© 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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