For years, GEA has been accompanying breweries on their journey to digital transformation. This is why the company has recently teamed up with renowned industry customers to develop the GEA InsightPartner Brewery software. This tool captures real-time process management data, monitors production performance and alerts users to deviations. If necessary, brewers can quickly take remedial action in order to optimise brewhouse efficiency over the long term. In the future, these capabilities will also extend to other process steps in the cold block area.
“Thanks to digitalisation, brewers have access to ever-increasing quantities of data. In order for this to benefit our customers in their day-to-day work, the information must be condensed into a clear and meaningful form,” explains Karlheinz Höhn, who heads service management for Beverage & Filling Technologies at GEA. To this end, GEA’s brewery and service experts defined more than 120 parameters, which help calculate KPIs. “Our goal is to provide brewers with a previously unattainable level of process control. Since technical infrastructure usually evolves over many years, today’s operating personnel can often no longer infer why a specific process technology solution was chosen in the past. In a way, GEA InsightPartner Brewery pulls back the curtain.”
In developing the tool and refining the software, GEA took into account not only its own process experience acquired through brewery projects around the globe but also the needs of and feedback received from Stralsundbased Störtebeker Braumanufaktur as well as other major breweries. As a result, GEA InsightPartner Brewery analyses process data – for instance, on wort filtration, turbidity, filtration time and efficiency – providing single values in addition to trends over time as well as variations across brands and batches. What’s more, it is also possible to compare actual and target metrics. If actual production values deviate significantly from planned benchmarks, visual alerts draw plant operators’ attention to the problem. The option of making direct comparisons following adjustments or changes to the process helps in troubleshooting. To this end, the software solution features an intuitive user interface that allows both upstream and downstream departments to predict possible process bottlenecks ranging from raw material availability to fermentation plant capacity.
“The fact that we are providing evaluations in real time is a stand-out feature,” explains GEA Product Manager Moritz Braun. “The upshot is that production or quality assurance staff can intervene at an early stage and save valuable time on troubleshooting. Instead of waiting for analyses after completing a brew, they can respond while the process is underway and, for example, extend the boiling time in the wort kettle.” As an add-on feature, GEA InsightPartner can make use of the existing process control systems and manufacturing execution systems (MES), which capture data downstream but only visualise it to a limited extent. The GEA solution acts as a bridge to KPI based reporting, which is of great importance to brewery managers. Speed as well as precise, easy-to-grasp, realtime analyses are instrumental to achieving the goal of maximum plant uptime. Braun adds that, as Covid-19 restrictions are putting the entire beverage industry under commercial strain, this is now a more pressing issue than ever before.
Using a weekly schedule, GEA InsightPartner Brewery monitors production progress. The system registers the duration of each individual process step and monitors adherence to time specifications in order to generate a realtime forecast on meeting the targeted output. Based on these insights, production managers can adjust the weekly schedule and achieve the best possible plant productivity. After completing the pilot phase with GEA InsightPartner, Störtebeker brewery also testifies to this. The Stralsund brewery reports achieving a five- to eight-percent productivity boost as early as in the first phase. “We discovered that one mash tun had worse heating rates than the other. Our technicians were able to replace the steam control valve so that we could continue production again the following week with the same quality at lower energy consumption,” says Holger Tangermann, responsible for the brewing operation at Störtebeker Braumanufaktur. “Thanks to GEA InsightPartner, we pick up on potential problems sooner than before when we used to rely on extremely time-consuming, post-hoc analyses from the SCADA system. On average, we were able to increase our productivity by two brews per week.”
An important motivating factor in Störtebeker brewery’s decision to step up as a pilot customer was safeguarding the purity of each of its various beer types. “Quality – of the kind that’s reproducible time and again – is hugely important to us. It’s what our customers have come to expect of us and why we are positioned in the premium segment. So, the fact that GEA InsightPartner also allows conclusions about variations in raw materials is very helpful,” says Holger Tangermann. GEA InsightPartner makes it possible to compare current plant operations with the data from previous brews in order to instantly pinpoint deviations and dive deep into the relevant brew’s history so that remedial action can be taken even during the brewing process. In this way, breweries can preserve their specialty beers’ unique characteristics and quality over the long term.
Following the milling, mashing and lautering steps in phase one, GEA and Störtebeker brewery are now entering phase two, which encompasses the brewhouse as a whole including utilities. “We are now also integrating the energy input for heating, cooling, etc. into our analyses. On that front, we expect GEA InsightPartner to help our customers achieve even greater efficiency gains,” says Braun.
“Our long-term goal is to create an autopilot for breweries,” Karlheinz Höhn explains. “That would allow breweries to optimise processes at the touch of a button, just as dairy farmers are already able to do today with GEA OptiPartner. Until breweries are able to self-correct completely autonomously, process control through intelligible, real-time data analyses will remain crucial for quality, speed and plant availability. GEA InsightPartner Brewery represents a decisive step forward for our customers.”