“SMART” Brewing: Innovation & New Technology for Craft Breweries

By: Cheryl Gray

Brewers have needed packaging and tools to dispense their products ever since beer was first brewed a millennium ago. Today, innovation and technology that transform a good idea into a great one are driven by industry titans who know how to keep pace with the demands of a highly competitive field, putting craft breweries in a position to stay a step ahead in an increasingly crowded global marketplace.

Print-on-Demand With Abbott Company

  One of those titans is Wisconsin-based Abbott Company, in business for 95 years, specializing in industrial marking and packaging solutions. Tim Stark, Abbott’s president, points to the rise in craft brewing as the catalyst for creating a demand for innovation and new technology aimed at achieving best practices in product identification operations.

  With craft breweries increasing their production capacity and distribution, Stark says there is a correlating trend towards print-on-demand inkjet technology replacing pre-printed boxes and hand-applied labels.

  “Print-on-demand inkjet technology offers many benefits, including a lower cost-per-mark compared to pressure-sensitive labels, as well as more flexibility for managing corrugate stock volumes and case sizes. Our recommended high-resolution inkjet technology, FoxJet ProSeries print heads, has been recently enhanced to print scan-able barcodes on porous cases at higher speeds consistently.”

  Stark says that in automating the printing of product identification on cases, today’s brewers are also looking at improving efficiency by integrating what he calls “scan and select” capabilities into their operation.  

  “This makes product changeovers, and subsequent print message changes effortless and free of human error. A hand scanner is used to scan a barcode from a work order, which selects the correct message to be printed on the case. This is often paired with a barcode vision system which can verify the readability of barcodes before they are palletized and shipped to retailers, allowing a turnkey case coding solution that will scale as breweries continue to grow.”

  Craft breweries are also looking for innovation when it comes to products that solve their primary packaging identification needs, says Stark.

  “We also see a growing desire for high contrast date coding on bottles and cans that are dark in color,” he said. “With a focus on freshness, an increasing number of craft breweries are requesting to use yellow and light blue inks to make the date code and other important product information pop out to consumers. The introduction of the Linx 8900 Plus soft pigment inkjet printer allows brewers to print high contrast codes on their bottles and cans while avoiding the difficulty commonly found with traditional pigmented ink printers. “

Shrink Sleeves With PDC International

  PDC International is another company at the forefront of an industry upon which many craft breweries depend—shrink sleeve labeling. From the moment the business opened in 1968, anticipating customer needs is what the Connecticut-based company has brought to its brewery clients. PDC Founder Anatole Konstantin immigrated to the United States from post-WWII Eastern Europe, building his company out of the den of his home. 

  Through vertical integration and in-house controls, including its own machine shop, PDC is known for quickly solving customers’ production challenges. Neal Konstantin is president of the company his father, Anatole, founded fifty years ago. He says the widespread use of shrink sleeves, a technology allowing a brewery to place its brand name on blank cans rather than having to inventory large quantities of pre-printed cans, saves warehouse space, simplifies logistics and saves money.

  “The recent widespread adoption of shrink labeling by breweries has resulted in machine refinements for labeling [either] full or empty aluminum cans of all sizes,” says Konstantin. “Special product handling ensures that aluminum cans are not dented or marred when processed through the labeler. PDC’s proprietary cutting blades now last millions of cycles between sharpenings, saving downtime and labor and reducing overall costs. We offer the widest range of shrink sleeve label applicators in the industry, ranging from entry-level systems up to 400-500 pm.”

Release the Pressure With

R&S Supply Company

  Don’t be thrown by the Napa Valley location of R&S Supply Company. It also caters to craft breweries, along with wine and other industries in all 50 states and 10 countries around the globe. Founded in 1984, R&S Supply Company is a distributor of products from brands such as Tassalini Valves, Strahman Washdown Products, Definox Valves, Texcel Brewers & Spirits hose assemblies and Dixon Sanitary Pumps & Fittings.

  Company President Paul N. Roberts touts the newest product line that R&S Supply has recently added to its roster. “The newest product line that we have added is Bradley Industrial Products and Keltech Tankless Electric Water Heaters. The Keltech Tankless Water Heaters provide instant hot water anywhere in a production facility when mounted on our cart.”

  Roberts points to the Italian-manufactured line of Tassalini Sanitary Valves as one of his company’s top innovative products. Industry insiders know that the name Tassalini has been around since 1922 when it first produced products for the aeronautics industry. R& S Supply Company is Tassalini’s largest U.S. distributor, Roberts says, stocking all original manufacture replacement seals and repair kits, along with an entire line of Tassalini Valves for every need.

“We stock the complete line including butterfly valves, actuators, check valves, ball valves, tank vents, sight glasses, plug valves and all the accessories and repair parts.”

Pour One Out With Xpressfill Systems

  A relative newcomer to the industry of packaging and tools, XpressFill Systems LLC is led by owner Randy Kingsbury, a mechanical engineer with more than 30 years of experience. Based in San Luis Obispo, California, XpressFill Systems is a global player in the development of affordable, efficient filling equipment for the brewing industry, with customers in the United States as well as Europe, Australia, South America and Asia.  

  “Our equipment is small—tabletop—making it easy to position in smaller brewery operations. It is simple to operate and maintain, requiring only one or two operators to efficiently maintain the quantity and quality of the beverage,” Kingsbury says.

  XpressFill introduced its first filler for brewers in 2014, a tabletop counter pressure filler for bottles with a pair of fill spouts. This product, Kingsbury says, was designed to launch its fill sequence with a carbon dioxide purge, then seal and fill the bottle to a level sensor that automatically stops the fill so the bottle can be removed and capped. XpressFill edged its technology forward, developing its four-spout counter pressure bottle filler, capable of filling 12-ounce bottles at a rate of 400 per hour.  In 2018 the company introduced counter-pressure fillers for cans.  

  “The XF4500C has two fill spouts and is capable of filling 300 12-ounce cans per hour. To further satisfy the demand for filling cans, the XF2200 open fill unit was developed. This provided a faster, less expensive alternative, capable of filling 360 12-ounce cans per hour with two spouts, while still providing quality fills,” says Kingsbury.

  More innovation and technology is in store with the development of XpressFill’s new two-spout filler, the XF280W. “Current quality control of fill volumes is accomplished by craft brewers weighing their filled cans, which is an additional step following the filling,” Kingsbury says. “We set out to explore the possibility of providing a user-friendly and cost-effective filler that would measure the weight of dispensed beer to save the additional weight verification step.”

Expand With iStill

  For craft breweries exploring the world of distilling, Netherlands-based iStill offers an automated, robotized distillery unit that promises a simple setup with only a water hose and electrical plug needed to begin.

  “Due to our scientific approach to distilling, we have been able to create an easy to operate, versatile machine that takes the magic out of distilling great spirits, and makes whiskey, vodka, gin and rum production an easy add-on to the already existing brewery,” says Edwin van Eijk, CEO of iStill.

  “The iStills come in sizes ranging from 26 to 1300 gallons. Each and every machine can make every distilled product. If the craft brewer does not want to re-invest in expanding mashing or fermenting capacity, the iStills can mash and ferment as well. Everything takes place in the same unit.”

  iStills offers a broad range of services, Eijk says, to assist its more than 700 clients worldwide, including iStill University, which educates and trains approximately 200 distillers annually in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. 

  Innovation and technology are ever-evolving as leaders in the packaging and tools industry find new ways not only to push themselves but also, push craft breweries into thinking smarter about ways to make their products move quickly in the marketplace.

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