Matching the Benefits of Automation with Brewery Growth


Automation: The electronic control of brewing, fermenting, and packaging equipment, including mechanical interlocks and permissives, to execute the brewing process independent of or facilitated by the Brewer.

Information Infrastructure: Utilization of appropriate software applications to accomplish business tasks including financial, operation, maintenance, and supply chain demands.

Corporate Lifecycles Definitions

Courtship: Brewing business concept is born. Is the process of building and defining, the vision, commitment, and energy to sustain the origination of a business. Founder must be committed to the beer, not the profit.

Infancy: The business becomes real. Transition from thinking about doing some to action. Cash flow is critical. Action oriented. Founder makes all decisions. Commitment built in Courtship is continuously tested.

Go-Go: Business begins to flourish, focus shifts from cash flow to sales. Business is organized around people, not tasks. The organization is not controlling the environment, but is being controlled by it.

Adolescence: Organization develops a personality apart from the Founder. Processes and systems are crucial for further growth. This is the point when entrepreneurial turns into professional management.

Prime: The organization reaches the optimum point on the lifecycle curve achieves a balance between self control and flexibility. The challenge is to stay at this point.

Stable: The first of the aging stages. The organization is strong, but beginning to loose its flexibility. It is the end of growth and the beginning of decline.

Affair: Not enough commitment is developed to move forward with the organizational idea. Business dies before it begins. Courtship without reality testing.


Infant Mortality: The infant organization becomes undercapitalized and can not sufficiently cover cash flow. The demands of the fledging organization go beyond the commitment of the Founder.

Founder or Family Trap: The company growth is stifled by the Founder’s strangle hold. Appropriate systems and processes are not adopted and no shift to professional management is made.

Unfulfilled Entrepreneur: Founder pre-maturely steps or is forced aside. Power base shifts back and forth between professional management and Founder. Systems and processes are in place, but not followed.

Premature Aging: The Founder and others leave the organization and it turns over to administrators too early. The organization becomes complacent and ages prematurely.

Stable: The first of the aging stages. The organization is strong, but beginning to loose its flexibility. It is the end of growth and the beginning of decline.


Many craft or microbrewers view automation of the brewing process as something for the larger corporate brewers and opt for mostly manual breweries. The larger corporate brewers see automation and manufacturing execution systems (MES) of the enterprise as infrastructure critical to their core business success in producing beer. As a smaller brewer expands their production, there comes a point in time where automation provides a solid Return on Investment (ROI) and brings value to the brewer and their beer. This study analyzes the growth cycles of breweries, which are similar to any corporate entity, and defines the point along their growth curve where automating the brewing process provides value. Different trigger points are identified associated with production schedule, labor utilization, and product consistency requirements. Several craft and regional brewers provide input to this study and share their specific experiences and outlook.

Developing an Information Infrastructure

As the organization approaches its Adolescent lifecycle, the challenges of the business are changing. It is challenging to define a Master Plan for the implementation of automation at the brewery. Coming from a manual process operation and resources already spread too thin, it is difficult to define what information would be beneficial and what technology is appropriate for a solid return on investment.


The Master Plan

(Plan Globally, Implement Slowly)

Setting up an information infrastructure doesn’t mean it needs to be done all at one time. The purpose of a Master Plan is to set a vision so that all of the decisions made are intended to get you step by step closer to the vision of where you want to be. Provision needs to be made for growth in capacity and performance when purchasing decisions are made. There are guiding standards and organizations which define what ideal will be; this just helps to establish the vision and it may never be achieved in its true form, but all the while cost and labor savings are provided each step of the way. This vision should be reviewed on a periodic basis and treated as a living document.


Step 1: Business Objectives. The first step to defining a Master Plan is to define and document the Business Objectives for the information infrastructure. This identifies the playing field to establish the vision. There are layers of functionality and decisions need to be based on the integrated picture, but specific to functionality at each layer.

Step 2: Define User Requirements. Look at each job function within the organization and identify HOW they would use the system, what information they need available to them, and what additional information could help streamline their job functions.

Step 3: Application Landscape. Identify core business processes and supporting systems that exist in the facility today. What will you keep? What should you replace? What systems CAN grow with you into the future? What systems have you outgrown or would inhibit further growth? Are there commonalities of systems? How important is standardization to the organization with respect to maintenance costs, training/knowledge of the systems?

Step 4: Create the Master Plan. Look at the gaps in your Plan and map out a phased, step by step approach to reach your information infrastructure goal. Base your prioritization on the payback you will see from making the various investments. To ensure alignment to your Master Plan:

•    Define your requirements clearly when ordering new equipment.

•    Define what type of instrumentation you prefer (to minimize spare parts inventory, training costs, and maintenance costs)

•    Require open, standards-based systems as opposed to proprietary-based systems so that everything can be easily integrated when you get to that point

•    Make sure things are as modular as possible. This will allow the maximize flexibility in your equipment and how it works together over time.


Instrumentation: As the brewery makes investments in incremental brewing, fermentation, or packaging capacity, equipment should be specified with full instrumentation using industrial quality instruments. Flow and temperature measurements may have local readouts and valving may be manual, but make decisions so that instruments can be integrated and controls can be automated in the future. For example, leave room for an actuator on a valve in the piping layout, even though there is not an actuator initially. Consider the use of digital bus technologies and how they can impact operational and maintenance costs, especially if there is a new facility involved. This technology increases the amount of information that is available to the brewery for activities beyond simple automation and reduces wiring costs.

Eliminate Manual Processes and Steps: All efforts should be made to eliminate manual steps in the brewing process like swing panels and manual sampling for quality measurements, where possible, as these may inhibit future automation of the process.

Automate in a Stepwise Fashion

Continuous or Basic Controls: Start by automating the continuous measurements on a platform that can grow over time, but still can handle just a few measurements now. This would include interlocking monitoring, and exception handling as examples. Set up the system infrastructure, get people trained, organize the maintenance processes, but start small with WHAT is controlled.

Procedural Controls: Batch oriented processes can be efficiently controlled following the guidance of the ISA/ANSI S88.01 standard. Many batch control systems on the market follow these guidelines. This standard defines the use of Procedural control layered on top of Basic Controls. Procedural control directs equipment-oriented actions to take place in an ordered sequence in order to carry out a process-oriented task. This approach establishes the business model from the very lowest level of the operation in a manner consistent with how a brewery is operated – per brew/batch.

Recipe Management: Once you had the ability to control the process automatically, the next phase is the abstraction and management of the recipes. Using the S88 standard facilitates management of the recipes since the recipes themselves are managed separately from the controls that operate the equipment. Recipes can be implemented throughout the process. This helps eliminate scrap and waste and drives down changeover times.

Data Collection

Once fully automated control of the brewing is achieved, the next step should be capturing the brewing and organizational data in a data collection system. This type of system captures data from the brews and retains them in a time series database using special data compression algorithms, with a relational database to provide batch context. The data historian, integrated with batch logging and analysis tools, allows rapid optimization of production flows, process improvements, and in-line quality analysis. For example, this creates the ability to compare one brew to another brew and more detailed process optimization. Brew reports are captured and stored for current and future reference and refinement. This provides a platform for integration with the business system.

- Rajesh Shah