Innovation is brewing in the beer industry

Changes in consumer tastes can be a challenge for craft breweries as well as large brewing groups – but solutions exist

Digitalization is having a dramatic impact on many industry segments – but brewing faces a number of additional challenges. Large brewing groups are facing issues such as quality, strict cost management, and changing customer tastes, while micro-breweries and craft brands need to manage their rapid growth efficiently.

The global trend of the rising popularity of craft beers has shaken up the industry over the last few years. Consumers who used to be happy with lower-priced, mass-produced beer are turning to what they see as a more authentic product, possibly made in their area by local people. With significant growth in the number of craft breweries, the trend has lost its association with hipsters and has become a growth industry in its own right.

Growth challenges for micro-breweries

However, as in most growth sectors, rapid expansion can generate its own set of challenges. Many craft brewers are self-taught and may face production or quality difficulties once their product starts selling well. The addition of new equipment may pose a problem if the brewer lacks the necessary technical and engineering resources. If a brewer decides to implement new equipment, the learning curve can be steep – not just for maintenance, but for controlling day-to-day processes and production. This is particularly the case for small breweries producing a variety of brands or seasonal products.

Adaptation challenges for large groups

Larger brewing companies have been around for much longer and are usually adept at managing growth. However, the disruption to the industry caused by new consumer trends – along with changing environmental regulations – is challenging them to revise their processes. They are often equipped with older, “black box” legacy systems that are difficult to adapt to new recipes and expensive to maintain, hampering their flexibility and capacity for innovation. Some larger groups have also outsourced parts of their production processes, such as mash filtration, to external skid providers that may not use the same control systems. This makes it difficult to harmonize and modernize the production process, while generating unnecessary costs. A major equipment overhaul is not usually viable either, as it is too disruptive and costly.

Intelligent automation

Fermentation factories

Implementing an intelligent distributed control system (DCS) can give both craft and large-scale brewers the foundation for a common automation platform that interconnects different processes and brewhouse systems. If the system is equipped with an easy-to-use interface, users can view information about processes, power consumption and machine activity. In addition, it enables brewers to manage their recipes with more fexibility. In this way, craft brewers can repeat popular products while maintaining quality and consistency. And large brewing groups can use the DCS to optimize production and connect their systems to the rest of their plants or enterprise information systems.

Rockwell Automation: industry-specific solutions for brewers

To help large and small breweries run their businesses more efficiently, Rockwell Automation recently announced two new modular solutions that will be launched officially at the BrauBeviale trade show in Nuremberg (13-15 November). Both are based on the company’s PlantPAx DCS system, which is in widespread use in the food and consumer goods industries.

FactoryTalk CraftBrew

For micro-breweries, the FactoryTalk Craft Brew is a cost-effective way to introduce entry-level automation with minimal technical expertise and instrumentation required. It is designed for craft brewers producing between five and 100 barrels (BBL) and enables them to manage the growth of their business by increasing capacity. Each part of the production process is documented and visible, so that brewers can repeat or adapt each step, from grain handling to bottling. Craft brewers need to maintain product quality when they expand production, and this application provides them with the temperature and other data they need to monitor quality and consistency. They can also scale their production up or down, giving them the flexibility to respond quickly to consumer demand. The application can be integrated with brewhouse and cellar equipment, including mash tuns, lauter tuns, brew kettles, and whirlpools. Perhaps most importantly, the fact that all the process information is logged lets brewers be more creative – testing new recipes, tweaking them as necessary, then storing them for repeat production. The solution will be demonstrated at BrauBeviale and available globally from selected Rockwell Automation partner OEMs and systems integrators.

FactoryTalk Brew

Large brewing groups have a different set of challenges to solve and FactoryTalk Brew has a broader set of functions than FactoryTalk Craft Brew, allowing large groups to use it as part of an enterprise-wide automation and information approach – the concept Rockwell Automation refers to as The Connected Enterprise. It comprises a standardized solution for interlinking and fine-tuning every part of the brewing process. As a connected application, operators can configure automation sequences and reports, reducing startup time. For large groups with several global or regional breweries, the solution can be deployed across multiple sites and adapted to any equipment setup, even if different locations are using a variety of tank, tun and grain-handling systems. It has been designed with an emphasis on ease of use, enabling users to access production information at any time from any device – they can now start and monitor fermentations via their mobile phones. It also minimizes project risk by allowing operators to design within the software and test before executing. This solution is also available from specialized Rockwell Automation OEMs and systems integrators.

Sleeman: 50 per cent production increase in 2 weeks

The Canadian firm Sleeman Breweries is a large beverage group that also produces craft beers. With an antiquated control system, changes to recipes or production runs had to be programmed manually. Its craft beers were so popular that its dedicated plant was running at full capacity, so Sleeman outsourced some extra production to partners, generating extra cost and risk. It thought about building a new plant, but this would require significant capital investment. Working with a Rockwell Automation partner, McRae Integration, the company selected and implemented FactoryTalk Brew. Within two weeks, the brewery was able to increase production from eight to 12 brews a day. The system includes reporting and historian software that records key process data to pinpoint brew cycle trends, allowing operators to proactively make changes as needed. “Craft brewing involves a lot of small changes in recipes – based on water, incoming malt and other variables – plus adding new recipes,” said Stefan Tobler, brewmaster at Sleeman’s craft beer facility. “The PlantPAx system with FactoryTalk Brew software allows us to maintain brew quality, while also providing the flexibility we need to quickly respond to changing consumer tastes and market trends.”


When the craft beer trend really took off, many micro-breweries ended up closing down due to issues managing growth, such as maintaining consistent quality while increasing production. The technology available today reduces this risk because it gives small firms much more control over their brew processes and more time to invent delicious new recipes. And for large brewing companies, advanced automation and control technology opens up new opportunities for cutting cost and waste while improving yield and efficiency.


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