From quantity to quality     

As the beer market grows more diverse and nuanced, breweries and equipment manufacturers are working together to seek solutions to new challenges.

Some time ago the news media picked up the story of two managers from the German Internet platform Rocket Internet who had founded their own craft brewery in a back courtyard in Berlin. There, in the city’s Neukölln district, they aimed to brew 1,000 hectoliters in 2016 under their brand name Berliner Berg (“Berlin Mountain”). Feeling they’d had enough of virtual success, these young Internet pioneers longed for genuine craftsmanship with a real end product. Under the advertising slogan “Für mehr Vielfalt beim Bier” (“Promoting the diversity of beer”), they raised more than EUR 50,000 through crowdfunding for their initial investments. Three years later, their own brewery is up and running. Aart from lager, pale ale, Bantam Pils, California Wheat Ale, and Berliner Weisse beers, seasonal and limited special brews are produced. Is this the future of beer-brewing in Germany? Small batches, produced in a flexible and efficient way, often thanks to the help of digitalization? (Find out more about how to adapt to the changing market situation and customers demand here)


Craft breweries on the advance

At first glance it could appear that breweries have nothing to complain about: Production worldwide has risen from the roughly 1.5 billion hectoliters brewed in 2003 to almost two billion hectoliters today. But this growth is stagnating, and not only in the traditional beer regions in Europe and the USA, but also in China. Until 2013 the country was the growth motor of worldwide beer production, yet production has fallen from more than half a billion hectoliters to around 470 million.

The German market in particular has been saturated for years. According to Germany’s Federal Statistical Office, per-capita beer consumption has been stagnating between 106 and 110 liters for some years now, production hovers at around 95 million hectoliters, and over 1,400 breweries fight hard for a share of the market. The year 2017, with its cool summer, was a very bad year for producers, but with the exceptionally hot summer of 2018 – already visible in the figures for the first half year – boosting consumption again. And now the new trend towards craft breweries is making itself felt, with microbreweries like “Berliner Berg” challenging the major brewers for market share. This movement originated in the United States (read more about a Canadian microbrewery here), yet it could indeed alter the German market. The shelves of Germany’s supermarkets today offer beer brands for EUR 2.50 Euro per half liter, yet a bottle of many premium upscale brews such as “Sylter Hopfen” (“Sylt Hops”) can cost over EUR 20. While the Managing Director of the Research and Teaching Institute for Brewing in Berlin (VLB), Josef Fontaine, recognizes and welcomes the enhancing of beer’s image in Germany – some beer enthusiasts have even begun training to become “beer sommeliers” – he sounds a note of caution about projecting the future: “Consumers are interested in new brands and types of beer, particularly in regional varieties. It remains to be seen, however, whether they’re prepared to pay significantly higher prices.” While some smaller craft breweries had established themselves, their share of overall production was still negligibly small with 0.05 percent.

More than three decades ago, Siemens’ “Braumat” set the industry standard for process control systems, and most breweries still use this same system today to ensure reliable, qualitatively stable beer production. But this system alone is no longer enough to win in mature markets like Germany’s, Fontaine from the VLB knows. “Even if the prices for raw materials, auxiliaries and operating materials are currently rather low, the price pressure in the retail sector is making things increasingly difficult for beer brewers.” At the same time breweries are incurring additional costs because they have to respond to changing consumer behavior by expanding their range of products. In particular, the market segment of alcohol free beers (6 percent) and beer mix drinks (3 percent) is growing steadily.

Breweries are expanding production to offer seasonal varieties of beer and beer-mix drinks, but doing so requires producing in smaller brew batches. Yet how do you ensure that the right brew batch lands in the appropriate fermentation tank? How does the mature content of a storage tank find the most efficient route for filling the right bottles and kegs? Siemens’ Braumat process control system, for example, ensures this with Simatic IT, standard products for reporting, transparent production and consistent company data that Siemens has developed in collaboration with longstanding business partners – and continues developing to this day.

The world’s largest brewery

One of these longstanding partners with a rich tradition is Ziemann Holvrieka, a globally active manufacturer of brewing equipment and tanks. Ziemann Holvrieka has relied on Braumat systems since the 1970s and partnered with Siemens around the globe, currently for example to build Piedras Negras in Mexico, the largest brewery in the world. “We integrate Siemens’ systems into our solutions and of course collaborate very closely with Siemens, for example by holding joint workshops on a regular basis. We also work just as closely with the breweries and are able to pass on their feedback to Siemens as industry-specific input,” explains Klaus Gehrig, Managing Director and COO of Ziemann Holvrieka GmbH.

In this way Siemens always knows what’s on the brewers’ minds, and where their concerns lie. One novel innovation from Siemens is currently solving a common problem master brewers have long struggled with: a measuring instrument which can precisely measure how many liters of beer are in a storage tank despite extensive foam formation (see box).

