Software And Technology Keep Craft Beer Flowing

By: Gerald Dlubala

Better time management, production consistency and organizational excellence are just a few of the promised benefits of adding or updating the technology and software within your craft brewery. While this may not have been in the forefront of your original craft brewing dream, in order to reach your brewing goals, you will want and need to increase efficiency, production and quality by using compiled and organized data to make key business decisions. It’s critical to research and determine what you will need in order to get some of your time back to spend on your first love, that of making great quality craft beer for both your loyal and potential new beer patrons.

Adding Technology To Grow Your Brand

Mike Bianco is the Operations Manager for the Civil Life Brewery in St Louis Missouri, but as is the case in small business, he’s a wearer of many hats, including acting as the liaison between the production, distribution and sales teams.

“Up until a few months ago, our brewery information was recorded and kept on a mix of whiteboards, excel sheets, dropbox documents, google docs, and whatever else was available,” said Bianco.  “All of these mediums had to be put together to decipher whatever information we needed at the time, so researching and investing in a brewery management system that offered system-wide integration was the major focus of our technology investment.”

The Civil Life brewery needed a software system that could help them now and grow with them as they plan to increase production to expand into packaged product offerings. They are growing and need a streamlined and user-friendly product to help them along their way. They chose to go with EKOS, a company that prides themselves on easy-to-use craft business management software.

“We chose EKOS mainly because of their integration and streamlining aspect. But it was also a matter of finding functionality with someone that had extensive experience on the craft beer side of things while being available at our required price point” said Bianco.  “EKOS is visible and used by all employees. Our employees are permitted access to different dashboards depending on what role they fill within our brewery. We’ve had it up, fully functional, and in use for about a month now, and have already noticed much better planning and forecasting capabilities. We deliberately implemented the system in phases over a couple of months so we could make sure it was doing what we wanted and needed it to do before moving on to the next step. This way, we knew the system would function as advertised for our specific situation.”

Although Bianco is very satisfied with the EKOS system, he’s already looking to the future and what can be improved upon with respect to additional software and technology.

“We’ve got the brewing process down within EKOS, but we’re still lacking when it comes to point of sale integration from our tap room into our back office reporting,” he said. “There’s still a disconnect that we’ll look into getting integrated there, and for the most part, we are still a manual brew operation. There is no real brew automation currently, but that’s an area we’ll transform as we continue our growth. Down the road, as production expands further we’ll also look at a good tracking system for our kegs.”

“But one of the best advantages for us in using a package system like EKOS is its ability to integrate seamlessly with our QuickBooks functions, immediately updating and providing in-the-moment reports and brewing process information.”

Additionally, Civil Life is a big proponent of solar energy, using panels to feed into their main system to help power everything from their lights to chillers.

SeamVision Technology Provides Canning Seam Consistency

“Predictive technology absolutely increases canning quality” says Neil Morris, Co-Partner of OneVision Corporation, a developer and manufacturer of SeamVision, a seam inspection system for food and beverage canners and can makers.

“We help quality managers take preventative action before seam related canning faults bring their process to a sudden halt or worse yet, are found while the product is sitting in inventory at the manufacturing site or in a customer’s warehouse.”

SeamVision uses predictive technology to initially gather statistics about the preferred settings on canning equipment and then monitor those settings so they are consistently adhered to throughout the canning process. With SeamVision, you can see the integrity of the can seams in 3 different spots while it is being formed rather than hoping it’s being done right. The system can also detect wear patterns indicating preventative maintenance is needed. It is user-friendly and fits in with your current network environment.

“With SeamVision technology, we’re able to record machine settings and provide a process to alert the manufacturing personnel if those seam settings start to deviate from the baseline numbers, indicating a potential looming problem. The alerts are color based, using traditional red, green and amber notifiers so the responsible person can rectify a potential issue before it causes costly real-time production interruptions. This type of monitoring results in greater overall consistency and increased production uptime.”

Serious can and seam faults are nearly impossible to predict using only periodic manual checks, so SeamVision provides a system of gauges all under software control.

“We are unique in this approach,” says Morris. “Once SeamVision is set up and online, less frequent physical checks are necessary. SeamVision even checks for subtle changes that affect the seam tightness, body-hook connection, cover hook length and seam overlap due to manufacturing changes, dimensional changes, equipment wear over time or undetected interior part failure. All checks are stored for easy review and reference over time.”

Seam Consistency Critical To Quality Canning Process

“SeamVision is truly a process control helper,” says Morris. “Craft brewing is obviously popular, but with wine moving into the canning market as well, seam quality is absolutely critical. The specifications for whatever dimension can you choose to use need to remain consistent to improve shelf life, hold proper carbonation levels and guarantee a quality can tab system. SeamVision empowers breweries to do this consistently, whether on an individual basis or as is becoming more common, within a shared space that houses all of the smaller craft startups that don’t have the amount of upfront capital to do this themselves.”

