Taking Advantage of the Boom
Ten years ago, tourists looking for a taste of the local life in Southern Canada may have asked for one of the region’s best wines. Today, it’s all about craft beer.
From entrepreneurial newcomers to large-scale producers, brewers in Canada are cashing in on the thirst for craft beer. The number of microbreweries – producing less than 25,000 cases of 24 – has more than doubled in the last seven years.
The explosion in craft beer popularity had one company – Sleeman Breweries – bursting at its production seams. The third-largest brewer in Canada, Sleeman brews and distributes popular beers from lagers to pale ales.
With a notorious past in bootlegging and a brewing history dating back to 1834, the company has re-emerged as a powerful presence in the craft beer market. Sleeman operates three brewing production facilities located in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
Modernizing Craft Brewing
An increase in craft beer demand is ideal for a company like Sleeman, but running out of production capacity is not. At its Okanagan Spring Brewery (OSB) in Vernon, British Columbia, the company was struggling to meet market demand for its OSB beers. The management team was looking for ways to increase output beyond the maximum of eight brews per day.
If unable to increase production capacity at OSB, the company could be faced with the need to build a new facility at a high capital investment cost.
At the time, Sleeman had engaged third parties to produce enough to meet customer demand – not ideal for managing costs, ensuring consistent quality and flavor, and meeting delivery deadlines.
Not only was the facility limited in its ability to increase production, the existing infrastructure was based on an antiquated, semi-automated control system. Changes to the brewing process – including adding new recipes – needed to be made manually, which increased the risk of human error or inconsistencies.
Throughout the production process, operators needed to be at the right place at the right time. If the operator was not on the line to move production forward, brewing would be on hold.
These constraints limited Sleeman’s ability to respond quickly to changes in consumer taste or trends in the industry. The manual approach also hampered access to accurate and timely production metrics needed to fully control the brewing process.
Batch reporting was ad hoc and required operators to input numbers on paper, limiting real-time access to critical information such as pressure and flow rates.
Better Control Means Better Brews
The Sleeman team worked with McRae Integration, a Rockwell Automation Recognized System Integrator, to design and implement an integrated process automation system to increase capacity, reduce risk and provide access to real-time production data.
The Sleeman team was hoping to standardize on one solution across its facilities. A single platform would enable executives to view production metrics and operations data for all facilities from the corporate location.
With one common platform, in-house mechanics and electricians also could more easily transition from one facility to another and keep parts storage streamlined.
“A single platform would give us insights across the line and between facilities, so we could build on successes and meet our goals for continuous improvement while continuing to make great beer,” said Stefan Tobler, brewmaster at OSB. “We had already standardized on Rockwell Automation equipment at our other facilities, and knew McRae could help us meet our goals with a single platform based on the Rockwell Automation technology.”