Automation has helped premium brewer outpace industry’s growth
Overall beer sales are flat, whereas craft brewer sales continues to grow, with retail dollar sales of craft up 10%, to $23.5 billion, accounting for nearly 22% of the $107.6 billion U.S. beer market.* Brewers in this high-end market segment must meet multiple challenges: maintaining superior quality for every bottle of beer while expanding production line capacity without driving up costs.
Constellation Brands Inc. (CBI) has met these market demands, growing at around 10% per year while ranking in the top 5 breweries in the U.S. CBI entered the big time in 2013, acquiring the US rights to import and sell Mexican beer brands Corona, Pacifico, Victoria, and Modelo along with supply responsibility. The centerpiece of its production is the Nava Brewery along the border near Eagle Pass, TX. It’s now one of the world’s largest breweries, producing an estimated 27.5 million hectoliters of beer annually on its way to 30 million. The production output of the brewery has approximately tripled since the purchase.
“We’re over 40 percent growth in the three-year window of time,” said Bruce Jacobson, Chief Commercial Officer for CBI. “That’s absolutely amazing.”
This success in the marketplace drove the critical nature of executing the on-going expansion phases on schedule. A few years ago, Nava’s output was a comparatively paltry 8.5 million hectoliters per year. Tripling that output required extensive automation of the complete manufacturing process, from managing the incoming railcars of grain to brewing to filling and shipping cases and kegs out for consumption. The packaging and shipping levels highlight the success of the automated operations. Nava routinely loads 40 rail cars at a time.
Dramatically increasing production without impacting ongoing operations took a lot of planning and attention to detail. Planners weren’t just interested in boosting volume, they also wanted to increase uptime, efficiency, and safety all while maintaining the quality and consistency the brands are famous for.
To meet all these goals, strategists decided to address the expansion in phases. The first phase added 10 million hectoliters of beer, which was sent to five packaging lines. At the same time, CBI upgraded its utilities for the program, adding 18 megawatts of power generation. That was completed in 2016.
Five million hectoliters and four more packaging lines were added in the second phase, which was also completed ahead of schedule in 2017. The third segment added another 2.5 million hectoliters of brewing capacity and three more packaging lines.
Early on, CBI decided that standard platforms were a necessary component of their automation and expansion plans. Equipment came from a large number of global suppliers, each with their own approaches, but the strategic team decided they all needed to have the same look and feel.
“It was apparent from the beginning that this was going to be a monumental task to do this expansion, and we knew we were going to be integrating dozens of OEMs from around the world,” said Chris Renken, CBI’s vice president of manufacturing systems. “It was important to us to do so in a manner that all of the technology systems and solutions and products coming into the brewery were consistent. We had to develop and formalize a global standard and push that out.”
The company turned to Siemens to help create and organize the project and ensure that all the equipment suppliers used a common approach. This standardized approach was carried through from the production equipment to the laser-guided vehicle fleet that carries materials and inventory around the facility.
Managers at CBI were impressed with the domain knowledge at Siemens. The German company has worked closely with brewers since the late 1800s, when the F. Oettler in Weissenfels an der Saale brewery installed a distributed electric motor. That seems quaint today, but it was a pioneering step at the time.
CBI’s decision to make Siemens its main automation partner obviously put the company’s products at the core of the standardization efforts.
Siemens’ SIMATIC PCS 7, Batch and Route Control are the mainstays of the brewing process as well as supporting utilities. All recipe management and path management for the complete process from incoming raw materials through finished beer releasing are managed by this modern process automation system.
In the filling and packaging area, Siemens’ WinCC SCADA system provides line overview and visualization while line control and machine automation is standardized on SIMATIC S7 PLCs and I/O, SINAMICS variable frequency drives, and SCALANCE network components. When pallets of beer are moved around the factory, a Siemens SCALANCE Wireless network helps run a large fleet of laser-guided vehicles.
Networking was also an important aspect for another part of the project. Renken and his associates decided that equipment should be accessible for remote operation. This helps reduce downtime, since managers can log in from home or elsewhere and see the same information they could access from the factory.
Though much of the Nava Brewery’s focus is on high volume production, flexibility is also important. CBI doesn’t just produce five brands of beer. It also makes a number of variants. Corona comes in three version, Extra, Light and Familiar. Production must also shift smoothly to make Modelo Especial, Modelo Negra, Modelo Chelada, Modelo Chelada Especial. And then there are all of the package variants which lead to even a wider variety of SKUs.
Though Renken spends most of his working hours focusing on production and automation issues, he sometimes pauses in amazement at the output of the operation. CBI brews over 240 million cases of beer in a year. By itself, the company is producing almost a case for every adult in America.
“What amazes me every time I walk into the plant is how much beer we’re making and the consumers are demanding,” Renken said. “I can’t believe people drink this much beer!”
*Brewers Association , National Beer Sales and Production DataHave an Inquiry for Siemens about this article? Click Here >>