As featured in IOT Journal

Beverage manufacturers, specifically breweries, face extremely complex challenges in planning and logistics. There are the predictable fluctuations brought about by the change of seasons and holidays—from pumpkin beer for fall to spikes in demand for your favorite holiday cheer blend. Add to that the fluctuations that manufacturers cannot predict—a late freeze in the lemon pastures disrupting supply for your favorite summer shandy or a new competitive offering suddenly arriving in the marketplace, impacting demand. Finally, there are shifts in consumer preferences that can have significant strategic implications, especially since there are so many new entrants causing market disruption.

How can breweries prepare for these challenges, both expected and unexpected? For starters, it involves proactive contingency planning and management of critical production assets. Breweries are in a particularly unique position, in that emerging Industrial Internet of things (IIoT) technologies can play a valuable role in a number of key ways.

Keeping the Beer Flowing

Regardless of the season, keeping critical production and packaging assets up and running at peak efficiency is crucial for meeting production demand. By creating that virtual environment and installing IIoT sensors throughout the production and packaging environments, breweries that have adopted advanced analytics to process the collected data can help predict equipment lag or failure before they disrupt production. At the very least, the sensors can help to provide critical insights to identify the root of the problem to minimize downtime.

This insight can also be shared with suppliers across the chain to avoid potential hiccups. For example, if a citrus grower’s IIoT analytics is predicting a shortage that could cause a delay in production, for example, this information could be made available to the brewery in near-real-time, giving it a head start to act on its contingency plan and ensure that its profits are not affected by the shortage.

Brewing Better Efficiency

Breweries run on efficient systems. In the case of smaller breweries, they typically operate on one or two systems, but still produce anywhere from four to eight flavors. Much like a baker at a bakery who cooks muffins and cookies in the same oven, breweries are masters at reusing lines to create a wide range of flavors from the same equipment. Along with efficiency, breweries need to ensure their data is protected and remains reliable throughout the brewing process.

Industries that have long cycle times, such as the beer industry, require solid processes that stem from reliable data. If the data is compromised, a brewery doesn’t necessarily need to throw away the entire batch, but it would have to deal with the uncertainty associated with the bad data and analytics. Moreover, if data is compromised, brewers recognize the need for great serviceability and support to get their systems back up and running to peak efficiency. Because of this, there is a willingness and a need to invest in systems that will not fail.

Ensuring the Same, Delicious Flavor Every Time

In the beer industry, catering to consumer preferences is vital to a brewery’s overall success. Consumers expect the same great taste, every time. To ensure breweries are meeting these demands, they must place stringent pressure on quality processes throughout the entire year. However, as production tempo ramps up to meet increased seasonal or spike demands, this becomes significantly more difficult. The IIoT can help by enabling real-time, in-line quality analysis. Samples can be tested on the production line in real time using chemical and spectroscopic analysis, with test data made immediately available to centralized quality systems via the IIoT. This allows breweries to catch potential quality issues early, thereby limiting the potential risk and cost of a quality problem—and the resulting damage to their brand.

IIoT technology can also improve product tracking and traceability, gathering data throughout a product’s journey through the process to improve both real-time problem response and historical trends analysis and corrective actions. Thus ensures consumers get the same great taste they expect every time.

Utilizing Agility to Keep Up with Changing Trends

A few years ago, no one expected pumpkin would make such a comeback—just think about how many varieties of pumpkin brews are now available. The need for greater business agility for breweries will only increase in the years ahead. Maximizing the benefits of IIoT technologies and data analytics will only continue to improve the management of critical assets, as well as quality assurance, forecasting accuracy and logistics coordination.

As these breweries combine intelligence at the edge of beverage manufacturing plants with cloud-based applications, it is critical that the plant-side systems will be continuously available and easily manageable by existing plant staff—without requiring sophisticated IT support. This will help to guarantee operational nimbleness for large and craft breweries alike. With greater visibility into the ins and outs of the supply chain and production processes—delivered as actionable information in real time—breweries will have the intelligence needed to compete in today’s increasingly unpredictable, consumer-driven marketplace.