Brewery Automation Build Update – Why use automation and what will be it’s functionality?

Brewery Automation – Automation progress to December 2017:

When talking breweries, automation is definitely not required, most brewers prefer none at all and what I am adding to my brewery although using a PLC is barely even automation such is the simple nature of the control. My early breweries all had a basic panel with switches and standalone PID temperature controllers for heating, the brewing process is so simple that this is all that is required.  In this build I have added it only because I wanted to for a fun factor. It allows for endless future add on projects and functionality to help make brew day easier. I also needed a new challenge and have always wanted to learn some basic programming and the terminology that goes with it which will be useful in my engineering role.

The brewery automation will be run on an Allen Bradley micro830 PLC with a panel view 800 7″ widescreen as the human machine interface(HMI) otherwise known as “the screen”. This family of PLC was chosen for several reasons:

  • It is more than powerful enough for the functionality I need
  • Ample digital inputs and outputs
  • Expansion module capability for me to add relay outputs for PWM as well as analogue inputs for temperature, pressure & flow meters
  • The programming software used is Connected Components Workbench(CCW) which has a free version where as the next model PLC up requires a paid version of RS Logix
  • The programming functions are similar to those used in the industries I work in and could therefore learn some additional useful skills.

I have found learning, implementing and testing the brewery automation functionality very rewarding. With no automation experience I was able to teach myself the basics and build a reasonably complex ramp and hold program as well as various other functions. Admittedly this took a good 300 hours initially and the hardest part was getting the computer to talk to the PLC and the PLC to talk to the HMI, so much new technical jargon to learn but now writing new programs and making changes is easy. I’m happy to make the software programs available to anyone looking to complete a similar project using the same family of PLC’s although most other brewery builds I see these days with any sort of brewery automation use the Arduino controllers which are a lot cheaper.

Since I am a very hands on brewer, automation will be initially limited to:

  • Temperature selection on the HLT which will use 1, 2 or 3 elements to heat to setpoint depending on how fast the tank is required to heat up. Once within a range of the setpoint the recirculation pump will turn on to make the tank temperature uniform while continuing to heat to setpoint. These heaters will be on/off only and not on a PID loop. It is intended that the tank will heat up over night before brewday using the PLC clock to start.
  • Cascade PID control for the RIMS/HERMS recirculation heater on the mash tun for accurate control
  • Ramping and holding functionality for the mash
  • Heating power input to the kettle to allow full power when ramping to the boil(10kW) but then dial the power back to the required % during the boil to achieve the desired boil off rate
  • Indications of the temperature and level of all vessels
  • Operation of pumps
  • Future addition of fermenter temperature controls

The automation works completed to the end of December 2017 is:

  • Write a brief description of the required functionality
  • Update PLC and HMI firmware to be compatible with the latest version of the software
  • Write a basic program with the required functionality
  • Bench test to make sure the basics are working and everything is talking to one another

Brewery Automation PLC bench testing:


Brewery Automation Initial control screens:

These are the screens that will be loaded when first commissioned and tweaked to suit my actual requirements when it is commissioned. Modifying screens is really easy. It will be an interesting update after a month or so of running to see how much I change them to meet the requirements of what I actually find useful during the brew day.

Sample of the programming interface in CCW:

The automation component of this build has definitely been the most interesting and challenging for me. Once the basic functionality is up and running, any spare time that I get will be spent upgrading and adding functionality to the screens such as trends, timers, recipe logs etc. The electrical panel also has provisions to add valves and other instrumentation in future which might be fun to play around with. I will add another update in January 2018 once some automation testing has taken place.

For further information and pictures of the automation hardware, check out our brewery electrical post.

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