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The Financial Case for Brewery Automation: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed beer losses in plant production, and estimated the savings a brewery automation system can provide. In this post, let’s take a closer look at the other major source of production inefficiencies, packaging losses.

How much packaging waste is there?

When discussing waste in brewery production, it is common to focus on beer loss. However, packaging loss can be equally serious. In fact, experts estimate that on average, packaging losses account for roughly 50% of total production loss.

Given our estimates for beer loss in the previous article, this potentially means another ~$20,000 of wasted revenue per 1,000 barrels in the packaging step, for a total loss of ~$40,000.

These packaging losses can occur in a number of different ways. Common reasons for packaging loss include:

  • Spillage during startup & product change-over
  • Careless fobbing
  • Overfilling
  • Beerline leakages
  • Bottle breakage during mechanical and non-mechanical down time
  • Production rejects
The Two Main Drivers of Packaging Loss

A quick glance at this list reveals two important drivers of packaging waste.

The first is the use of beer bottles instead of cans. Bottles are both expensive and prone to breakage, thus increasing both the chance and cost of packaging loss. In addition, their tall, narrow necks make them difficult to fill, raising the risk of overfilling and fobbing. These issues not only cause greater packaging waste, but also contribute to increased beer loss.

This has prompted many brewers to move away from bottles. For instance, Eric Ottaway, general manager of Brooklyn Brewery, asserts that “the biggest costs in bottling are the bottles themselves”. He predicts that increasing consumer acceptance, combined with the rise of smaller-sized canning lines, will enable an industry-wide shift to cans.

However, canning is only part of the solution. For one, it is unlikely that breweries will be able to completely eliminate bottles, since many consumers still prefer them over cans. For another, even a wholesale shift to cans will not address all of the inefficiencies in the packaging process.

That’s because of the second major driver of packaging waste: human error.

While most breweries already automate some packaging steps, many have not implemented full, end-to-end automation of the packaging process. This means that humans are still involved at certain points, resulting in unavoidable mistakes. While moving to cans might reduce the impact of these individual mistakes, it does not address the root problem of human fallibility.

Furthermore, even the steps that have been automated must be carried out manually in the event of downtime. So if you don’t have a reliable automation system, chances are that your packaging process is more manual than you think. And as we explore in our next article, even small differences in downtime duration can make a large difference.

Why Automation Changes the Game

Fundamentally, the reason packaging automation is so important is because it increases consistency.

Since packaging is a repetitive mechanical process, the best way to reduce waste is simply to perform the correct actions over and over again. And machines are much better at that than humans are.

In our experience, the benefits of automation are certainly not lost on most brewers. But we also find that automation is often not implemented completely, in a centralized, integrated way. That’s a missed opportunity. 

As these numbers show, even reducing wastage by 10-25% means that the automation system pays for itself.

In the third and final part of this series, we’ll examine the costs of downtime, and how even small differences in reliability can have a major impact on the bottom line.

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