It’s like the microwave at the beginning of the 1980s. Nobody needed them, but then everybody suddenly had one.” He adds that the fact that his incubators are made in Italy was also received positively by his customer base.

In 2018, Andrea decided that it was time to start selling to the US and Canadian markets, too. However, he did not have the required UL certificate. Every part of his incubators had to meet the American safety certifier’s requirements, or he would not have permission to sell them there. The problem was that his fan supplier did not have the certificate. So he started looking for a new supplier who would be able to offer the UL certificate. That’s when he found what he was looking for and sent us an email.

Solution with fans from ovens and refrigerators

When Pierantonio Banfi from technical sales at ebm-papst Italy read the email, his curiosity was piqued straight away. Normally, he sold products that met those requirements to manufacturers of household appliances. The UL certificate was not a hurdle. Since ebm-papst’s customers sell all over the world, almost all fans have this certification anyway. But incubators? He went to Buttapietra to get an impression on site. There, he learned how important it was for the motor to be as light as possible, and that ideally, it should not transmit vibrations, as they could harm the embryos. “When I saw the design of the incubator, I saw right away that we could offer a better solution,” says Pierantonio. He thought about the fan impellers and motors that ebm-papst designed for ovens and refrigerators. But would it be possible to use them for incubators as they were?

Homogeneous air distribution within the incubators is crucial for their quality. (Photo: Mattia Balsamini | Fotogloria)

He contacted ebm-papst’s site in Landshut. There, Hans-Jürgen Withopf, Product Manager in the Home Appliance Industry department, was able to help. Incubators were new territory for this expert, too. But of course, he knew the key aspects to consider to ensure even air distribution. “An even temperature is important for ovens and refrigerators, as well. But when it comes to sensitive areas in particular, such as medical applications or laboratory equipment, it becomes essential. So in those applications, the fan has to work especially reliably.” This is the case in Borotto’s incubators, too, which also only offer limited space for the fan impeller. “That’s similar too in fridges!” So Hans-Jürgen suggested a fan impeller like the ones commonly used in freezer cabinets. Another advantage is that the blades are curved backwards to better dissipate particles. These can occur when the chicks break through the egg shell, for example.

 “I was impressed by the professionalism. If somebody just wants to sell me something, I don’t want to know. But if you can help me solve my problems, I’m all ears.”

Andrea Borotto, Managing Director of Incubatrici Borotto

For the motor, Hans-Jürgen decided on a solution that suited the requirements perfectly. It should be durable and robust, and should withstand the warm and humid conditions. “Our motors are ideal for this. What’s more, they are also very quiet, and produce hardly any vibrations.” The motor and fan impeller are perfectly attuned to each other, so the current consumption remains low. The motor ­winding transmits almost no heat, so that the sensitive temperature balance is not thrown out of kilter. Pierantonio from ebm-papst Italy therefore had a tailor-made solution to take back to Buttapietra.

The incubators conquer the world

Andrea is completely satisfied. Now, he can sell his incubators in the USA and Canada. And he has also decided to use ebm-papst products for his existing devices in other markets. “I was impressed by the professionalism,” says Andrea. “I have 42 suppliers, and there are a lot of competitors. If somebody just wants to sell me something, I don’t want to know. But if you can help me solve my problems, I’m all ears. And that was the case at ebm-papst.”

The business prospects are rosy: In 2019 Borotto sold 4,800 incubators with ebm-papst technology; in 2020 it was 8,000, and a figure of around 16,000 is anticipated for 2021. The next project with ebm-papst is already in the planning stages: “For professional machines for up to 900 eggs, they suggested that I try using tangential fans.” 

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