Process and Operations / Technology

German Firms Export Beer-Making Expertise

Breweries large and small are leveraging technology and techniques honed in the beer production and consumption capital of the world.

By Kevin T. Higgins, Managing Editor

Alcoholic beverages are part of most cultures. The consumption of certain types are most often identified with particular cultures: wine and France (nice try, Italy). Vodka and Russia (sorry, Poland). Brewing traditions exist almost everywhere, but when it comes to beer, it’s gotta be Germany.

Czechs edge them out on per capita consumption and America’s brewery count is triple Germany’s at 4,000 and growing, but Germans are world class drinkers and brewers, and Bavaria is the heart of the German beer culture. More than 300 breweries operate in the Nuremberg area alone, including four in a village of 1,500.

Mature understates the situation, which is why both brewers and their suppliers cast their gaze outward for growth. People in China, Brazil, Mexico and other countries with growing middle classes helped drive a 50 percent-plus increase in worldwide beer production since 1996, to 1.67 billion barrels. One of the oldest and largest fabricators of the lauter tuns, brew kettles and fermentation tanks that produce that beer is Ziemann International GmbH, which lays claim to constructing the world’s first copper steam wort kettle in 1881.

Based in the Bavarian town of Ludwigsburg, Ziemann established a global profile early in the 20th century, with a 1903 project for Tsingtao, currently China’s second largest brewer. The Chinese are relative lightweights in per capita consumption, but collectively they quaff almost twice as much as Americans, the second largest market.

Materials of construction migrated from copper to aluminum and then stainless steel. Ziemann uses 10,000 tons of stainless a year, making tanks for brewers and other liquid-food processors. It partnered with Bavarian neighbors at Siemens AG in the 1970s in the development of the Braumat process control system, which first was used to automate Venezuela’s Polar brewery in 1978. The system has since been applied to breweries large and small, from Anheuser-Busch and Miller plants to craft operations such as New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Colo.; Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Del.; and Bell’s Brewery in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Operating a high-volume, industrial brewery with fast-fermenting sugars and inexpensive starch is different than a craft brewery making small batches of highly hopped and high alcohol beers, allows Klaus Gehrig, managing director and CEO at Ziemann, and that is reflected in the automation they use. Regardless of size the tanks used and the need to respond to consumer demands for a broader portfolio of beer styles are similar, and that puts a premium on production flexibility.

Corona Extra accounts for most of the throughput at Piedras Negras Brewery, 13 miles South of Eagle Pass, Texas, in the Mexican state of Coahuila. Ziemann has been part of the brewery project since its inception in 2007. Two years ago, Grupo Modelo was forced to sell the plant to Constellation Brands to satisfy antitrust considerations resulting from Modelo’s acquisition by Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The purchase catapulted Constellation to North American brewing prominence, and the distilled spirits and wine specialist accelerated an expansion plan that will make it the world’s largest brewery. Besides Corona, the plant also produces Tsingtao, Pacifico, Negra Modelo and Modelo Expecial for U.S. consumption.

Piedras Negras was envisioned as a three-phase project, each with a capacity of 10 million hectoliters (8.5 million bbls). Two brewhouses serve each stage. The second stage was commissioned this year, bringing capacity to 26 million hl, on par with Coor’s facility in Golden, Colo., and equivalent to the combined volume of America’s craft breweries, which command 11 percent of the U.S. market.

Everything at Piedras Negras is on a massive scale. A 37-mile pipeline brings in process water. The lauter tuns have a 15.5 meter OD (50 ft. diameter), “the biggest lauter tuns ever built and running successfully,” according to Gehrig. “The biggest fermenters have an inside diameter of 10 m and a total capacity of 12.3 hl (325 gallons).”

Size isn’t everything. Energy consumption also was a consideration. If Piedras Negras was built a decade earlier, heat from the wort kettles would have been vented; instead, it is recovered and used to heat the next batch. “The level of automation also is much higher, with only a few manual valves and the rest double-seated,” Gehrig adds. With a touch of a button, brewers can route a completed batch to any available fermentation tank via the piping network’s mix-proof valves.

The friars’ legacy

Closer to home, Ziemann recently collaborated with Siemens on a 4 million hl capacity Paulaner brewery that opened this year in Munich (a hectoliter equals 0.85 U.S. barrels). Founded in 1634, Paulaner Brauerei operated continuously on the same plot on the Nockherberg hillside above the Isar River until November, when all brewing operations shifted to the new facility in the Langwied district on the city’s outskirts.

