Helping Whisky distilleries tackle filling wastage head on

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Variability in manufacturing provides a set of ever-changing goalposts for businesses, adding an unknown output and ultimately affecting a brand’s bottom line. This fluctuation is ever-present in the food and beverage industry.

Keith Thornhill, Head of Food and Beverage, Siemens UK&I explains how we’re helping Scottish distilleries to dramatically reduce wastage that has been part of the process for centuries – without compromising on the quality and traditional production methods intrinsic to this industry.

“Variability is something the food and beverage industry deal with daily and something that often frustrates our customers. Caused by equipment failing, human variation of operators and even the weather, variation is magnified for businesses as the industry becomes even more reactive to ever-changing consumer demands. This means that it is vital to control and predict the impact of these changes on production so that machinery and processes can adapt.

“With this fluctuation in production it can seem impossible to reduce wastage - many businesses make room for this in their bottom line or rely on the experience of their staff to help control variation. However, as competition for market share in the food and beverage industry increases, understanding how well you’re operating and where you’re headed as a business becomes even more important.” 

Challenging variability in whisky production 

“The Scottish whisky distillery industry is one market for which this is key. Due to time-served production methods, filling practices have remained unchanged for many years. Through inconsistencies in filling, caused by human error, variation in cask shape and size and environmental conditions, businesses lose precious productivity every year through inconsistent filling; underfill, overfill and foaming - spilling spirit on the floor or under filling every cask, which means precious warehouse space isn’t used effectively. 

“For those unfamiliar with whisky distilling, cask variation may seem to be an issue easily solved – simply use containers of a consistent size and volume to fill. However, the maturation process for whisky is one of the most important stages of production, with the spirit taking on the flavour profile of the handcrafted cask its stored in. Variated casks hold the key for many distilleries to a unique taste and colour which cannot be compromised.

“Siemens worked as part of a consortium, collaborating with the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre, Control Systems Services Integrator, Kigtek and Diageo to develop an innovative filling solution which could control this variability and achieve both a more accurate and faster fill, maximising productivity and efficiencies.” 

Optimising production now and in the future 

“Analysis of a customer’s current operational data provides the team with a clear picture of their Overall Equipment Efficiency (OEE). This output then informs our recommended solutions and helps us determine the achievable ROI.

“The Siemens team began by using data from different parts of Diageo’s production process to understand the areas for filling improvement. From this a digital twin was built – a simulation of the filling solution in the virtual world, comprised of Siemens AMESIM and Siemens STAR CCM+ software.

“Live production data was fed into the twin, through Siemens PCS 7 process control, whilst cloud based IoT operating system, MindSphere, collected and stored data outputs for analysis. By optimising the performance of the solution at this early stage, the team was able to dramatically reduce testing and prototyping time and give Diageo confirmed performance ROI before the solution had been built. Now operational, the filling rig fills more casks, more efficiently and accurately than the previous system in place.”

“Additional features have been built into the solution, designed to provide Diageo with a complete view of filling performance. The Siemens Guided Wave Radar in the rig’s filling lance achieves at least a 99% repeatable fill volume, ensuring a highly accurate and consistent fill. Ullage can be pre-programmed to any level to optimise cask chemistry.

“Siemens ABV Coriolis continually monitors volumetric flow and provides optimised flowrate analysis and real-time ABV measurement as the cask is filled. Siemens PCS 7 process control automatically feeds live data into the scheduling systems, allowing production lines to respond, altering output to maintain production forecasts. The Siemens G120 pump motor’s variable speed drive varies flowrate during filling to achieve a consistent and accurate fill.

“We used Diageo’s data to address a specific need, using the rig to meet the agreed ROI, volumetric flow and optimised flow rate, pre-determined by testing the digital twin.”

Richer data collection for complete control 

“Data collection and analysis doesn’t stop once the solution is operational. Data continues to be recorded and stored in the cloud, cataloguing each cask fill. Variables are translated into measurable data sets - fluctuations like liquid viscosity, temperature and environmental conditions are captured, and can be interrogated and fed back into the process, allowing distillers to tweak or replicate conditions to achieve specific traits of a whisky and repeat it.

“Through automation and data analysis our solution brings a higher level of production control, saving resource and reducing wastage, without compromising on the end-product.

“This data also provides valuable insight automatically feeding improvement analysis back into the digital twin for testing. This closed-loop performance model continually improves cask fill time, keeping customers ahead of the curve.”

Continuous improvement to future-proof your growth 

“For many food and beverage manufacturers, data is siloed and manually inputted into systems. A digital twin of your production process, supported by Siemens MindSphere, provides a joined-up view of your data and a model of your future outputs. It’s a smart way to de-risk new production methods or equipment by testing in the virtual world first, rather than on the factory floor.

“We use data visualisation in our own manufacturing facilities, helping us to minimise variability and deal quickly with new challenges which arise. Ultimately, digitalisation is about continuous improvement – for Diageo, we’re using production data to support business growth by driving efficiency and controlling variability without compromising output.”

“To automate and future-proof your business, whatever the sector, connected data visualisation is the first step, helping you understand the day-to-day realities, where things can improve and where you can aim tomorrow.”


See the filling rig in action and the technology we’ve used to boost productivity and reduce wastage at 

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Some business traditions are priceless, and we want to keep it that way. We can help you to deliver an exceptional product and maximise profitability, without compromise. Do get in touch with your question or enquiry.