A top brewery increased production capacity by 50 percent in a fortnight with Rockwell’s virtualised process automation system...
Brewers in Canada are cashing in on the thirst for craft beer. The number of microbreweries – producing less than 25,000 cases of 24 – has more than doubled in the last seven years.
The country’s third-largest, Sleeman Breweries makes and distributes popular beers from lagers to pale ales.
With a notorious past in bootlegging and a brewing history dating back to 1834, Sleeman Breweries operates production facilities in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia and now ranks as Canada’s third largest.
Recently it has developed as a powerful presence in the country’s craft beer market, where the number of microbreweries – producing less than 25,000 cases of 24 – has more than doubled in the last seven years.
Its Okanagan Spring Brewery (OSB) in Vernon, British Columbia was struggling to meet market demand for its OSB beers and wanted to increase output beyond the maximum of eight brews per day.
At the time, Sleeman had engaged third parties – not ideal for managing costs, ensuring consistent quality and delivery deadlines.
Existing infrastructure relied on an antiquated, semi-automated control system. Changes to the brewing process including new recipes – needed to be made manually, increasing risk of human error.
The system creates reports to track progress as the brews reach fermentation and emails management if any brew variables deviate
The manual approach also hampered access to accurate and timely production metrics needed to fully control the brewing process. Batch reporting was ad hoc and required operators to input numbers on paper, limiting real-time access to critical information such as pressure and flow rates.
The Sleeman team worked with Rockwell Automation-recognised McRae Integration to increase capacity, reduce risk and provide access to real-time production data.
“A single platform would give us insights across the line and between facilities, so we could build on successes and meet our goals for continuous improvement while continuing to make great beer,” said Stefan Tobler, brewmaster at OSB.
The system includes reporting and historian software that collects, tracks and records key process data to pinpoint brew cycle trends, allowing operators to proactively make changes to brews as needed. The Rockwell Automation library of process objects provides predefined controller code and faceplates.
Allen-Bradley PowerFlex 525 and Power Flex 755 drives from Rockwell Automation deliver flexible motor control in the brewing process and help communicate device diagnostics to the control system.
To complete the implementation, McRae worked with Sleeman’s IT team to install VMware virtualised servers. These provided automatic redundancy for production data with enhanced data recovery and expanded data storage. One virtualised server can replace up to four physical backup servers, which greatly decreases the equipment hardware costs.
It also provides the ability to create copies of the servers to run simulations offline and test production changes.
Ready for more
Within two weeks of the implementation, Sleeman increased production by 50 percent at its Vernon facility going from eight brews to 12 brews per day.
Web browser-based recipes, operators can more easily build a new recipe, create a test batch, and store the recipe in the system for additional testing and production.
Management can check on any production issues leveraging the PlantPAx system’s trending capabilities and the BrewSight software’s reporting. The system creates reports to track progress as the brews reach fermentation and emails management if any brew variables deviate.
“Craft brewing involves a lot of small changes in recipes – based on water, incoming malt and other variables – plus adding new recipes,” said Tobler. “The PlantPAx system with Meridian BrewSoft software allows us to maintain brew quality, while also providing the flexibility we need to quickly respond to changing consumer tastes and market trends.”