Efficiency thanks to software simulation

Siemens is also able to use simulation techniques to help breweries cut costs by first accurately assessing their existing capacities before making changes or purchasing new equipment. One brewery in South America, for example, ultimately opted not to buy new brewing tanks based on a simulation analysis using Siemens’ Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) software. It turned out that optimized utilization of their existing systems eliminated any need to acquire new equipment. German brewer Paulaner set their trust in the same software in planning Paulaner’s brewery near Munich, which is now completed.

In the United States, craft breweries have been springing up everywhere like mushrooms in recent years in response to the dominance by major breweries. As a result, the United States has more breweries today than any other single country worldwide. Total production by craft brewers has more than quadrupled since 2004; in 2017 it rose by 5 percent, and currently is at around 25 million barrels (29 million hectoliters), holding a market share of nearly 13 percent. America's Brewers Association still forecast a market share of 20 percent by 2020 a few years ago, but even though the market is continuing to grow, the goal will most certainly only be met at a later date.

Automation for up-and-comers, too

For ambitious brewmasters, achieving success on a major scale becomes problematic when rising demand calls for steadily growing production quantities. One typical example is Schlafly Bottleworks, a craft brewery founded in 1991 in the city of St. Louis by two beer enthusiasts who wanted to brew new and innovative types of beer. And that’s just what the consumers wanted, too. Demand grew year by year, and the brewmasters had to work more and more night shifts to ensure supply met demand. In 2009, Schlafly installed Siemens’ Braumat system and increased production efficiency by 30 percent. That ended the era of having to do night shifts, despite the fact that their 2009 production volume of nearly 30,000 barrels (35,000 hectoliters) doubled to 60.000 barrels (70,000 hectoliters) by 2014.

“Up-and-coming international craft breweries as well as national specialty beer brewers are very interested in automation processes, which represents major opportunities for Siemens,” says VLB Managing Director Fontaine. At the same time, automation also enables innovative, experimentalist newcomers to focus more on their core mission. 

In the United States, it is precisely this eagerness to try something new that distinguishes craft brewers from the major brewing companies. Their brewers’ art includes experimenting with ginger, lemon rind, coriander, chili peppers and every possible type of fruit. In Germany, this tendency is weaker owing to the country’s Reinheitsgebot, the “Beer Purity Law.” The Germans celebrated the 500 year anniversary of the Reinheitsgebot edict as recently as 2016. And experts such as Fontaine don't believe that Germany's tendency toward "pure" beer will change in the near future.


Moritz Gathmann, freelance journalist, lives in Germany

Picture credits: Detlef Schneider; Getty Images

The brewing industry faces a host of challenges today. On the one hand, the number of different beer styles, and thus also bottle types, is increasing more and more. On the other hand, fierce competition is ratcheting up cost pressures. Added to this are the strict conditions of the EHEDG Aseptic, which controls hygiene measures in the manufacture and packaging of foodstuffs. This includes precise determination of the contents of pressure tanks before bottling, as well as the contents of fermentation and storage tanks. Previously, this would have been done primarily using ultrasound sensors with direct product contact, or by means of differential pressure measurement. For around a year now, Siemens has offered the Sitrans LR250 HEA, a system for pressure measurement without product contact, based on the technology of the cross-sector Sitrans LR250 radar level transmitter.


“In further developing our field-proven radar level transmitter, we were aware of the specific requirements of the brewing industry, so we placed particular value on the hygienic enclosure of the antenna, and on the variety of process connections. It was also important to us that the new sensor should be especially easy to maintain and to repair, if it should come to that,” explains Robert Gray, Project Head at Siemens Process Automation in Peterborough/Canada. The Sitrans LR250 HEA is thus much more cost-effective than comparable ultrasound-based systems, and it also has an electrical system that can be replaced without opening the tank.

Putting the new system through its paces, Siemens subjected the Sitrans LR250 HEA to a host of tests at the Technical University of Munich in Weihenstephan. Three fermentation and storage tanks at the research brewery were each equipped with a Sitrans LR250 HEA with different process connections. “In the past months, we have used the tanks to brew all possible styles of beer, from bottom-fermented beers (…) all the way to special beers with dry hopping or wood aromatization,” relates Dr. Florian Schüll, Head of the Weihenstephan Research Brewery. Thanks to the dynamic envelope-curve algorithm with which all Siemens radar and ultrasound level transmitters are equipped, the sensors were able to supply precise measurements even in the presence of layers of foam.


During the entire test period, there were no microbiological abnormalities or accretions. The reason for this is that the sensors in the upper area of the tanks were attached without contacting the product. In addition, the polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) used for the fully encapsulated antenna has a surface roughness of less than 0.8 μ, making the surface of the antenna especially smooth. On the basis of these results, the Sitrans LR250 HEA became the first radar level transmitter to acquire Aseptic certification in accordance with the strict rules of EHEDG.

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