How to brew a better beer with IoT

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The brewing industry is undergoing a revolution, with craft beers taking the world by storm. But with greater choice and variety for consumers comes greater challenges for manufacturers. Brewers must manage complex coordination between suppliers, fulfill orders and address global and local regulations, while keeping a tight control over costs. Digital technology solutions are helping transform this very traditional, long-established industry.

To begin with, digital tools can aid the supply chain and production processes, directly impacting cost management and product quality. Hop is a volatile ingredient that must be incorporated into the brewing process within 12 hours of being harvested, and IoT-enabled sensors can ensure they’re incorporated in peak condition. Sensors can gather data on temperature and humidity of hops, use GPS to track a shipment’s location and report precisely when it will arrive at the brewery.

Brewing today is a pretty exact science, too. During the fermentation process, yeast eats up sugar and turns it into alcohol, which reduces the density of the beer. The brewing can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, and variations in temperature affect the beer’s flavor, so continuous monitoring is a good use of tech to help create a consistently good product. Brewing companies can use Bluetooth routers that are able to penetrate steel brewing tanks and connect to low-power energy sensors in the tanks. Combine this with data analytics tools and brewers can monitor the quality and consistency of the beer they’re making at any time and from anywhere in the world.

IoT-enabled sensors

Tech is transforming the brewing process

Another area where brewers are leveraging digital to their advantage is smart manufacturing. Breweries are adopting IoT, AI and machine learning, big data, edge computing, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) to create more automated production processes. This embraces different departments, from product design, packaging, manufacturing and QA to logistics.

Using these tools and a smart manufacturing approach, it’s possible to create digital twins of brewery products, plants and production lines to simulate and optimize the entire workflow. IoT and machine learning solutions, married to big data analytics, enables predictive maintenance. This gives brewers greater control over the manufacturing process, reducing downtime and costs, and again, ensuring a more consistent beer brewing method.

“It’s a fascinating time to be involved with brewing companies and to see the digital innovations they are embracing,” says Frank de Jong, Senior Digital Business Consultant at Orange Business Services. “Just like any manufacturer, breweries always want to improve efficiency, reduce wastage and optimize production processes – in brewing terms that means making and bottling more beer in the time available.”

“One great development is a smart Beer Membrane Filter (BMF) that gathers data about when it is best to clean the filter and remove particles that clog it up. Brewers want to get absolutely as much beer out of their filters as possible, and this smart filter enables that and optimizes the brewing process. But we could not have done this before we were leveraging and analyzing data,” he adds.

Other innovations abound

London-based Intelligent Brewing Co. is taking technology in brewing to the next level, using AI and machine learning to make beers that learn what tastes their consumers like and adapt to that. The brewer’s IntelligentX solution uses a Facebook Messenger bot to gather feedback from customers on its products and gives that data to brewers who tailor and tweak recipes accordingly. The company believes that in the near future, it will be able to use data analytics, algorithmic logic, machine learning and AI to develop other “emotive” products, like perfumes, coffee or chocolate – finely tuned to consumers’ individual tastes.

In the U.S., Ohio-based brewery Great Lakes Brewing Company (GLBC) is leveraging Industrial IoT (IIoT) tools to maximize its data, while Canadian technology developer Finger Food has come up with a holographic application for brewing companies that uses IoT sensors to get a view of how the beer is brewing. The tool is called HoloBridge and leverages data and AR to create a life-size hologram of brewery equipment that lets the brewer see and interact with data in real time. The end result is that the brewery’s staff can use the data to eliminate production time losses and increase productivity.

“Data is now as essential in beer brewing as it is in other industries,” continues Frank de Jong. “Data and digital tools now enable brewers to judge the temperature and measure and analyze the pressure in the lines when they put beer into bottles in the packaging process, meaning they can find the optimum pressure to prevent spillage and blowout from the bottles and reduce wastage.”

“In addition, IoT sensors on packaging machines record changes in temperature or vibrations, which enables predictive maintenance and reduces downtime of the production line. It also reduces the costs of spare parts, because they no longer have to keep parts on stock at every location. Digital and data are really transforming brewing and are helping brewers optimize the entire process and achieve consistency they couldn’t before,” he adds.

Overall, digital technology is being used by brewers to transform traditional ways of doing things. It helps brewers monitor the market to remain in tune with consumer tastes and trends. Breweries can use low CAPEX cloud computing for their tech to help keep costs low, while data analysis is helping them optimize production and streamline the entire enterprise.

Even on a basic practical level, in an industry where bar workers typically have to lift kegs to determine how much beer is left in them, solutions like BruVue’s faucet-based sensor devices measure how much beer is left in a keg and help make inventory more accurate – while also sparing workers’ backs and arms. In an industry where the average U.S. bar serving draft beer can lose up to $12,000 per year on inventory, using IoT tech to monitor beer pour at the tap seems sensible.

IoT can also be used for asset tracking – including keeping tabs on kegs. With new kegs costing €75-85 each, breweries and distilleries face huge losses each year from theft, from kegs being fraudulently refilled with cheap beer and sold as the official brew, and from damage through poor handling and maintenance costs. IoT enables you to see whether problems are occurring at the filling, distribution, inventory stacking, delivery, collection or return stage of the key supply chain. If kegs live out their maximum potential lifespan of 20 to 40 years, rather than going missing in student residence halls or rivers, significant savings can be made.

Some drink manufacturers are even experimenting with AR packaging that lets buyers view the sustainability story of the beer’s ingredients and production process. Consumers simply scan the bottle’s label with a smartphone app to see the footage.

Beer is big business. According to Research and Markets, the global craft beer industry alone was valued at $38 billion in 2018 and is forecast to grow at a CAGR of 14 percent to 2023. Digital technology is certain to play a big role.

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