Rockwell Automation helps Ithaca Beer enhance brewery automation process

  • October 30, 2019
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Case Study
Rockwell Automation helps Ithaca Beer enhance brewery automation process
Rockwell Automation helps Ithaca Beer enhance brewery automation process

October 30, 2019 - With nearly 20,000 craft breweries worldwide, thirst for craft beer shows no signs of slowing down. From pale ales to porters and now sours, most beer drinkers can’t wait to get their hands on the next brew iteration from their local brewhouse.

Ithaca Beer Co. is no exception. Based in the Finger Lakes region just outside of Ithaca, New York, Ithaca Beer Co. is beloved for their acclaimed Flower Power IPA and known locally for creating innovative limited-release batches. 

To maintain the quality and consistency local drinkers rely on, a few years ago, the brewery realized they needed differentiate their offering by improving operations.

In 2012, the brewery built a new brewhouse – including production, packaging and an on-site restaurant – to keep up with growing demands. In 2017, the team decided it was necessary to come up with a solution to work through ongoing challenges the operation system the brewhouse was experiencing. 

“Our initial project was incomplete from an installation and commissioning standpoint,” said Andrew Hausman, head of brewing operations, Ithaca Beer Co. “a lot was left unfinished. The flow meter wasn’t connected to our main HMI, the cellar HMIs were never installed and we didn’t have integrated data collection or recipe management software.”

The brewery staff tried configuring the solutions themselves, but the task was more challenging than expected. Tanks were wired incorrectly and documentation for the brewhouse was inaccurate. “The full system was unstable and unreliable, said Hausman. “And system downtime was catastrophic, causing lost production and costs.”

The brewery required a modern, reliable and flexible control platform for the future with solid support. “We needed peace of mind that if an issue occurred, we’d be down for an hour and not days at a time,” added Hausman.

At a Master Brewers Association meeting, Andrew Hausman connected with OBG, a recognized system integrator in the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork program, and established a partnership for their new brewhouse and control platform upgrade.

Working with OBG, Ithaca Beer Co. upgraded to a semi-automated brewing process based on the FactoryTalk Craft Brew solution from Rockwell Automation. The pre-configured solution offers control to customize and automate a craft brewhouse. And it is pre-engineered, -programmed, -tested and -validated, significantly reducing commissioning and startup time.

“It was important for us to look for a solution that was easy to customize,” said Hausman. “We do not have a fully automated brewing process, so modifications were necessary. Plus, the solution is scalable for future growth and production changes, which was also an important part of our selection process.”

With the craft brew solution, Ithaca Beer Co. was able to leverage most of their current assets and installed base, including existing I/O, variable speed drives and controllers – another key reason the company decided to standardize on the Rockwell Automation solution.

As part of the new solution, integrated and automated batch reporting offers electronic batch information directly through the HMI. In the past, the brewers had to manually write a batch report for every brew which included entering important recipe information like gravities and pH levels manually. The new solution offers visualization, storing and trending of key batch data, simplifying troubleshooting efforts and allowing brewers to better compare a “golden batch” to a batch with quality problems, saving hours of recipe adjustment time.

Using the pre-developed graphics within the craft brew solution, the HMIs have a modern and more structured look and feel with accurate and consistent naming and tags. “It used to take us weeks to train a new brewer due to the addition difficulty in learning an incomplete operating system,” said Hausman. “Today, managers can train a new brewer in days. Everything is well documented in the system and has an updated, more modern look.”

Lastly, the new solution has added a layer of functionality to the brew tanks that Ithaca Beer Co. didn’t have in the past. As part of the batch system, the brewery now has a fermentation scheduler with easy-to-add functionalities. This allows brewers to create a fermentation schedule within the system and choose which schedule to align to each individual vessel.

Moving to the semi-automated solution produced instant results for Ithaca Beer Co.

Brew operations are now stable and reliable. “We have peace of mind in our operations and our operators gained confidence in the process they didn’t have before,” said Hausman.

The modern HMIs use consistent and accurate naming, making it easier for the team to train new brewers and add a layer of visibility into operations for easier and faster troubleshooting. The new solution also provides a smoother and more structured process for recipe management. Recipe change and recipe implementation is simplified through the HMI, allowing brewers more time to concentrate on value-added tasks like sanitation and quality checks.

With a direct line of sight into equipment diagnostics and key batch data, downtime has been reduced significantly. Brewers can troubleshoot system issues and/or recipe issues that arise much quicker. “One day of downtime in this business can equate to a loss of approximately $75,000 in revenue, and we experienced days of downtime a couple times a year with our old system,” added Hausman.

Since installing the new solution, the brewery has not experienced any significant downtime event.

The results mentioned above are specific to Ithaca Beer Co.’s use of Rockwell Automation products and services in conjunction with other products. Specific results may vary for other customers.

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