Craft Brewer Improves Efficiency and Profits with an Open Mind to Automation

While brewing companies haven’t traditionally been early adopters of automation, one leading craft brewer in the Southwest proved that being open to technology can go a long way toward making brewers more competitive, boosting profits, and even enhancing the taste of the beer while saving a boatload of time. Emerson’s Jared Edwards with Rosemount recently shared how they did it.

Craft breweries share a number of challenges:

  • Lots of manpower is needed to run a brewery; turnover is common
  • Making new recipes to stay current in the market means batch performance isn’t always consistent
  • Brewing tanks and the room needed for them is expensive
  • Industry growth means that existing space and assets need to be used efficiently to compete
  • Sourcing reliable labor can be difficult; many brewers wish to be able to do more with fewer people

 When they came to Emerson with a challenge, this brewer was already known for its acceptance of new technology. The company’s goal was to automate specific gravity with temperature control, the measurement most critical to the success of brewing. Beer is basically sweet barley tea, boiled with hops, and fermented with brewing yeast. As each recipe varies, the amount and health of the yeast and the fermentation temperature all lead to different finishing times. Before, brewers had to manually change the temperature three times during a batch: starting, diacetyl rest, and cold crash temperature settings.  Automating specific gravity remotely reduces labor while allowing higher throughput with the same number of fermenters. At the same time, fermenters aren’t designed for automation, so accomplishing the goal was a challenge.

Previously, temperature changes were manually entered for starting temperature, diacetyl rest, and cold crashing with different settings for lagers and ales; all a time-consuming process with potential for human error and substantial wasted time. In addition, the manual process of density measurement required a minimum of 30 minutes per sample and the waste of a gallon of product. This included five minutes to pull the sample, sanitize the sample port, pour from pitcher to pitcher to start degassing of the CO2, then 20 minutes for settle time. Next, a hydrometer was used, and the manual measurement was compared and recorded.

Emerson experts used a combination of non-contacting radar for volume and product height, two pressure transmitters – one in the bottom of the tank and one in the headspace – plus temperature compensation, and fermentation temperature control. PLC programming allowed for temperature settings to change automatically based on current density readings. Controlling temperature from the cloud allows the company to check temperature settings from their cell phones where ever they are.

Because the company was so open to the automated solution, Emerson experts extended the automation with a Rosemount pH sensor. pH at this stage identifies mash health and possible bad batches early. A dissolved oxygen sensor further assured yeast health and the historical data available from the devices eases troubleshooting and training new personnel. A Rosemount hygienic magnetic flow meter accurately reports packaged alcohol to prevent being overtaxed, confirms that all of the finished product has made it out of the fermenter into the next tank, and tracks usage of expensive cleaning solutions.

The brewer summarizes the success of their automation challenge like this –

Controlling Fermentation Temperature over the Cloud

  • Huge impact on daily tasks for the brewers
  • Improved job satisfaction
  • 20% increase in throughput from the fermenters!

Measuring Density Automatically

  • Reduced the number of manual changes
  • Beer is ready in the fermenter 20% sooner!
  • Fewer tanks needed with increased production

How could automation improve your operation?

Posted by Deanna Johnson, Rosemount Measurement & Analytical Global Marcom Manager, Emerson Automation Solutions