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Brewery in a Box?

April 6, 2010
Bringing the Benefits of Distributed Control to Non-Traditional Industries Can Be Both Tricky and Lucrative

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.

Craft brewers are artisans and lovers of beer first and foremost. You can see that passion in the video embedded here, by Paul Segura, brewmaster of Karl Straus Brewing Company (www.karlstrauss.com).

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.

Figure 2: A tour group visits the Schlafly brewery in St. Louis, Mo.
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.

The Brewing Process at Crown Valley Brewing and Distilling Co.

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."

When asked why he selected Siemens, Carl Wiersma of Crown Valley Brewing and Distilling Company (www.crownvalleybrewery.com) said simply, "We wanted Siemens because it is state-of-the-art."

How Does the "Brewery in a Box" Work?

{siddebar3}The basis of the system is the Siemens PCS7 distributed control system. The PCS7 Box system, often used in smaller craft breweries (hence the name) consists of an industrial PC with a WinAC RTX software controller and all of the I/O housed in one box. There are other configurations for larger breweries. "Schlafly utilizes a client server system," Montgomery explains, "with one server, a four-monitor client in their brewhouse and a single screen client in their fermentation cellar. Everything is tied to one AS-416 controller and all of the I/O is connected by Profibus DP."

Siemens developed the Braumat Compact Libraries, which is what Montgomery calls the system templates, specifically for the brewery-, winery- and distilled spirits-related industries, and Montgomery says they can be adapted to any brewery scenario "from 3000 barrels a year to over 350,000 barrels a year breweries," Montgomery says.

Figure 4: Schafly's four monitor client in the brewhouse.It isn't just the system or the templates that make the system successful. "The installation and start-up were challenging," Ottolini reports. "You had us,who have never automated a brewery before. That was a steep learning curve in many respects. Having Siemens there for support was invaluable. We could never have done it without them. We were down for two weeks to make all the changes and installation, and we were back up and running at 50% the end of the third week. Then we cranked the thing up and haven't stopped. Siemens has been great to partner. They have been very helpful in too many ways to list."

Wiersma concurs. "Ed Montgomery was here and handled everything."

"Siemens is a large company, and their support has been very good," Ottolini says. "Many times I find that large companies have support that suits other large companies. It falls into that ‘I'll have my people talk to your people' syndrome. We don't have the time or people for that. We have not had that syndrome with. We are much more connected and networked with key players in their organization for the solutions we need."

[pullquote]Then too, Ottolini says, "They know us better, and they can provide a solution that is fit for purpose. That is key to anyone selling an automation solution. Just because it can be done doesn't mean it makes sense as a solution."

How Well Does It Work?

"We have been working with the system for over a year now," says Chris Skura. "The PCS7 has provided us with great temperature control and the ability to trend our batches throughout fermentation. We are currently working on adding more to our system to allow us to track all brewery records through milling to distribution."

From Ottolini: "We grew about 38% in terms of beer produced in 2009 over 2008, and we did that on this system. The system has a great amount of potential in well-educated hands with well-designed equipment. We are an organization that is stretched at every point to try and meet demand. We have made the investment in equipment that will help us rise to meet those challenges."

"It does everything we want, and has more capability that we are even using," says Wiersma.

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