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Work Impossible for Humans

Brewing fine beer is a skill and art that requires attention to detail.

June 2015

A craft brewery that installs an automated system might get pushback from purists who say automation doesn’t have a place for companies that want to make a unique product. Automation has benefits for manufacturers in all industries, including the food and beverage sector. Discover the reasons why a craft brewery in Portland, Oregon decided that installing the automation of today was necessary to support a centuries-old industry.

Brewing quality beer and building a customer base in a competitive market is no easy task. Widmer Brothers launched in 1984 and found that success does breed success, and creates a need to get the product to market safely and on time. In the latest installment of the video series Why I Automate - Widmer Brothers, the company’s Brewing Innovation Manager, Ben Dobler, says new products are constantly evolving based on the many available combinations of ingredients.

Packaging

Change is inevitable in any industry. Building the perfect brewhouse alone couldn’t meet the customer demands that led to the growth of Widmer Brothers. By 1996, the company achieved the production of 220,000 barrels per year. That more than doubled to 450,000 barrels per year by 2008 with more growth on the way.

Management increased capacity in fermentation and storage, but packaging and getting the beer to market quickly became a challenge.

Safety

A case of empty beer bottles may not be heavy, but lifting one after another off a pallet strains the joints. Loading the cases on to conveyors throughout the workday led to workplace injuries. Automation was a solution for that problem. The use of robots for depalletizing allowed workers to move on to other tasks that were safer and didn’t pose the same risk of injuries.

Speed

A customized solution using Kuka robots moved the product along and the company wasn’t limited by the inevitable worker fatigue. The integrator, Midwest Engineered Systems, designed a system with flexibility to meet the space constraints at Widmer Brothers. Systems are user friendly with graphic touch screen interfaces and full reporting capabilities and maintenance diagnostics.

The video shows a custom vacuum gripper that latches onto the boxes, moves them onto the conveyor and separates the boxes and aligns them properly for the bottling line. Dobler says automation freed up workers to focus more on doing what they do best-crafting a high quality beer. He noted that a system that is properly put in place leads to a product that is made with consistent high quality.

A few minutes spent watching Why I Automate - Widmer Brothers shows how technology can help a small company keep a growing fan base satisfied and coming back for more.

A variety of automated solutions are available to meet unique needs of a company within specific industries.

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