The digital factory and its role in the beer brewing industry

October 13th, 2015, Published in Articles: EngineerIT, Articles: Vector


With major changes sweeping the global beer brewing industry, the Oktoberfest provided a good opportunity to see what Industry 4.0 and the Digital Factory offer beer brewing, the food and beverage industry, and to the process industry in general.

Beer and the brewing industry are topical because of the possible acquisition by AB InBev of SAB Miller – the world’s two largest breweries by volume. Besides consolidations which experts believe will continue in coming years, craft/microbreweries are causing a stir as they rake up increasing market share globally.

To add to this industry’s competitive challenges, the market itself is changing: fewer people in developed countries are consuming beer, and developing markets are now the growth areas breweries are fighting for. Brewers also face process industry challenges, such as changing regulations and evolving technologies.

Engineering company Siemens sees these competitive pressures as driving the need for companies to find new ways of manufacturing, and claims that digitisation and modularisation could enhance production. To showcase the digital factory concept, Siemens invited EE Publishers and a handful of international publications to Germany to see how digitisation is expected to change the brewing industry beyond current automation.

Fig. 1: A much earlier version of Siemens automation at one of Paulaner Brewery’s plants in Munich, Germany.

For Siemens, the future of the brewing and process industry is the digital factory, in which all equipment, processes and software are interconnected and generate information for use in decisions to streamline production. “Industry 4.0” as it is also known, came about through technological advances in interconnectivity, and is still in the process of being realised. Digitisation is effectively an extension of automation.

Automation in brewing focuses on two segments of the industry: big breweries which are highly automated and focused on high efficiency, and the craft brewing segment which focuses on brewing different beer types in smaller batches, and for whom flexibility is important. There are areas of overlap, such as resource management and energy optimisation.

Defining the digital factory

Software and data form the foundation of the digital factory and are changing everything, from the engineering design phase of plants to the production process. Integrated engineering and integrated operations are the two main aspects of the digital factory. The former is used in the pre-production phase to design and develop plants, and includes modular design and pre-production simulations, while integrated operations address the production phase and manage automation and control.

Digitisation aims to make production more flexible and, in brewing, this means customised mass production. Other benefits of automation include consistency in large batches and improved quality control, as well as scalability. Digitisation is also expected to shorten time to market, enable greater variety in product lines, increase output and productivity, and offer cost benefits associated with efficient production management.

Fig. 2: The digital factory relies heavily on information and software for control and management, and is already popular in recipe management and packaging in the brewing industry.

There are various levels of digitisation, depending on the type of industry and the client’s requirements. In brewing, the digitisation is still basic and limited to process automation, control and recipe management. Sensors do not yet play a large role in brewing, but this may change in the next 10 to 15 years as sensors become cheaper and more ubiquitous with closer integration in equipment, instead of requiring extra equipment to conduct sensing.

In brewing, temperature and pressure are usually automated. Both affect the end product and processes time frames. The level of instrumentation also varies: the Paulaner Brewery in Germany still uses manual processes where in-line measurements fail due to the consistency of mixtures. Another common example of digitisation in the brewing industry is recipe management, something Siemens has been doing with its Braumat solution since 1984. Automation is also popular in packaging and labeling.

Siemens’ digital brewery solutions typically include its Braumat recipe management along with Simatic IT manufacturing execution system suite for information and integration. The company’s Comos software is used for integrated engineering in the production, while TechnoAutix Plant Simulation provides pre-production simulation. Simit softwarwe is used for virtual commissioning and operator training for brewery automation.

To see brewery digitisation in action we visited Siemens partner Ziemann, manufacturer of brew house equipment and stainless steel tanks, and user of Siemens’ brewery solutions. Ziemann operates a 10-hectolitre pilot brewery – an R&D brewery where the digital factory vision is being realised. Here the company experiments with hardware and software implementation as well as with its clients’ processes and recipes. In one example, reusing the heated water from the wort process in the mashing and fermentation processes optimises energy usage.

Brewery automation (1)

Fig. 3: In brewing processes, pressure and temperature are usually automated, as is seen here in Ziemann’s pilot brewery.

The Munich-based Paulaner Brewery also recently commissioned a new 3,5-million hectolitre plant. One of the challenges was to design the right dimensions for the new plant, for which the Plant Simulation solution in the Tecnomatix portfolio from Siemens PLM Software was used. Different simulations have also been run to identify equipment usage and so optimise investment.

