By: Alyssa L. Ochs
Everything is going high-tech these days, and the craft beverage industry is no exception. If you work in this industry, staying updated on the newest technology will help you make smart decisions for your business. Not all forms of technology make sense for every beverage business, but the benefits of familiarizing yourself with what’s on the market will pay off in the long term.
How Technology Can Improve Beverage Production
Although the processes of making beer and spirits haven’t changed much over the years, many smart technology options are available to help with everything from product-tracking to label-making to helping consumers connect with brands interactively. Whether you’re looking for help with beverage planning, supply purchasing, production assistance or quality control, there’s likely a tech-savvy solution.
In the front of the house, technology makes it possible for customers to order drinks via touchscreen rather than through a human server. Behind the scenes, it allows tracking and data management for traceability and knowing what’s in demand. Breweries and distilleries may be interested in learning how to print 3D materials, such as creative artwork for glasses. Blockchain technology can improve trackability across the supply chain and assist producers in better adhering to regulations. Many companies use software platforms to ensure they meet compliance standards.
Many breweries and distilleries would benefit from upgrading their data management systems to eliminate time-consuming and error-prone spreadsheets. A sound data management system can help producers with sales, distribution, production metrics and demand analytics to better understand what and when to order. Cloud-based software is often preferred by breweries and distilleries because the data can be accessed from anywhere, regularly updated by a vendor and maintained by a professional IT team. Pieces of technology should work together with existing task management apps, such as Trello, and communication apps, like Slack, that your team uses.
Another use of technology in the industry involves mobile apps to integrate different data points, such as diagnostics, GPS, electronic logs and temperature controls. Artificial intelligence data can develop new flavors based on predictions of what consumers want. AI is also being used to improve quality control through the use of sensors and cameras.
In today’s era of staffing shortages, technology can be utilized to train staff, retain the workforce and recruit new talent when resources are strained. Beverage-makers may also use technology to expand where they sell products to lessen their dependence on traditional distribution channels.
Technology Spotlight: Refractometers
Based in Solon, Ohio, MISCO designs and commercializes digital handheld and inline process refractometers for industries requiring quantitative determination of fluid concentration and quality. MISCO has been in the refractometer field for four decades and is the only U.S. manufacturer of digital handheld refractometers. It is actively developing new technologies to bring even greater usefulness of refractometry to its markets.
Mark Keck, Chief Commercial Officer for MISCO, told Beverage Master Magazine that MISCO digital handheld units are ideal for generating immediate results anywhere in the operation. He said they can be programmed with up to five measurement scales from an extensive scale library to provide customers with a device tailored to their exact testing requirements.
“This feature is especially useful for operations that produce a range of products, eliminating the need for multiple units with a single readout capability,” Keck said.
Meanwhile, inline process refractometers are best for larger operations and give continuous readings that can be output to any data capture system.
“For breweries, MISCO has developed a set of measurement scales that were scientifically derived from a complex sugar profile specific to wort,” Keck said. “Other refractometers base their readings on sucrose, which is why using a correction factor is required when using these units. MISCO Pro-Brewing Scales account for the wort’s complex sugar profile, which includes maltose, maltotriose, dextrose, fructose, sucrose and other materials, eliminating the need for correction factors and providing more accurate results.”
Recently, there have been advances and innovations in refractometry that breweries and distilleries may find helpful.
“Because every operation has unique testing requirements, MISCO has developed a build-your-own tool on its website to allow customers to easily design and order digital handheld refractometers with programming they select from our large measurement scale library,” said Keck. “In addition, we are developing new refractometers that utilize technologies that are part of the Industry 4.0 paradigm for improvements in operations, automation and communication.”
Even when beverage-related technology looks and sounds intriguing and exciting on the surface, there is little benefit to trying it just for the sake of novelty. Keck told Beverage Master Magazine that “spyglass-style” analog refractometers are still commonly used in the industry, but these devices have numerous limitations compared to digital units, such as reading subjectivity, precision and durability.
“When upgrading to a digital refractometer, or even considering a different digital unit, customers would want a unit that is easy to use, employs quality materials, is durable, has automatic temperature compensation, is easy to calibrate and provides readings that match the fluid testing requirements of the operation,” Keck said. “Lastly, product support should also be considered – where the unit would be serviced for routine maintenance and calibration certification.”
Whether refractometers or any other technology, learn about the products and choose those that set themselves apart from the competition. Depending on the device, this could be related to durability, level of precision or ease of use.
“Our optics utilize sapphire prisms for high precision, improved temperature equilibration and durability,” Keck said. “Signal detection is achieved with high-definition detectors that provide up to eight times the resolution of other handheld units. Lastly, our commitment to Lean Manufacturing principles and adoption of ISO guidelines ensures that the quality of our products is second to none.”
Benefits of Trying New Software and Technology
Even with practical considerations in mind, producers benefit from having a forward-thinking approach to brewing and distilling and an open-mindedness about technology solutions that may help your business. Technology can help you be more flexible with production, consume less energy for an eco-friendly operation and make the quality of beer and spirits better.
Certain pieces of software and technology help integrate functions and manage assets more efficiently, optimize production lines for greater control over processes and attract the attention of tech-savvy consumers. When used correctly, technology can help breweries and distilleries be competitive in an oversaturated market. A good technology solution exists for every brewer and distiller, whether that involves on-premise software, cloud-based software, mobile applications or specialized devices, such as refractometers.
Choosing the Right Tech Upgrades for Your Business
It’s not always practical to take on multiple types of new technology simultaneously, but a few innovations are worth looking into further. For example, there are some excellent platforms for brewery and distillery management software, and food-ordering software for establishments serving food and drinks. Online restaurant POS systems accept instant payments and provide food traceability solutions for inventory and beverage distribution management solutions. Beverage warehouse and logistics management systems, as well as “Internet of Things” solutions to keep track of food safety recalls and shelf-life management, can be addressed with the latest and greatest technology available to the industry.
“Tools are available or in development that can impact productivity, improve product quality and consistency and result in greater operational efficiency,” said Keck. “MISCO is integrating many of these technologies into our refractometer to allow our customers to do what they do better.”