Building control strategy in the brewhouse

Crown Valley Brewery designs its process control strategy and system along with its new brewhouse. Working hand-in-hand with the process equipment OEM, the end user gets just what it wanted.

By Ed Montgomery, Siemens Industry, Inc. July 23, 2010

After making wine since 1998, Crown Valley decided to expand its efforts to beer, but it would have to start from scratch. This gave the growing company an opportunity to get everything right from square one, ensuring that down the road it could create top-quality products with exceptional consistency.

Crown Valley is based in Ste. Genevieve, MO, with a 400,000 bottle winery and 165 acres of vines. But wine was not enough to satisfy growth ambitions. “We wanted to be able to go to the marketplace with wine, spirits, and beer from the Midwest,” says Bryan Siddle, Crown Valley’s Director of Operations.

To get its new beer production project underway, Crown Valley approached brewery system designer and OEM Newlands System for the brewhouse equipment. The scope included everything from mash-in and fermentation, to CIP (clean in place). Siddle had looked at brewery applications all over the world for ideas, including what process control system to choose. Based on what he saw, he settled on Siemens, which was also in line with his own experience using Siemens equipment on the bottling equipment in the winery.

Siddle knew he would need a solid final product from the start to convince the competitive Midwest beverage market that Crown Valley was serious about beer. That meant no mistakes, bedrock consistency, and a product that could build credibility with discriminating craft-beer drinkers. Meeting those objectives demanded a solid brewery. “When you are running up a new product,” he said, “the worst thing you can have is inconsistency right out of the gate. I visited breweries in Washington, California, New York, Illinois, Poland, Germany, and Italy. I got the world discussion on what they liked.”

Research in hand, Siddle decided on the Siemens Braumat system to control the manufacturing process, but knew that Newlands would have to support his choice and incorporate it into the larger design. Soon he was talking to Brad McQuhae, president of Newlands Systems. “Brad saw how I approached things and thought the Braumat was a perfect fit,” Siddle says. “It was a new system to Brad as well, but Siemens is a household name in beverage and processing.”

McQuhae agreed about the functionality, but saw a serious obstacle. He recalls, “Braumat was well-known in the industry, but it was built to control large regional and national-sized breweries. The price put them out of the range of craft brewers. But the Compact PCS7 is fairly new, and it was not a major re-write. The graphics are pretty much the same: an 800 barrel lauter tun looks the same as an eight barrel one on the screen.”

McQuhae concluded that Siemens had a good thing for the craft brewer. He thought that if a customer could roll it all up in the initial capital investment, it could save significant money and time. He made his pitch to Siemens so they would partner with him on that plan. Now Newlands can do manual systems, internally designed PLC/HMI systems, or more comprehensive automation based on Braumat.

Offering that level of flexibility gave McQuhae an important differentiator in a competitive market. “Braumat is relatively well-known in the industry among professional brewers,” he says. “We felt that by including it in our stable of features, it would enhance our reputation. Stainless tanks and vessels are essentially all the same. What sets you apart is service, to some extent, and what else you can offer. We view offering the Compact as a competitive advantage.”

Having the brewhouse fabricator working closely with the automation company can be a good relationship. It means a shorter timeline for construction and startup. McQuahae points out, “The Compact already has a history of doing what we need it to do. The graphics and other functions are in there; you do not have to start from scratch. If we were going to do a PLC with an HMI, I would say to an integrator, ‘Build me a dozen screens for the brewery process,’ and he is going to look at me with a blank face. He does not know what the brewery process is. The Braumat already has all the components, and you just build it or put it together.”

Siddle had Newlands hook everything to the PCS7 from the start, including the mash tun, brew kettle, the hot and cold liquor tanks, and all the fermenting tank temperature controls. Pro Chiller Systems interfaced everything into the system.

Having one central control system avoids spreading the functions and HMIs around the production area. Siddle appreciates that the results of those controls – temperature trends, pH levels, pressure readings – are not scribbled down on clipboards all over the brewhouse, waiting to be transcribed into a spreadsheet. All process data gathered by the probes are all automatically recorded at any interval the operator specifies, and the trending can be displayed in a variety of formats.

