Monday, 5 August 2013

Brewery automation

The reader may know that I used to work in the Nuclear Industry. I spent 20 odd1 years doing various roles. The experience and knowledge I gained has proven to be invaluable when building our brewery.

Beer enthusiasts sometimes seem a little baffled as to why brewers like myself want to grow their business. There are very many good reasons. One reason for me is that after a while it becomes tiresome to have to do repetitive and tedious jobs. Many of these jobs I know with the knowledge and experience I have, could be automated. Investment in the technology is expensive and can only be economically viable as the business becomes bigger.

Kegwash 1 from Hardknott Brewery on Vimeo.

A task that many micro-brewers have found themselves faced with is the challenge of keg washing. Some brewers remove the spear, turn the keg upside down and put it on their cask washer. A satisfactory solution, but not ideal, if for no other reason than if the keg isn't fully de-presurised first the projectile spear can lead to fatal consequences. I figure it's not called a spear for nothing.

I liked the idea of a fully automated keg wash system. One that blew out the ullage, pre-rinsed, washed with detergent, rinsed again and finished with a terminal rinse of peracetic blown out with a purge of CO2. However, off the peg systems start in the region of £10k.

MKI Hardknott keg wash used manual valves, and a single pump. It took a lot of concentration to operate else the wrong liquid would be sent the wrong direction at the wrong time.

Well, I am after all a control engineer2, so it seems to me to be daft not to combine my knowledge of instrumentation and control engineering with what I know my brewery needs.

So, I've just got MKII KegWash working.

I know it ain't pretty. Jules says if we paint it mat black it'd resemble something out of Mad Max. I prefer to think along the lines of Scrapheap Challenge. Much of it was built out of junk we had lying around. Yes, the electrical control circuits need to be packaged in an IP rated box. But it does work. You put the keg on, push the start switch and it does the rest. I'm pleased with it as a proof of principle prototype. MKIII will properly look the part, honest.


1By "odd" I mean; not exactly, but a little over, rather than strange. Although it has to be said, it was strange, from time to time.

2A control engineer is completely different to a control freak, although my staff team probably disagree.


StringersBeer said...

That's fantastic Dave. Just a single head?

Dave Bailey said...

Yes, it is just single head. The £10k ones I've seen are just single head too.

It takes about 5 minutes per cycle so theoretically could wash about 10-12 kegs an hour. Fairly slow. Obviously kegs could be filled in parallel using only one brewery operative.

I have wondered about decreasing the timings in parts of the cycle to increase throughput, but that obviously has the potential for unsatisfactory cleaning, especially with unfiltered "craft" beer.

Increasing the number of heads has been a thought. However, I'd have to decide if it needs bigger pumps if running in parallel or if the cycles could be interwoven; i.e. the wash was done on the second keg whilst the terminal was being finished on the other.

However, I think it more important to get the thing more "industrialised" first.

Cooking Lager said...

Hand crafted by robots ;)

Ed said...

Love it!

David said...

Very impressive!