Besides lending their name, monks of the order of St. Francis of Paula operated the brewery for the first half of its history. To fortify themselves during the Lenten fast, they brewed the double bock known as Salvator (“Savior” in Latin). A high-gravity brew. Salvator continues to be brewed and distributed internationally, though the bulk of Paulaner’s production is wheat beer, both Paulaner Hefewiessbier and Hacker-Pschorr Weiss. Bavarian helles (lager) and other styles also are produced, 20 and counting.

Ziemann supplied the 87 large tanks installed at the new facility. Plotting the production flow of any given batch or style is complicated by varying hold times. According to plant engineer Michael Hemmerle, wheat beers spend 3-4 days in a fermenter, while lagers are held 7-10 days. Cellaring is the next step, and while most styles are cellared 10-12 weeks, Salvator is held six months to allow flavor development by bottom-fermenting yeast.

To reconcile demand forecasting and production flow, production engineers used a plant simulation tool from French software firm Isilog. Tank capacities, filling-line availability and scheduling information interfaces with brewery objects such as fermentation tanks and wort kettles to facilitate complex sequencing scenarios for optimum production flexibility.

Energy management is a key performance indicator, and Paulaner aimed for world-class status in heat and CO2 recovery, energy cogeneration and power consumption. That KPI, along with water use and product loss, are tracked by the process automation system.

Condition monitoring data on pumps and other components can be extracted, though it’s not a priority in brewing. “In edible oils and sugar, we see a lot of condition monitoring, but, honestly, in brewing, we have not seen interest in condition monitoring,” allows Gunther Walden, head of food & beverage in Siemens’ Process Industries and Drives Division.

Paulaner’s Hemmerle confirms the slow-adoption approach. Sensors employing miniaturized ion spectrometry can detect the chemical signature of diacetyl, a flavor indicator, of beer in process, but the brewery eschews that technology. Sediment fouls in-line sensors, which only last a few months before they need replacement, he says. Other than controlling temperature and monitoring carbon dioxide and pressure levels from a control room, the brewery relies on samples drawn from vessels and analyzed in labs for quality assurance. “If you want to be sure, you sample,” insists Hemmerle.

Sampling won’t disclose fill levels in tanks, a monitoring requirement complicated by foam. Ultrasound sensors or differential pressure measurement have been the go-to options for larger breweries, but a new tool is the radar level sensor. The Sitrans LR250 HEA from Siemens became the first radar level transmitter to be certified for aseptic applications by EHEDG, the European equivalent of 3A sanitary standards. Unlike ultrasound, no direct product contact occurs, and he antenna is encapsulated in polytetrafluoroethylene for an extremely smooth (0.8 micron) surface.

Water is beer’s primary ingredient, and Paulaner is possessive about its source water. In the first few centuries of production, only dark beers were brewed because lagers require soft water. That changed with the drilling of two 240 m/787 ft. deep wells that tap 10,000-year-old Alpine water locked in the tertiary layer of the aquifer. Similarly deep wells tap the same extremely soft, subterranean water at the new facility, which is 20 km/12.4 miles away. While it pales in horizontal comparison to the Piedras Negras water line, the wells’ vertical distance is considerably more impressive.

World’s longest tap line

Remaining within the city proper was a priority in site selection for the new facility. Only breweries within the city limits are allowed to sell their beer at Oktoberfest, Munich’s 16-day bacchanal that draws 6.6 million visitors each year before ending the first Sunday of October.

As the crowds swell and consumption increases, festival workers draw one liter, or mass, every 1.5 seconds to serve thirsty visitors to the beer tents. That’s enough to empty a barrel in minutes. To simplify logistics and avoid accidents, Paulaner worked with Siemens in 2010 to engineer a 240 m pipeline to deliver to Winzerer Fahndl, one of the main tents, with seating for 10,900inside and out. Service was subsequently extended to the Braurosi and Hacker tents (the Paulaner brewery also brews Hacker-Pschorr).

Instead of barrels or kegs, four large tanks containing 28,000 liters each, the equivalent of 231 barrels, feed the pipeline. Pressure, temperature and flow are monitored with a Siemens PLC, with pressure increasing as the tanks empty. A “Mass-O-Meter” precisely measures flow through the 10 cm/4 in. pipe, and data is accessed by smart phones and other remote devices via a web browser, providing real-time data on beer sold to the brewery and the tent operator.

With a staff of 800, Paulaner isn’t Munich’s largest private-sector employer, let alone Germany’s (that distinction belongs to Siemens and its 380,000 employees). As productivity continues to increase, maintaining staffing levels will require greater exports, be it the tools of production or the beer itself.