Utrecht in The Netherlands has an incredibly long and distinguished history and within its very traditional city centre it boasts multiple pubs and bars. Historically, many of these establishments used to brew their own beers, but as larger companies began to appear, these smaller private breweries could not compete and most closed down.
Realising the importance of traditional small-scale brewing, the city set about re-establishing some smaller microbreweries with the help of the newer larger companies. One such establishment, the Stadskasteel Oudaen café, now brews its own beers on site using an industrial-style process control solution. Sold to its current owner, Peter Elzendoorn, 20 years ago, the process control solution was starting to show its age, with an obsolete controller and cabling, switches and components that were over 20 years old.
The owner realised that he needed to upgrade the existing semi-automatic control solution, but had a limited budget. By deploying the services of a local university’s engineering faculty and EKB, a Rockwell Automation recognised system integrator, the brewery now boasts a state-of-the-art brewing control solution based upon the popular PlantPAx® process automation solution from Rockwell Automation.
As well as the budgetary constraints in this application, brewing is a very precise art, which requires a control solution that can offer accuracy and repeatability in order to create brews that differ very little from each other.
The owner wanted increased levels of automation too, but delivered by a simple solution that could be operated by the people who worked in the bar; and it had to offer an open architecture to help with future upgrades and the deployment of additional equipment with minimal engineering effort. Adding to this, he needed a system that would record raw material levels and usage, not only for brewing, stock control and reordering, but also to appease the local customs tax office with regards to any duty that need to be paid.
According to Michiel de Lange, Director at EKB: “After the decision was made to commence with the project, the first element was to design the new solution. This design work was undertaken by students at the Hogeschool Utrecht University of Applied Science Electrical Engineering as a project, which formed part of a Bachelor degree in industrial automation. Split into three competing groups, the students first visited the brewery to take an inventory and to formulate a functional description of the process, while also examining the electrical diagrams and the design of the existing facility, before determining how it should be renovated. After numerous changes and reworks, the best design was chosen from the three submitted and EKB commenced with the construction of the new control cabinet and the implementation of the PlantPAx solution on an industry-standard process automation controller.
“The brewery wanted a process control solution that could be based on off-the-shelf controller technology,” he continues, “in order to keep the system as simple and future-proof as possible. The owner also wanted the programming to be based on continuous function chart (CFC) programming, to make the operational aspects easy to use and easy to understand. We did not deploy the complete server-based batch engine within PlantPAx, but we did use the controller-based sequencer routines so the users can start, stop and control different sequences within the brewing process, including flush, pump, boil, etc. All of these steps are started manually but then become fully automated and all the recipes are integrated within the process control parameters.”
All the beer goes to tap; there is no bottling, so the taxable levels of raw material usage and brewing output had to be very precisely measured. “The customs office needs to be able to check and verify these amounts,” de Lange continues, “so we deployed a raw-materials management system, which precisely measures the materials used during production. We built a SQL database with a .NET front end and integrated it into the PlantPAx solution in such a way that the operator does not have to leave the operator screens and environment to enter parameters or see inventory and raw material levels. Using this interface, they can also book supplies, make stock corrections and automatically book recipes for production based on stock levels. This used to be done in Excel, but now it is all integrated and automated.”
In addition to the PlantPAx System EKB deployed Allen-Bradley® PowerFlex® variable-speed drives are also being used for speed control of the pumps, the mixer and the screen scraper in the filtration tank.
As a result of the new electrical control infrastructure and PlantPAx, the brewery is now fully automated
As a result of the new electrical control infrastructure and the Rockwell Automation PlantPAx process control solution, the brewery is now fully automated and can boast integrated recipe control. This has resulted in more consistent quality of beer, enhanced information collation and delivery and much simpler reporting.
“The new system can even be operated by the students who work behind the bar,” de Lange adds. “Previously, the brewer needed to know the system inside out. Now, if you know the basics you are OK, you are guided through the whole system. Previously, the operators used to have to set an alarm clock to know when to check or activate certain steps, now it is all automatic.”
The quality of the final product is a good indicator of the effectiveness of any solution involved in its manufacture. Proof of this is the fact that when facing competition from over 100 other breweries, Stadskasteel Oudaen won the 35th edition of the PINT Bokbierfestival with its ‘Speciaal Bock Oudaen Autumn’ brew. According to Maurice, the brewmaster: “This award is due in part to the new control system delivered by EKB. Better control of the brewing process means that we are now capable of achieving these kinds of successes.”
On a final note, the owner also wrote to EKB informing Michiel de Lange and his team that the local tax employee was “very impressed with the insightful automation solution” and that it “gave him a good feeling that we have everything under control”.