Digital research brewery: Something is brewing here
First comes the gentle hiss when the cap is opened. Then comes the pleasant olfactory sensation when it’s poured into the glass. Christoph Neugrodda really enjoys his chilled beer, made at the research brewery in Weihenstephan near Freising. The facility produces only small quantities of various types of beer, but thanks to state-of-the-art digital solutions, the system not only offers greater flexibility in the selection of beer types, it also features a much simpler user interface.
The research brewery is part of the Technical University of Munich (TUM), where students can roll up their sleeves and brew their own beer as part of their studies. But the brewery is not intended exclusively for teaching purposes. It can also be used by other breweries to try out new types of beer in very small batches before commencing large-scale production. That’s why it’s essential for the research brewery that the brewing process be fully automated, since this makes it possible to reproduce the results later. The latest version of the Siemens Braumat process control system has been used of late to run two to three brewing processes or “brews” each day.
The technical director of the research brewery is Christoph Neugrodda, who is particularly pleased with the new brewhouse control system. “It is not often in the career of a master brewer that you can witness the restructuring of the entire control system close up,” says Neugrodda. The switchover took about six weeks overall. The changes during this time went beyond just physical renovations to the system. Safety technology also played an important role and was integrated directly into the new control system, which now runs through a single control cabinet. This led to savings on cabling and other hardware components, but an added benefit is that whenever changes are made to the system, you only need to update the corresponding safety software. In addition, Neugrodda and his master brewers can now see the system data directly from their offices, which makes their work considerably easier. Neugrodda likes to refer to the new control cabinet as “the brain of the system,” since it now controls all the technical components of the brewing process, which also come from Siemens.
“Our goal is reproducibility”
The now fully automatic brewhouse is completely controlled by software. Only the ingredients still need be added manually. The individual tanks are visually depicted exactly as they appear in the hall just a few meters away. Neugrodda and his eight employees are particularly pleased with the program’s new visualization, which is not only practical but also simpler in many aspects. It heightens understanding of the actual brewing process and makes the control system easier to operate, even for novices. It also makes it easier to deconstruct the brewing process after the fact. The “replay mode” is a screen recording that displays the parameters recorded by the system as the brewing process unfolded. This eliminates the danger of losing the recipe: Beer can always be rebrewed at any time in exactly the same way. “Our goal is reproducibility—and with the new control, this is much easier than it was,” says Neugrodda.
Much more than just brewing beer
The control system user interface is more intuitive than before, but above all, the recipe formulation process is much more flexible. The research brewery has eight main types of beer, and it’s possible to customize the specific parameters by type. This makes it much easier for the research brewery to reproduce all previously brewed beer types. It’s easy to integrate adaptations to new specifications, such how hops are dosed into different vessels during the brewing of craft beer.
The research brewery bottles some 120,000 liters a year, including the beer it brews on behalf of other breweries. This is nothing compared with the numbers of the large breweries, of course, but quantity is not the priority of the research brewery. TUM’s Department of Brewing & Beverage Technology includes more than the brewery itself, after all. It also has its own laboratories and sensory rooms used to conduct regular analyses and blind tastings of the beers.
The systems are fully integrated end to end, so the system also monitors what happens next with the brews after they’re finished. This includes the analysis of the brewed beer type, during which all thresholds and activities are automatically stored in the laboratory system. There is a precisely defined workflow for extracting and testing the samples and analyzing the results, and this workflow is also monitored by the system. This results in better reproducibility of production quality and higher-quality analysis. “Research beers are the best-analyzed beers in the world,” says Neugrodda.
Marion Steinleitner, Siemens
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