Morris says “A basic SeamVision system installed will run in the neighborhood of twelve to fourteen thousand dollars, which is really a drop in the bucket to what many have spent getting to the point of starting the canning process. Now, you must make sure that the quality of the can remains consistent and the beer you’re selling is the same beer that you initially intended for the public to drink.”

A typical craft brewer may run one hundred cans per minute while running a canner about thirty hours a week. More established breweries may run as high as twenty-two hundred cans per minute.

“But any reasonable canning volume is a candidate for the SeamVision system,” says Morris.

“The strength of our system is tracking and quality consistency. It’s genuinely about getting predictive, timely information to help be proactive and avoid costly downtime within the craft beer industry.”

Intuitive Process Management Software Lets You Focus On Core Business

Jason Lippa, President and Founder of FIVE x 5 Solutions, (formerly Distillery Solutions), creates total process management solutions for craft brewers and distillers to manage all facets of their brewing or distilling operations.

Brew X 5 is the craft brewing arm of his business and is a complete package software system allowing craft brewers to monitor their entire brewing process from inventory to glass. Brew X 5 includes all of your important data and reports and is easily and readily accessible through phones, tablets, or desktop computer stations with easy to read graphics. It is completely QuickBooks compatible while providing instant access to processes and active batch updates.

“Brew X 5 is very intuitive and user-friendly, so there isn’t a need for time-consuming training or user-related learning windows,” says Lippa. “There really is no big install period. You’re up and running from day one. Brew X 5 is an all-encompassing start to finish program that allows each employee the administrative permission to monitor and access the part of the process they are specifically involved in. We don’t restrict the number of users or devices, so this is a great way to keep every employee involved and informed. Individual personnel have real-time access to the data that is relevant to them and their job function while contributing to the overall brewing process and providing management complete and up to date reports on the back end. No one has to master any programs or confusing navigational procedures.

Brew X 5 handles all functions throughout the brewing process:

  • Operations, including recipe and batch information, vessel volume information, and product streams throughout the process, allowing quality product repetition.
  • Inventory levels with automatic purchase order levels, and information on customer and supplier management.
  • Sales tools to generate forecasts, invoices, fill orders, check available inventory and customer statistics.
  • Production planning by optimizing vessel usage and needed material forecasting.
  • Barrel profiles, blending statistics, finishing notes and inventory. Keg tracking is available by customer or type.

Over time, Brew X 5 provides insights derived specifically from these statistics that help the owner understand and manipulate things to increase efficiency and eliminate single points of failure in the manufacturing process.

“With all the individual uses for the single components of this software, the end result can be pure brewing magic,” says Lippa. “Organizing and analyzing all the data from all departments provides compliance reports, daily production logs and operational reports as well as customized metrics like brew loops while simultaneously tracking quality.”

The Brew X 5 program came about because Lippa saw a need.

“One of the main benefits of our software program is that it solves the problems that any manufacturing company has. Management has so many balls in the air that if anything does fail or break, by the time you find out about it it can be too late, costing time and money. With Brew x 5, you have all this operational information and control under one roof, so to speak. It is literally the heart of the brewery, handling manufacturing data and analysis but also allowing you to pull specific information as needed from an easy to use single source.”

Parent company Five x 5 Solutions started out in the craft spirits industry and has expanded to craft breweries through a controlled growth program. By doing it this way, Lippa believes they have better offerings and interfaces than their competitors. As to the future, Lippa says that they’re just going to listen to the needs of the customer, letting that be their focus.

“Data is king, and we are helping companies collect information and produce meaningful reports that drive key business decisions. That’s the way that we’ve been most successful. We let our customers draw our roadmap, looking at everything up through point of sale integration. Most customers don’t have a clearcut answer as to what they want or need this data to do for them, so we keep things simple to use while providing the most powerful results. By live syncing with QuickBooks, we allow the owner to stay focused on the core of his business.”

Brew X 5 also provides exemplary support, averaging an eleven-and-a-half-minute solution through their completely in-house support team.

“We pick up the phone,” says Lippa. “We believe in this type of support because software and technology used within a manufacturing environment like brewing is truly a partnership.”

Brew X 5 is offered in monthly packages if the customer just wants to test the product, but Lippa believes that with complete technology and support systems like Brew X 5, reciprocal long-term commitments are best for both parties.

“Our main goal is to enable business owners to get and remain educated on how their business is run from the inside out.”

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