Digitisation seems set to change brewing. In craft brewing it is part of the life cycle as small breweries expand. In this beer market, shorter “innovation cycles” and the need for flexibility are driving forces of automation and digital factory adoption. Digitisation could also allow craft breweries to compete with bigger breweries. In large breweries, digitisation eases compliance and standardisation. This is particularly applicable for multi-national breweries, which standardise operations for both standard products and for internal management and efficiency reasons.

Impact on product and beyond

The brewing market is a tough testing ground for the digital factory concept, as beer is a “sentimental” product, and the “psychological” element often influences products’ success. It is no coincidence that brewing, retailing, branding and marketing are mentioned in the same breath when talking about beer, and even a perfect recipe does not help if the taste does not fit the brand. This is also why consistency is important.

Fig. 4: Eckard Eberle, Siemens CEO of Processing Industry.

It is this standardisation of taste that some beer drinkers protest, and which many believe accompany consolidations. Siemen’s CEO of processing industry Eckard Eberle, however, argues that standardisation could in turn stimulate the growth of craft breweries. Automation in the craft beer market is also sometimes met with resistance, as the craft in the process is questioned, though others consider the recipe to be the craft in craft brewing. Even a practice like canning instead of bottling can impact sales, despite cans being better at preserving taste, as it does not let in light which affects the sugar conversion and taste of the beer.

Fig. 5: Janina Kugel at a press briefing at the time of the Oktoberfest, explaining how information flow is changing leadership structures in companies.

Automation also is also changing the job roles in places that employ it, and job roles are now changing to more control roles. Digitisation further raises labour questions, a sensitive matter in most developing economies. Those who work in automation usually see automation as creating new jobs by converting traditional jobs to automation jobs, while others consider it a shift up from traditionally manual work to higher-skilled work. This means further training is required, and could cause concern in countries with high levels of unskilled workers.

Leadership in companies is different today because of information flow and the new ways decisions are taken, according to Janina Kugel, a member of Siemens’ managing board. The complexity and even management structures in organisations are changing to matrix organisations, where control and responsibilities no longer lie with a single person, but with co-ordination.

Because the digital factory and Industry 4.0 are still being defined, there remain some tough and unanswered questions: security of operations is an obvious question, and extends to access control (both physically and virtually). To its credit, Siemens focuses extensively on security. Government policies in developed countries also work to address security, though the same could not always be said of developing countries.

Fig. 6: The final product: This year’s Oktoberfest saw 5,9-million visitors consume 7,7-million liters of beer. (Pictured here is the Paulaner Brewery’s tent.)

On a practical level, interoperability standards and common data models/frameworks are important to the functioning of the digital factory, and are still being developed. Similar to multiple networking technologies (e.g. Profibus and Profinet), there will probably be more than one data framework. There are also questions over who owns the data in data-driven manufacturing.

Another concern is that Industry 4.0 is driven by and increasingly reliant on consumer technology and developments. This influences disruptions caused by the frequency of updates and issues relating to incompatibility.

State of brewing

Purity Law infographicPurity Law infographicAlthough beer is almost universally a much-loved beverage, beer consumption varies geographically. The age and maturity of the beer market usually drive supply, while other economic and social factors (e.g. social class and religion) also influence it. Consumption is low in India, for example, and growing fast in Mexico, while the market is (for the time-being) reaching capacity in countries like Germany.

China, with its large population, remains the biggest beer market in the world by volume, but not by profit margin due to competitive pricing strategies. Ziemann also anticipates further growth in Mexico, which the company believes will up its current 10-million hectolitre per year consumption to 30-million to become the largest market in the world. In the USA, craft breweries are still increasing their market share and, depending on which statistics you believe, own between 11 and 17% of the market share – which is still expected to increase.

South Africa has a very similar beer market to Brazil, where population growth and class-change drive the consumption increase. South African Breweries (SAB) dominates the South African beer market, but the country’s craft brewing market is also up and coming, and is comparable to that of Austria. Nigeria, too, is one of the biggest beer markets, and Ziemann is already working with Heineken (the third-largest producer by volume) in this market.

Automation and the digital factory seldom happen in a single step; adoption takes time, and there is not a single solution either. It is still early days for the digital factory and Industry 4.0, at least in the brewing industry. This is expected to change as the beer market matures globally and when traditional brewing becomes too expensive. The digital factory is not only expected to play a role in optimising production in established markets, but is also expected to be key in introducing already standard, big beer brands in growing markets and doing so competitively.


Special thanks to Siemens for the invitation, and to the University of Witwatersrand’s Antony Higginson for explaining the intricacies of the brewing industry.

Contact Pierre Potgieter, EE Publishers, pierre.potgieter[at]

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