At drinktec 2017 the GEA technology group will hold a discussion about its “Brewery 4.0” concept for the future of the brewing industry. One pioneering feature of the concept is linking beer production – which includes continuous mash treatment and separation in double decanters, a faster fermentation and maturation process as well as quality assurance – with just-in-time production technology and the potential of digitalization. Brewery 4.0 will help customers compete in the coming years and generate the greatest possible flexibility throughout the supply chain. GEA is also taking into account the sustainability aspects with regard to yields, energy consumption and the footprint of the plants.

What do customers need, what does the technology need to do

Over the past few years, GEA has started diverse research and development projects for Brewery 4.0 and developed them throughout the group. They focus on the requirements of an industry, where only the most creative will survive the competition. Customer inquiries and research findings have revealed what the industry truly needs: high quality products with absolutely reliable, safe production, flexibility in the face of demand fluctuations, delivery capacity, improvements to internal productivity with ever lower operating costs and a sustainable ecological balance. Andreas Holleber is head of the brewery business at GEA and has invited industry representatives to join in a discussion at the drinktec 2017: “Brewery 4.0 outlines the future of the brewing industry over the next ten years. We think discussing the demands of beer production with brewers and scientists in order to validate the concept is important.” 

From batch brewhouse to continuous wort production

GEA assumes beer production in the mainstream segment of large breweries will shift to continuous or semi-continuous brewing in coming years. Two decanters are used to separate the mash in a continuous process, which is particularly good at separating husk-free raw materials. Even though the process is unusual for European consumers, it is a standard procedure in other parts of the world: Beer in Asia, Africa and South America is brewed from rice, corn and sorghum or starchy root vegetables such as manioc or cassava. Even for malted grains the two-stage decanter process has significant advantages when it comes to sustainability: Capacity remains the same but more brews are possible. Since the peak load in the steam supply is lower a smaller boiler is needed, which works constantly at optimum effectiveness and uses less primary energy. GEA experts have been working for years on the concept for a continuous brewhouse where brand changes are also possible. Their operational experience from realized projects is integrated in the Brewery 4.0 concept. At drinktec 2017, GEA will present a highly efficient mashing system and a wort evaporation system as part of a semi-continuous process variant.

Efficient and energy saving hop isomerization

Hop isomerization is another key component of the process. GEA already patented an innovation for the most energy intensive part of brewhouse: Thanks to HOPSTAR™ Iso technology, the process can be carried out in parallel to the wort boiling. As hops are mechanically treated and can be heated to a higher temperature, the transformation of the alpha acids to the pleasantly bitter iso-alpha acids is accelerated. After the reaction in the HOPSTAR™ Iso, the isomerized solution is then cooled and dosed into the wort according to the recipe. The closed system helps retain the hop oils, making a valuable contribution to the taste of the finished beer. In the end, the improved process design and the higher temperatures increase hop yields 15 to 30 percent. The technology also reduces overall evaporation in the wort kettle and in turn primary energy consumption in the brewhouse: In conjunction with counterflow stripping, the overall evaporation can be reduced from the current standard of four percent to less than one percent.

GEA ESS 4.0 Energy Management

GEA engineers have developed the intelligent GEA ESS 4.0 energy storage system for the continuous wort treatment process, which recovers energy between the wort cooling and the wort heating. A new factor is the simple and clever solution of the continuous process, which makes a storage medium completely unnecessary.

Fast fermentation with continuous procedure

The Brewery 4.0 concept expects fermentation and maturation to speed up even more in the future. Processing times of four days or less can already be achieved using continuous fermentation. In breweries with a wide variety of brands, classic tank fermentation and maturation should also be possible with significantly shorter occupation times without any loss in quality thanks to suitable process techniques and yeast strains. “In this case, however, the most important beer quality sensors – the brewer's nose and palate – would no longer be sufficient. We would have to plan for much more measuring technology and lab evaluations," says scientific pioneer Dr. Rudolf Michel, head of the development department for beverage and beer production at GEA.

Just-in-time production planning

Large breweries find coordinating their delivery planning with production capacity ever more important. GEA combines accelerated fermentation supported by mixing technology with the Kanban method (Japanese for “signboard”) for precise timing. The Kanban method was originally developed for the Japanese automotive industry and controls the production process by measuring the actual consumption of materials where they are provided and consumed. The goal is to reduce capital commitment and inflexible local inventories of semi-finished products on a production line with minimal buffer capacity in the BBT cellar and the packaged goods warehouse. At the same time, the supermarket shelves need to remain full. In order to guarantee GEA customers the greatest possible flexibility while remaining capable of delivery at any time, the necessary specifications are set shortly before filling the final product.

Digitalization: making Smart Data from Big Data

In a current development project, GEA is drafting a method for processing big data as part of Brewery 4.0 throughout the supply chain – including everything from raw materials for brewing wort to the final product and just-in-time delivery. “Digitalization of process steps means brewers always have large quantities of data available, in the future across multiple batches. We need to sensibly condense them and convert them into automated commands. Medium to long-term trend analyses can be used to increase system efficiency and availability for our customers," says Dr. Rudolf Michel describing the background. “We want to define the benefits of an IT supported brewing environment early on, in order to link the process control level of production technology to the operation level including storage, delivery and ordering." The data are vital to business processes and GEA services such as predictive maintenance. He says of the next steps: "The art is to sensibly qualify big data and transform it into specific production actions. Right now, we are searching for a cooperation partner for our development team."

Why is GEA drafting a vision for the future of brewing?

Decades of field experience, intense research and development work within the Group and close cooperation with customers have allowed GEA experts to question the status quo, move forward and set standards for the brewing industry. Brewery 4.0 thus includes current GEA innovations, which can be implemented today. The concept also includes ideas about the technology of tomorrow. The name indicates networking IT and production infrastructure, which has been discussed for years as part of the Industry 4.0 concept. Brewery 4.0 is also a logical consequence for GEA as a technology leader, which the company hopes to remain. “Our customers face tough competition, so we are using all our experience and audacity to try new paths. We are not merely becoming more and more interdisciplinary in our area. We are helping our customers generate potential along the entire value chain," says Andreas Holleber in summary.

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