To automate or not to automate

wcbn-mr-36-1-automationby Michael Wren
With new technology available and labor costs on the rise many businesses are looking toward automation to make production easier and more consistent, but implementing these changes can be a large investment and such a move requires careful consideration and planning.
Before deciding to automate you must first realize if it makes sense for the size and scope of your business. Determining the return-on-investment (ROI) on each piece of equipment will be a critical step in determining if automation makes sense.
To find the ROI you must look at not only the cost of the machinery vs. the cost of labor, but also the unseen costs associated with each. For instance, the operating and maintenance costs of the machinery and the employee benefits and payroll taxes paid by the employer must be considered. Another point to consider is what a machine has to offer and what a human doing the same job has to offer. While a machine is efficient, reliable and generally cheaper in the long run, a person will be able to change tasks, be creative, and offer a personal relationship with customers.
Whether it is on the production phase or bottling phase there are some steps that just make sense to automate. Most jobs that are better suited for robots are repetitive or time-consuming tasks. Jobs best suited for humans are anything involving interpersonal reactions, creativity and maintenance of equipment. A commonly automated area of a brewery are a centralized brew house to carry out the beginning steps and help with consistency in the early stages. The process of bottling and canning is another area in which machinery can be more efficient than manual labor. Washing and filling kegs is another labor intensive step that if automated will save a lot in labor costs.
The cost of employing a worker includes wages, benefits, insurance, vacations and taxes paid by the employer. The costs of using automation include the purchase price, repairs and maintenance. The cost incurred with maintaining a piece of equipment includes preventative, predictive, conditional alerts and yearly check-ups, that are generally done by the manufacturers of the product. Automating dangerous or strenuous jobs can lead to reduced employee injury and fewer workers compensation claims.
While some think that automating the making of a craft beverage takes away part of what makes it unique and special, there are some steps of the brewing process and bottling process that simply make the task easier for those working on it. Many craft breweries are in fact automating much of their process so that only one or two people are needed on the floor to operate an entire bottling line capable of producing almost 300 bottles a minute. Companies are going from a fully manual production and bottling system to requiring just one person to monitor controls and machines. Allowing only a few people access to the brew will help to ensure a consistent product every time. The use of washers and lifting machines for kegs can also serve to limit injuries of employees.
Automating controls and regulators can help save time as well as provide a better product because monitoring and responses occur in real time. Depending on what your strategy as a company is, you can automate some aspects while still keeping your crafted handmade feel or automate as much as you can and reserve the craft aspect for the brew master. Regardless of your taste for automation, it can be an incredibly useful and worthwhile venture for your brewery. However, even without automating you can cut down on production and labor costs by reworking your production flow to a more streamlined process. Efficiently using your space and employees is key to running a profitable business. When setting up your production line the key is the same as with any logistics planning, “get it done in the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way.” Causing less movement for workers and materials is a good first step in streamlining the process. Time spent moving further than you need to is time wasted. Making your products flow in one direction will help ensure that you aren’t backtracking over your product or getting in other employees way. Another good staple to keep in mind is to keep workstations clean and clear. Plan ahead for automation and growth. You don’t need a 200,000 sq./ft. building to run a 200 gallon business, but don’t block yourself in either. Build your operation without limiting your future expansion plans.
No matter how you decide to improve your system, if you use your equipment and employees together and efficiently, you can decrease costs associated with production.

Leave A Comment