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How robots are changing the brewing industry

Tatjana Milenovic

Munch’s most famous work, The Scream has four versions in three different mediums. Each variant is unique yet unmistakably recognizable. Historically, brewing has been a mix of art and science, but with beer in high demand, optimizing the brewing process for a consistent product is key to meeting customer requirements. Here, Tatjana Milenovic, Group Vice President for ABB’s Food and Beverage division explores the application of robotics in a brewery setting.

Craft beer has seen a surge in popularity and helped boost the overall UK beer market, which saw a growth of 2.6 per cent in 2018. This is the biggest increase for 45 years. The US beer market also saw a growth of 1.8 per cent in the same period, while total volume of sales fell by 0.4 per cent. With apps making it possible for consumers to access updated tap lists for watering holes worldwide, it’s clear that consumers are willing to pay more, or wander further afield for a quality or artisan product.

Savvy breweries are increasingly turning to intelligent automation to increase productivity, flexibility and boost profits. Adopting robotics in keg picking and packing applications can reap multiple benefits for breweries supplying the catering sector.

For smaller craft breweries robotics can offer the opportunity to scale up operations to reach a wider pool of consumers. While some breweries may be reluctant to move away from traditional practices, automating select processes can achieve consistent high quality. It can also remove brewery staff from repetitive or labor-intensive tasks to focus on managing process efficiency.

Keg processing is a crucial area where robots can help. An increasing number of keg types exist, so a system that can grasp all shapes and sizes, without the need to change the robot or the gripper, is a flexible solution that can adapt to future keg designs. This low maintenance and adaptable system can reduce business costs dramatically, mitigating the need for frequent equipment upgrades.

ABB’s IRB 6640 robot is ideal for brewery applications. The robot features upper arm extenders and different wrist modules for easy customization, and can bend fully backwards, allowing it to fit into dense production lines. Once the stacked pallets arrive on a conventional stacker, the pallets are isolated and moved to the unloading station. The robot grasps each keg, with a maximum payload of 235kg, rotates it through 180 degrees and places it on a conveyor belt. Another robot then loads the kegs back on to empty pallets for distribution.

These robots can be used with ABB’s RobotStudio software,  which checks the residue in the keg, capacity and pressure conditions as well as the correct temperature for cleaning and rinsing agents. The system can be used while the robot is operational and records data relating to the life cycle of kegs.

Consumer preferences are changing, and breweries must adapt, using technological innovations such as robots to help. While inconsistencies add value to artwork, automation solutions allow beer that is crafted with 100 per cent consistency.

To explore how ABB’s robots have been integrated in a world-famous German brewery, visit the website.