Brewery automation plays a blinder

The perfect beer is a harmonious blend of art and science. Brewery automation helps by performing the measured and repetitive tasks while allowing brewers to focus on more creative, interesting and rewarding aspects. A new Mitsubishi Electric control system immediately delivered a 300% production gain for Sadler’s, brewers of craft ales

When Sadler’s Ales, a historic Black Country brewery, started to grow its business, it decided to adopt an automated process control solution from Mitsubishi Electric to improve productivity and make the quality of its craft beers more consistent.

Sadler’s Ales located near Stourbridge, in the Black Country has been crafting beers since 1900 and is currently run by Chris Sadler, a fifth-generation brewer. Popular brews in the company’s unique beer portfolio take reference from local subjects such as the Peaky Blinder range, which has proved an instant success nationwide.

The growing demand for Sadler’s beers led to the extension of the brewhouse, which contains all the equipment needed for the brewing process. This includes a mill to crush barley grains, a hot water tank, a mash tun to get wort and separate it from the mash, a copper to boil the wort while adding ingredients such as hops, a heat exchanger to rapidly cool the liquid, as well as several fermentation tanks and filter systems.

Chris Sadler, Managing Director at Sadler’s Brewery explained: “The new facilities should help us to quadruple production. Our goal is to produce up to 1,000 barrels a week.”

Reverse engineering the brewing process

The aim was to create a higher capacity brewing process with simpler monitoring and control by the existing staff. Hence, Sadler’s contacted local specialist Clarke Controls & Distribution to help achieve their aim.

Initially, the technical team from Clarke noted the absence of any formal documentation, such as piping and instrumentation (P&I) diagrams. To address this, they suggested an analysis of the plant to reverse engineer a new process control solution. They turned to their preferred process automation vendor Mitsubishi Electric to help specify the ideal brewery automation system components.

Their first task was to produce an accurate P&I diagram for the Mitsubishi automation engineers to determine the number of I/O configuration. They also identified the presence of critical electric motors (mainly pumps) requiring variable speed control.

Ian Clarke, Managing Director at Clarke Controls & Distribution, commented. “The absence of any information on the existing control system set-up made the reverse engineering operations particularly challenging. Therefore, the direct technical and organisational support provided by Mitsubishi Electric was key to the successful completion of the project.”

Brewery automation addressing the brewers’ needs

Clarke’s and Mitsubishi worked with Sadler’s brewers to understand their needs and build a bespoke solution around them. The control system immediately proved to be intuitive for Sadler’s brewers and resulted in clear productivity gains.

Stephen Thornton, Key Account Manager at Mitsubishi Electric, explains: “Customer satisfaction is most important to us. We made sure to address all the challenges and requirements relevant for the brewery team. We also asked the head brewer to give us a wish list on how he would like the equipment to operate. Based on this, we developed the new system.” The same also holds good for other craft industries.

The installation of Mitsubishi Electric’s FR-E700 compact VSDs provided energy saving for smaller pumps, compressors and fans in the system. The FR-F800 model provided energy saving for larger pump and fan control applications. A Mitsubishi Q Series PLC provided the control and linked to the devices using a CC-Link industrial fieldbus network. The PLC linked to a GOT2000 Human-Machine Interface (HMI) that displayed live information and alarms. This enabled the brewers to check the equipment and adjust the processes parameters live on the touch-screen operator terminal.

Craft beers become smart

Whilst the reverse engineering task required advanced skills and expertise to complete the operator controls was the opposite. Design of the bespoke control system was for ease of use and to streamline brewing operations. The benefits from the brewery automation control system were immediate, as production skyrocketed by 300% in less than a month. This resulted in 650 new barrels available every week, equating to almost 200,000 pints of beer. At a time when larger sales are declining, it’s the craft beers become smarts.

Sam Pegg, Production Manager at Sadler’s Brewery, commented. “I have been brewing without the support of an automated process control system for many years, so if I’m honest, I was a little apprehensive. I was surprised to learn how straightforward and easy the new solution was to use. It improved my day-to-day activities, allowing time to focus on more interesting aspects, like development of new beers and recipes.”