Thanks to the kind offices of Siemens, I was able to celebrate International Craft Beer Week in August by visiting several of the larger craft brewers around Saint Louis. Anheuser-Busch-InBEV has been seriously hurt by the craft brewing industry, not least because of the fact that many leading craft brewers are refugees from the big brewers, of which AB-InBEV is the biggest.
URBAN CHESTNUT BREWING CO.
One such is Florian Kuplent, Co-founder and Brewmaster of Urban Chestnut Brewing Company. Born in Germany and educated at the University of Munich, Florian worked for Anheuser-Busch for eight years before founding Urban Chestnut. Although Urban Chestnut is in the midst of an expansion from their original brewery to a new, much larger one that will make them (counting both locations) the second largest brewery in Saint Louis, Kuplent told me, "I may not be the best person to give you a tour of our automation. I really don't care about it. My job is to make beer."
Those of us who work as automation professionals often forget that we produce a means to an end, and not an end in itself. Our customers, clients and co-workers are engaged in making beer, or petroleum products, or consumer products, or chemical formulations, or whatever. Florian showed me his bottling line, which had to be the slowest bottling line I've seen in probably thirty years. It bottles about 1500 bottles an hour. The bottles move with agonizing slowness through the washer, filler, capper and then are hand loaded into boxes.
"We don't need it to go any faster," Florian said. "When we move, we are buying a faster one, because then we'll need it. We bought this one used, and we will sell it to another brewery."
There is automation, be sure of that. There is a very nice batch automation system that runs the mash mixer, lautering tun and the brew kettle.
They have about twenty-five recipes that they run, but actually run only six or seven of them regularly. When they move to the new brewery, since it is a whole city block long, they will probably go to a central HMI so that they can see everything that's going on without taking a very long walk. For now, as Florian noted, there are two rooms, one for the brewing and one for the bottling line, and they are separated by an archway.
So what can this tell us? Sometimes, in the high tech world—and automation is certainly part of that world—we want to use technology because it is cool. Companies often push technology on customers long before the customers need it or can really use it. But as Urban Chestnut shows us, the use of appropriate levels of technology makes it possible to make product with high quality, high reliability and high repeatability.
The other brewery we visited was Schafly Bottleworks. This was the first production brewery to open in Saint Louis since Prohibition. We met with James "Otto" Ottolini, the brewery operations director. Saint Louis is a very small town, and although I'd never met Otto before, we have friends in common. Schlafly uses much more automation in their operation than Urban Chestnut, and is substantially larger than Urban Chestnut is now. They use a full featured Siemens control system and a non-Siemens ERP suite called OrchestratedBeer. The discussion between the Siemens folks and Ottolini was about synchronizing the plant floor control system with the OrchestratedBeer ERP system. Schlafly is bringing on a new employee to handle the IT aspects of process control.
Two of the technologies that are pushing into, or being pushed on, the process industries are wireless sensor networks, and mobile worker applications. The jury is still out on both of these technologies, although it looks like both will actually add value over time to the process industries. I asked Florian Kuplent if he thought mobile worker technologies would add value to his brewery. "You mean, like being able to start the brew kettle from my smartphone in the morning at home? Not really," he said.
On the other hand, with the Millenial generation, who seem to be born with a smartphone grafted to their hand, those very same mobile worker technologies may be essential to the way they want to work in manufacturing and in the process industries.
It seems to me that the real goal here is what Florian Kuplent said,"I'm here to make beer." Whatever level of automation works to allow the brewers to make beer the best way they know how is the level of automation we should be providing.