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By Walt Boyes, Editor-in-Chief
"We originally designed the brewery to produce 25,000 barrels,"James "Otto" Ottolini of Saint Louis Brewery Inc. (producers of Schafly beer, for people who can get it). "When we opened in 2003 we thought that ten years was a relatively realistic timeline to fill that capacity. We hit 22,000 barrels in 2008, and we knew we had to do something."
In the past thirty years, the growth of the craft brewing industry and microbreweries and brewpubs has been exponential. According to the Brewers Association (www.brewersassociation.org), craft breweries grew from around 100 in 1980 to over 1500 today. That's more breweries in operation than at any time since before Prohibition.
Craft brewers, according to the Brewers Association, are small, independent and traditional. They have to meet requirements including less than 25% ownership by a large corporation or bigger brewer, and they must qualify for the Tax and Trade Bureau's excise tax differential by producing less than two million barrels annually.
But craft brewing is also a manufacturing business with the attendant issues, such as expansion, quality, manufacturability and optimization. As Ottolini says, "We could not fiscally commit to building a new facility and had to see what we could do to maximize our capacity in the brewhouse, as well as the rest of our facility."
Chris Skura, the controls engineer for Karl Strauss, explains another big reason craft brewers are moving to more advanced control systems. "Yes, we did have a control system. I would basically call it an unreliable system. It was an in-house designed system and interface. The data acquisition and controls were done by a Eurotherm 2500 and only allowed us to control temperature. [It] always left us with the feeling of uncertainty about whether it was going to work or fail over weekends or holidays."
"We had to put in the controls which would allow us to improve quality, consistency and our brewers' ability to act on the fly with a greater work load and less physical and mental stress," Schlafly's Ottolini says.Craft brewers aren't generally automation guys. "Craft brewers need a reliable solution that is easy to configure, implement and change, without the need to have an IT and automation staff full time on the payroll. Craft brewers are not programmers," says Ed Montgomery, Braumat Product Manager for Siemens Industry (www.siemens.com). "They have a desire and passion to produce the best quality beer."
"What we did with Braumat is to produce a completely templated system that is scaleable from the smallest craft brewery to the largest commercial brewer. Our templates allow the craft brewer to realize the benefits of our product without having to be programming experts before they ever get started," Montgomery says. "They don't just get a box of parts; they get a solution that will fit about 85% to 90% of their exact needs right out of the box."
It's a "brewery in a box," some of Siemens' customers say. "The 'brewery in a box' concept came from the brewers who are utilizing the PCS7 "box" system," Montgomery explains. "Certainly it does have appeal for the small brewery, but this is not the only platform we sell the solution on. I would like to extinguish the 'brewery in a box' name and just call it Simatic PCS7 with Braumat Compact Libraries."
For the record, Siemens also offers templates for food and pharmaceuticals manufacturers, wineries and distilleries.
Montgomery may not get his wish. What he does have, though, is a literal horde of enthusiastic and loyal customers. Some estimates say the Braumat share of the distributed controls base in the craft brewing industry in North America is well over 80%.
"To date," Montgomery says, "we have sold over 2500 Braumat systems throughout the world in over 1000 breweries, from the very largest breweries in the world to very small pilot plant applications."
"We considered building something on an Allen-Bradley-based platform," Ottolini says, "as well as other Siemens platforms with several German fabricators and a couple of American fabricators. We ultimately selected Siemens. Their system seemed to be the one that had the most thought put into it in terms of brewing acumen and relevance."
There are many ways to control things, Ottolini says. "There is an art and a science to both controls and brewing. While plenty of science appears to be available, there is a need for the artistic side to step in and assist. We felt Siemens and the Braumat PCS7 could perform that fine balance."
"Many things attracted us to the PCS 7, mostly its scalability throughout the entire brewery and looking towards the future," Chris Skura says. "We will basically never outgrow the system, but grow into it."