For many producers, there comes a tipping point when supply just can’t keep up with demand. You’ve worked hard to develop something that’s unique and excellent. The recipe is perfected. The market is there. And people can’t get enough of it. But you’re production is maxed out unless you expand your capacity. So what’s the best way to expand without breaking your business on high expenses and risk?

That answer varies for each producer, but no matter how you expand your production, you need to see a return on investment: ROI. For many businesses, a well-planned implementation of process automation can increase production and reduce long-term costs. All while setting a smart course for measured future growth to keep pace with demand.

Oskar Blues Brewery in Longmont, CO faced this happy problem, and we worked directly with them to help them implement automation, manage their growth and achieve ROI.

The background and problem

In 2012, Oskar Blues Brewery was at a crossroads. They had worked hard and become a well-known, successful craft brewer. They saw increased demand for their beer, and their business was poised for growth. But they were saddled with a highly inefficient brewhouse they had set up in 2007. Their five-year-old production facility was a bottleneck with a number of cumbersome, manual setup methods and procedures. And worse, it caused safety concerns, forcing brewers to make frequent trips up and down Brewhouse platform stairs.

They chose to work directly with us to automate their production. With a focus on efficiency and batch consistency, they would be able to increase supply and meet demand. As a premiere integrator of custom, expandable automation solutions, we attacked their production challenges from every angle and found solutions that would increase production at minimal cost. By installing automation upgrades, we improved quality, consistency, and safety. At the conclusion of our work, we increased the Brewhouse’s daily output by 1.5 brews per day. Each brew consists of many, many beers.

Our process automation work for Oskar Blues Brewery

We helped Oskar Blues manage production challenges by adding a customized automation system to their existing Brewhouse equipment. In this automation upgrade, we co-developed the initial scope of work with Plant Manager Jim Weatherwax and Brewmaster Dave Chichura. In the design phase, we fully developed that scope of work, in partnership with Oskar Blues Brewery, by identifying a master device list.

Phase I: control automation

In our first phase of automation, we implemented a simple “semi-automatic” valve and motor control from a central touchscreen Human Machine Interface (HMI). That one improvement eliminated the need for operators to take multiple trips up and down stairs while brewing. We used existing system components where applicable, namely Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs), and provided a programmable logic controller (PLC) as the central processor for Brewhouse automation functions. Our design team specified Industrial Ethernet as the primary means of I/O level communications for remote pneumatic solenoid banks and future expansion I/O.

After our Phase I work, brewers had instant touchscreen control of valve position, motor state, and motor speed. This setup allowed their team to easily brew beer and do so in a safe environment.

Phase II: Advanced process integration

Next, we integrated automation of advanced process controls. These included automated valve path sequencing with built-in permissives and interlocks for Vorlauf, Transfer to Wort Receiver, Transfer to Kettle, Transfer to Whirlpool, Whirlpool Knockout, and CIP. We also installed new equipment, including a Rolec Pre-Mashing Hydration System and a new Wort Chiller. Each of these new systems required proportional analog temperature control, which we easily facilitated using the PLC-based automation system. The automated temperature control loops vastly improved the consistency of both mash conversion rest temperatures and wort cooling temperatures. We also provided the ability to log historical time-series data (temperatures, flows, flow totals, etc.) and real-time visualization of Mash, Sparge, and Wort Flow Totals for daily brewing logs.

Phase III: Implementing automation for filling and cooling

In our last phase of work, we automated Cold Liquor Tank filling and cooling. Oskar Blues designed the system and installed new instrumentation, valves, and motors for this phase. We worked directly with lead brewer Brian Schaefer to develop a bill of material to integrate additional electrical and controls hardware in the Brewhouse control system. We specified the Allen-Bradley CompactLogix Brewhouse PLC with spare I/O and memory capabilities to facilitate this and future automation integration. The automation of the Cold Liquor System allowed for more consistent and reliable wort cooling in the summer months — when incoming city water is warmer.

Results and future expansion

The Oskar Blues Brewhouse Automation System has taken the brewery to the next level from a quality, consistency, and reliability standpoint. It’s provided their team with a state-of-the-art control infrastructure that’s future-proofed and fully scalable. Operators can easily control functions without putting themselves in harm’s way, and Oskar Blues Brewery has increased production by 1.5 brews per day. That’s enough beer to meet demand — for now.

The brewery is already looking ahead to future automation opportunities, including advanced process data logging, web-enabled reporting and production metrics tracking. As their demand increases, their production will keep pace. And each expansion can produce ROI.

We helped Oskar Blues Brewery find savings and increase production. And we can help you keep pace with growing demand too. Armed with 20 years of industrial automation knowledge, we’re experienced in efficiency. And we’re happy to point you in the right direction. To learn more about automation or just bounce a question off of someone who knows system integration, click below.