Consumers are becoming far more discerning about their beer. That’s why craft brewing is a booming business. According to the Brewers Association, craft beer production grew 5% in the U.S. while the beer market as a whole fell by 1%. Small and independently owned craft breweries now account for 98% of all breweries operating in the US. 1000 new ones opened last year alone.
Many of them consist of only a handful of staff. For the owners, beer brewing is looked upon as a labor of love. Its an intensely personal and manual process that consumes much of their time. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By adding automation, brewers can continue to make great beer and still have time left over for hobbies and the family.
“The Siemens system has made a phenomenal difference in our operations and business,” said John Henritze, the owner of JRH Brewing in Johnson City, Tennessee.
A chance meeting with another beer lover – a Siemens automation engineer – helped him transform the brewery. Better brewing precision and quality control, plus greater productivity and efficiency came about through the addition of the Siemens SIMATIC S7-1200 control system, programmed with the TIA Portal.
Manual Process Madness
Henritze told the Siemens engineer about scrambled flow lines at his 5,000 square foot facility. As well as long hours, manually intensive processes lacked brewing efficiency, precision, and repeatability.
Full brewing capacity amounted to only 310 gallons a month via four 10-barrel fermenters, one 30-barrel fermenter, and a 30-barrel tank to clear, condition and carbonate beer. It sounds simple, but manual controls were placed in awkward positions.
“Most of the hand valves are located far away from the brewing platform,” said Henritze.
One valve to control beer flow from the brew pots sits on the brewing platform. The temperature gauge, however, is several steps down off the brewing platform about 10 yards away near the heat exchanger. The valve for the cold liquor tank is another 10 yards further away. This almost comical set up made every day a serious workout for the brewer.
Improving Brewing Quality
A craft brewery lives and dies on the quality of its product. One batch below par and bad word of mouth can be the death knell for that business. For JRH Brewing, manual inefficiency seriously impacted brewing quality. It takes precision to run the pumps correctly and maintain the right temperatures. But running off and on the platform, and from one side to the other to change valves and read gauges led to inconsistent liquid transfer and too many temperature variations. Beer quality sometimes suffered.
“If the temperature crept up, I’d have to run back over to the platform, run up the steps, slightly adjust the knob and then run back down to the temperature gauge,” said Henritze.
When Henritze discussed these problems, the engineer suggested automation of temperature controls via the Siemens SIMATIC S7-1200 programmable logic controller (PLC) and its embedded PID functionality. Programmed with TIA Portal in only two days, the system offers JRH Brewing automated flexibility and efficiency in setting temperature, transferring liquid and monitoring valves. Its compact design fitted nicely into the brewery’s already tight space.
The brewer runs all operations from the Siemens SIMATIC TP700 Comfort Panel human-machine interface (HMI). Its 7-inch diagonal touch-screen provides a visual process diagram and dashboard for operators to interact with any stage of brewing. The addition of Siemens SIMATIC WinCC Basic software offers Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition capabilities. This enables Henritze to not only monitor key brewing parameters, it provides trending capabilities and historical analysis.
The final element is the Siemens SINAMICS G120 variable frequency drive (VFD). It controls the two-horsepower, centrifugal pumps used to transfer liquids between tanks and pots. The various components of the Siemens automation ecosystem communicate using PROFInet industrial Ethernet.
Better Brewing, Better Beer
Henritze is delighted with the improvement in brewing precision and quality control at JRH Brewing, as well as a major boost in productivity and efficiency.
“When we tried it out, I could literally just stand there and push the button to get the pumps going to start the transfer,” he said. “I don’t have to run up and down steps anymore.”
Eliminating the constant back and forth to take meter readings and manually adjust valves has cut Henritze’ time on the brewhouse platform by more than 50%. One example is the transfer of a 10-barrel tank. Due to having to physically adjust switches and verify temperature readings, it used to take about 30 minutes. Process variability could sometimes lead to a shortage of cold water. Yet today, this takes no time at all as the entire workflow is automated.
But the big winner is the beer itself. Brewing precision has added consistency and an overall better product.
“I’ve been able to reduce the variability in my brewing processes by about 80 percent,” said Henritze. “That has helped me ensure the repeatability of my brewing processes, which in turn, assures that I can deliver the highest quality possible in my end products.”
In addition, greater efficiency means the facility has been able to expand its product portfolio. It has added more seasonal brews in addition to his six mainstay beers.
“The Siemens system has made a phenomenal difference in our operations and business,” said Henritze.
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