Crown Valley Brewery Delivers Quality Craft Beer While Lowering Costs Through Automation

Alexander Graham Bell said that the existence of beer “is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Although renowned for his innovations and inventions, it is unlikely Bell would recognize a modern brewery. While the basic process remains unchanged from that used in Bell’s 1800s, and indeed back thousands of years before that to Ancient Egypt and Sumeria, today’s brewing process is managed by a series of integrated automation systems including sensors, valves, HMI/SCADA and MES that gives the brewmaster unprecedented control over his recipes and the quality of his product.

Accordingly, launching a world-class brewery from scratch is no small endeavour and when Crown Valley Brewery in Ste. Genevieve, Mo. decided to expand its existing line of wines and spirits to include beer Bryan Siddle, director of operations, visited breweries in Washington, California, New York, Illinois, Poland, Germany and Italy to find out how the best of the best get the job done.

One of the things he discovered was that the BRAUMAT PCS 7 from Siemens was a popular choice for breweries around the world. The only problem for Siddle was that traditionally BRAUMAT PCS 7 – is aimed at large breweries and not well suited to small operations like Crown Valley’s. Siddle knew that to successfully carve out a niche in the competitive mid-western beer market he needed to reliably produce a solid product with bedrock consistency. “When you are running up a new product,” he said, “the worst thing you can have is inconsistency right out of the gate.”

Siddle already had a lot of familiarity and confidence in Siemens products because Crown Valley uses them on the winery side of the business and when Siddle contacted Brad McQuhae, president of Newlands Systems, a brewery OEM based in Abbotsford, BC., he was told that BRAUMAT was still an option for a Craft Brewery. Somewhat serendipitously for Siddle, McQuhae knew that Siemens had released a new version of BRAUMAT PCS 7 (Braumat Compact PCS 7) that was scalable to accommodate small and medium breweries.

“BRAUMAT was well-known in the industry, but the price put them out of the range of craft brewers,” says McQuhae. “It was built to control large regional and national-sized breweries. But the SIMATIC PCS 7 BRAUMAT Compact is fairly new.”

The cost of SIMATIC PCS 7 BRAUMAT Compact is still significant over a manually operated brewery but the system offers a number of advantages, says McQuahae. “It already has a history of doing what we need it to do. The graphics and other functions are done, they are in there; you do not have to start from scratch. If we were going to do a PLC with an HMI, I would say to an integrator, ‘Build me a dozen screens for the brewery process,’ and he is going to look at me with a blank face. He does not know what the brewery process is. Simatic PCS 7 BRAUMAT Compact already has all the components, and you just build it or put it together.”

This leads to faster commissioning, which saves everyone money and contributes to a faster ROI, the dynamic controls BRAUMAT delivers also saves money in other ways.

“It blew my mind how much labor it takes to brew beer,” Siddle said. “In today’s market, you are paying 20+ percent in fringes and benefits alone. Then you have a guy, your brewmaster, who needs two or three jobs just to support his job.

“(BRAUMAT) eliminates the need for the extra guys who would normally perform repetitive tasks like opening and closing valves, or hooking up and de-coupling hoses. There are not guys standing around waiting for things to happen. The Simatic PCS 7 Braumat Compact product is about less labor, and more consistency with your brews. You can see a return on your investment in less than two years.”

SIMATIC PCS 7 BRAUMAT Compact combines all the essential functionalities for automation, visualization and control as well as engineering to give the brewmaster a detailed picture of what is happening at each stage of the brewing process and the ability to control it immediately to ensure the process is efficient, producing a consistent product. It also offers detailed track and trace capabilities, complete with recipe references and detailed logging of everything occurring during production.

“I can control everything in the brewhouse,” Siddle said. The results of those controls – temperature trends, pH levels, pressure readings – are not scribbled down on clipboards all over the brewhouse, waiting to be transcribed into a spreadsheet. The readings from the automated probes – as often as the operator wants – are all automatically recorded, and the trending can be displayed in a variety of formats.

Whenever a measure drops out of range for a particular formulation’s parameters, an alarm draws the brewer’s attention so he can address the issue. Alarms can be sent by e-mail or directly to a brewer’s smartphone, and many problems can be addressed remotely, with built-in security safeguards.

Such problems have been few and far between, says Siddle. “Without a system like the BRAUMAT Compact, human error is always a factor. But we are hitting targets within 0.5 percent every time we brew: gravity, extraction rates. We are getting better extraction rates than we ever thought we would. It is nice to hit all your boil points and fermentation temperatures every time.”

BRAUMAT Compact also provides detailed recipe control that Crown Valley is using to manage an ambitious range of products, each of which has a different mashing, fermentation and aging profile. “We took on a broad spectrum of types of beers,” said Siddle. “We do blondes, Czech pils, hefeweizen, and an amber lager. We did a hard cider; that is a little different here in the Midwest. We have a seasonal spiced ale, using our spices and herbs grown here on our property. We brewed a Vienna lager for the summer. We also brewed a porter and a dubbel, our now famous Big Bison Ale.”

The brewer enters the parameters of each product on the Compact’s intuitive system, creating a library of beer profiles that will be accurately re-created every time that beer is brewed…or easily tweaked if the brewer sees a need for change. All important consistency is created from the beginning.

According to Ed Montgomery, Brewing Industry Manager for Siemens Industry, Inc., “The BRAUMAT Compact system gives the craft brewer the same look and feel of a full scale brewery while maintaining the ‘craft’ experience.”

This high end control and the scalability that went with it were critical factors for Siddle, who has seen too many breweries that failed to plan appropriately for growth. “You wind up stacking tanks on top of tanks, and you can’t even walk through your brewery,” he said. “When we did it, we made sure we could grow. It helps to know what you have to look forward to. You know that if you do it right, you are going to grow. So you have to make that initial investment to make it the best possible plant from the start.”

The “craft” element is very important for many small brewers who oppose the idea of employing automation and say they want to make “hand-crafted” beer. However, having come to brewing business from the wine business, Siddle was already well aware of the advantages of automation. “It is all about education,” he said. “You have to realize that even with your passion, you have to have your business sense. You want the best quality product, sure, but with the lowest costs.”

Siddle is proud of what is happening at Crown Valley, and does not see the automated brewery as something to hide. “We love getting people down here and telling them about our native wines. We will do that with the brewery as well. This system is a brewmaster’s dream. You smell, see, taste the product every step of the way. Your senses still tell you that the beer is what you want it to be. It is still craft beer.”

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2 Comments on “Crown Valley Brewery Delivers Quality Craft Beer While Lowering Costs Through Automation

  1. That quote “proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy” has been incorrectly sourced to Benjamin Franklin. Other than your publication I cannot find any link A.G. Bell. If there is a memorialized citation please disclose it and end a long term confusion!

  2. I believe the quote should be attributed to Benjamin Franklin not Bell.

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