Anything operating out of range for a particular formulation’s parameters sets off an alarm to draw the brewer’s attention to a possible problem. Alarms can also be sent by e-mail or directly to a brewer’s smartphone, allowing many problems to be addressed remotely, with built-in security safeguards.

In practice, alarms are rare. Siddle observes, “We are hitting targets within 0.5% every time we brew. We are getting better extraction rates than we ever thought we would. It is nice to hit all your boil points and fermentation temperatures every time.”

Crown Valley is using the system’s library functions to control the different brewing and fermentation profiles of its beers. Just as the company does with its wines, it likes to cover a wide range. Siddle says that in addition to their famous Big Bison Ale, Crown Valley brews a broad spectrum of beers, including blondes, Czech pils, hefeweizen, Vienna lager, and an amber lager. Specialty and seasonal recipes include porter, dubbel, hard cider, and spiced ale using home-grown spices and herbs. Such a variety means a broad range of mashing, fermentation, and aging profiles. The brewer enters the parameters on the system, creating a library of beer profiles that will be re-created accurately every time that beer is brewed, while still allowing the brewmaster to tweak the process if necessary. Consistency is created from the beginning.

Without effective automation, brewing can easily become a labor-intensive process which shows up in the cost. Crown Valley has been able to keep those costs in line running a fully automated brewhouse. “A good CIP system eliminates the need for the extra guys who would normally perform repetitive tasks like opening and closing valves, or hooking up and de-coupling hoses,” Siddle notes. “The Compact is about less labor, and more consistency with your brews. You can see a return on your investment in less than two years.”

McQuhae still acknowledges that the Compact is not cheap, but finds that there can be attractive savings when the system is built into a new brewhouse either at start-up or when making a major expansion. Newlands does the training on its new projects, which also saves money for the customer. The simpler the training, the less it costs Newlands as well. McQuhae likes the simplicity: “All you have to do is position the mouse over the pump graphic, click the pump, and you get a pop-up saying Start/Stop. Away you go! Some of the trending functions take a little more training, and the actual programming takes more skill sets, but that is not done at the brewer level, that is done at Siemens.”

Training might not even be necessary for the brewer, thanks to the commonality among Siemens systems. “I had a switch in brewmasters about a month ago,” Siddle says. “The guys from Siemens and Newlands came down to do the re-training, but he had already used the Siemens system at A-B. He was already up to speed and is getting everything he can out of it.”

Users don’t have to worry about outgrowing the system if production increases. The Braumat can scale up with the company all the way up to around 200,000 barrels production, avoiding the costs of replacing less capable systems. That’s important to McQuhae: “If a small brewery intends to grow, the Braumat will grow with them. Can you do that on a small-rack PLC? No way. Even if the brewery grows tremendously and there is a need to re-do the whole brewhouse, it is all the same.”

Siddle has seen the effects of poor planning: “Too many craft brewers do not envision themselves growing. You wind up stacking tanks on top of tanks, and you cannot even walk through your brewery. When we did it, we made sure we could grow. It helps to know what you have to look forward to. If you do it right, you are going to grow. So you have to make that initial investment to make it the best possible plant from the start.”

Some specialty brewers believe an automated brewery loses the “hand-crafted” sense. Siddle disagrees and believes in good beer and good business. Crown Valley is proud of its brewery and facilities, including the automation. “It is all about education,” he says. “You have to realize that even with your passion, you have to have your business sense. You want the best quality product, sure, but with the lowest costs. Our vision for our facility is tourism. We love getting people down here and telling them about our native wines. We will do that with the brewery as well. This system is a brewmaster’s dream. You smell, see, taste the product every step of the way. Your senses still tell you that the beer is what you want it to be. It is still craft beer.”

Ed Montgomery is brewing industry manager for Siemens Industry, Inc.