Sugar Creek Brewing Co. co-founders, Joe Vogelbacher and Eric Flanigan.
Beer-making is one of the oldest and largest industries in the world. Hundreds of years ago, European Monks refined brewing techniques to create some of the most well-known varieties of ale. Then, during the Industrial Revolution, technology like hydrometers and thermometers gave brewers more control of the beer making process, yielding a more predictable product that could be produced at scale for the masses.
In 2014, we first opened the doors of Sugar Creek Brewing Company in Charlotte, North Carolina; dedicated to the craftsmanship of fresh, high quality beer in the ‘break the rules’ style of Belgian Trappist Monks. Today we produce about 7,000 barrels a year and sell across the entire Carolinas. We are proudly independent craft brewers with strong values around community, authenticity and a commitment to quality.
Just as we’ve grown, the craft beer market is also booming as people take more interest in the food and beverages they consume. The competitive landscape continues to tighten. And the beer making process is still more complex than people might think.
At Sugar Creek, we are on a continuous quest to improve product excellence for our customers and gain competitive advantage. We do this while maintaining a strong commitment to the art and tradition of our craft. Like our peers from the Industrial Revolution, modern technology is helping us advance.
We’ve found two technology collaborators in Bosch and IBM who are helping us manage this careful balance between craft and efficiency.
We were losing more than $30,000 a month in beer spillage through the manufacturing process. By integrating new AI and Internet of Things (IoT) technology into our brewing process, we found a solution that supports our commitment to product quality and craftsmanship as well as growing efficiencies.
The AI and IoT technology tells my team about many aspects of the beer, which are critical to efficiently creating a quality product. Parameters such as fill time, temperature, pH, gravity, pressure, carbonation and level are all fed to the IoT cloud for analysis. This data can inform new processes or refine existing ones to ensure our beer meets the high expectations of our consumers.
For example: As the beer went from tank to tank in our bottling line, imbalances in pressure and temperature would create foam and waste beer. Bottles were getting inconsistently filled and then moving through to the labeling process. These bottles had to be pulled off the line and recycled, wasting quality product.
An analogue float and IBM visual insights AI from the IBM Watson IoT platform were installed in Sugar Creek Brewing’s bottling process. Data collected via precision flow meters and Bosch IoT sensors helped our team pinpoint process losses and make corrections.
Data collected and analyzed via the IBM Watson/Bosch interface identified an issue causing excessive foaming in the bottle. An improvement from this process alone, saved us more than $10,000 per month. Bottles that were previously rejected for improper fill levels were nearly eliminated, which increased the amount of finished product we were able to deliver to the market.
Now, we can immediately point out a problem bottle. In addition, we have more controlled, precise fermentations which leads to a better flavor in the bottle.
The Industrial Revolution beer making pioneers found important efficiencies through technology. With new AI and IoT technology integration from Bosch and IBM, we can build efficiencies to stay competitive and continue to improve the quality of our fresh, innovative beer for customers at the same time.
The resulting cost savings and product intelligence can be reinvested into our business. Instead of dealing with costly waste, we can continue to expand production, test new recipes and enter new markets. We can make additional investments in our community and hire more people. In parallel, we are creating better, more flavorful beer for our customers. That’s a winning combination worth raising a pint for.
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