If there is one thing that a brewery needs it is reliable field devices when it comes to measurement and control systems. Making beer is a fine art, and that is something that is not lost on fluid control system specialist Bürkert.
At a recent installation in Germany, Bürkert’s products were installed to help with the automation of a brewery. It was an interesting case study on how modernising a brewery can not only help streamline processes, but also provides an insight on what it takes to upgrade plant and machinery.
Based in the German state of Bavaria, the pilot brewery of Weihenstephan’s research centre for brewery and food quality has existed in one form or another for centuries. In its current state, automated flowmeters, process control valves, solenoid valves, pneumatic actuators and “smart” valve islands make manual adjustments of plant and machinery unnecessary. This not only saves time, but also enables monitoring of the recipes developed or tested here possible at any time. The control system is kept so simple that the master brewer can create, operate and modify recipes from a PC using an Excel spreadsheet.
Where beer is reinvented every day
The pilot brewery enables the creation of pilot brews for all kinds of beer, fermented malt drinks and mixtures. Pilot brews are prepared both in the name of research and on the basis of orders, ultimately resulting in drinks for consumption. This process starts with the mashing, brewing and fermentation processes through to the testing of suitable yeasts, microorganisms, ripening processes and filtration capabilities.
The desire for greater process quality
The pilot brewery has an output of 50 litres of wort and a capacity of nine fermentation tanks capable of holding 60 litres each. Beyond that, the brewhouse and the lautering process of the “mini brewery” are no different from those of a larger facility.
Until now, most things were adjusted manually. This applied to the control valves in the water intake for mashing and sparging, through to the control valves for the lautered wort and to the pump used to drain the wort tank or to adjust the height of the rake arms. There was no scaling here and the rake motor always ran at the same speed.
To achieve a better basis for future research work, those responsible at the research centre decided it was time to modernise the plant automation. However, the decision-makers felt it was important to be able to intervene in the system at any time, even after its modernisation.
The small brewery picked a competent partner that has developed multibrauplus, an automation solution specifically tailored to small and medium-sized breweries. Based on a Simatic S7 from Siemens and graphical visualisation, all the functions – from malt storage bins to fermentation cellar – could be automated. Despite this, the brewers were still left with sufficient leeway to take decisions, since Excel was deliberately chosen as the dialogue medium with the process control system.
The “programming” activities are limited to filling out a standard text list, which was then interpreted by the process control. The monitors, calculations and control functions included in the commands were managed by the process control alone.
From control valve to flowmeter
However, process control alone does not make automation possible; since automatic control valves, flowmeters and pneumatic actuators are required to automate existing manual valves. As a fluidic system expert, Bürkert, supplied and installed the required hardware for the fluidic systems, handled the installation of the wiring and hoses, and supported start-up.
The range of applied fluidic components covered the process control valve used for the steam needed to heat the mashing and wort tank, the temperature controller on the wort cooler, various flowmeters and a valve island mounted in the control cabinet that is used to control all of the valves installed in the process. The height of the rake arms of the lauter tun was also adjusted automatically using a solenoid valve. The existing flap valves were overhauled and equipped with pneumatic actuators. Furthermore, there was also a brewing water storage tank in which the water could be precisely blended using a modular blending unit.
Valve island as an automation system
The entire pneumatic system was controlled by a valve island. This was directly installed and shipped in a stainless steel, hygienically designed control cabinet with the stainless-steel control AirLINE Quick base plate to save space.
The stainless-steel control cabinet was well suited to the small pilot brewery. All of the valves also had a P-channel shut-off mechanism, which meant they could be switched out even while the machine was in operation without shutting it down.
A worthwhile investment
For the pilot brewery, the investment in cutting-edge automation technology has paid off. A high degree of reproducibility and traceability was simple with this solution, as data acquisition was integrated into the control system. Product-specific information could be displayed graphically along with other measured values. Thanks to the partnership, the system was prepared for start-up quickly and easily.
With Australian breweries sprouting up at a rate of almost one every two months, it is important to know that these types of upgrades are also available for small- to medium-sized Australian breweries. Bürkert’s Pacific sales manager, Tom Kirby, has been with the company for 16 years and he said the company is geared up to help breweries upgrade. And he knows it’s not just about the field devices supplied.
“We try and design a support and an automation package that caters for a small to large applications or requirements,” he said. “The key for an individual brewery is to directly align our solution to their particular business model that is, using their longer-term vision to define what their requirements should be, while still maintaining their unique identity and their own personal craftsmanship.”
Plant reliability helps provide uniformity and consistency for each and every batch.
“What needs to be taken into consideration is the dedication to their brand, their brew and varieties that they are trying to produce, making sure you get the same consistency in taste – batch after batch,” said Kirby. “I also think it is a situation where it comes down to the marketability of the product. You want to be able to show that what you are doing with your product is a bit special.”
Kirby is also clear on how he sees the relationship between his company and potential clients.
“Bürkert is solution orientated, with those businesses ready to automate their processes,” he said. “Bürkert’s approach is to look beyond a single project with a client. It is partnership for us. We believe in a joint venture approach in identifying the correct solution needed, customised to each application. That’s what makes Bürkert unique.”