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Advanced Engineering 2021

NEC Birmingham(B40 1NT)

03/11/2021 - 04/11/2021

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Automation for the artistry of beer making

Automation for the artistry of beer making

Whether it be light, dark, bitter, floral or in some cases a symphony of all the above, beer has been on the up for a while now. Emilian Axinia of Copa-Data discusses how automation in the brewing industry is helping this growth.

Brewing is not so much a production method, but an art form; the recent craft beer trend is a testament to this fact. There are now breweries and microbreweries dedicated to revitalising ancient recipes, using locally sourced produce and unusual ingredients for their beers in an expression of freedom, creativity and artistry. The results are veritable and delicious.

It's been well publicised that the craft beer mindset is established around straying from the mainstream. Beer is produced to focus on the brew master's innovation and skills, consciously moving away from mass production. You would think that automation systems, more associated with mass production, wouldn't be part of this new brewing revolution. You'd be wrong though. The freedom and experimentation of the modern day brew masters is supported and augmented by sophisticated automation systems, not sterilised by them.

System architecture for brewers might be PLC based or the software might be hardware independent, running on just an embedded industrial PC with display and bus I/O. It doesn't really matter; the salient point is there's ergonomic software out there that can handle basic control, batch control, recipe control and produce visualisations of the whole process.

When producing beer there are many different stages and each of these is carried out by a batch cell. Without a control system, valves would have to be opened and closed, cells turned on and off and samples taken, all manually. In addition, most breweries make a selection of different beers. Even producing the same beer for different vessels requires slight variations of the recipe. The brewing process of two different beers is never going to be exactly the same; temperatures, quantity of ingredients and brew times will all differ from beer to beer.

Having a control system with pre-programmed phases dependent on recipes drastically reduces the engineering effort and likelihood of human error. That's not to say that it takes skilled human workers out of the system, but it cuts down their workload and ensures they can focus on other, even more important tasks. These systems provide the brew master with greater control and better repeatability. A reliable automation solution plays a central role not only in achieving expected results in a timely manner, but also in creating the conditions of maximum repeatability and eliminating wastage - something that could easily bankrupt a microbrewery.

Yeast is a living thing and because of this it needs very specific conditions to produce the best results in a beer, especially during a time when breweries are more inclined to experiment with different varieties of this basic ingredient to achieve interesting tastes. There are a multitude of different strains of yeast used for brewing, but they can be segregated into two main categories: top-fermenting and bottom-fermenting. The first is mainly used for brewing ales, porters, stouts, and wheat beers and the second category of yeast is used for larger style beers.

Different types of yeast have different optimal temperatures. A quality automated control system with changeable pre-recorded recipe phases allows flexibility and ease when changing between production of different beers. This provides brew masters with the peace of mind that batches won't have to be discarded due to incorrect temperatures, ingredient quantities, time durations or batch numbers.  

Another benefit of controlling the brew using an automation system is that each phase, as well as the whole process, can be monitored. This can be done using a single HMI, multiple ones or even through remote data access, depending on the size and capabilities of the brewery. The authorised user can undertake different tasks, like creating control recipes based on templates, adjusting certain recipe parameters, starting recipes and supervising the process. This mimics the freedom and creativity that craft beer represents.

Paradoxically, with this freedom there's also the added safety harness of control. Users are able to monitor each phase of the process in real time and take any corrective action, should alarms occur. In addition, the process data for every brew can be archived, ensuring traceability. Moreover, in this age of big data, information about efficiency and material consumption or analyses of quality are typically stored to learn from and help enhance future batches.

Regardless of a company's tipple of choice - larger, wheat beer, mass produced or microbrewery - there is affordable automation software out there that can aid production.

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