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Brewery automation Down Under

Established in 1859, South Australia's West End Brewery became part of the South Australian Brewing Company (SAB) in 1888. Since then, the West End Brewery has remained a major production facility of SAB, continuing to grow and diversify its product range to offer an array of beers for both state and national distribution. Its best known products include the West End and Southwark brands. In 1993, SAB was acquired by Lion Nathan, the largest beverage operation in Australasia. This has seen the West End Brewery expand its product range to include a vast array of contract packaging, particularly in the growing area of ready-to-drink beverages, such as spirit mixes.

The automation upgrade at West End Brewery has provided the ultimate production flexibility and has streamlined the overall process.

The final bottling and packaging stage prior to shipping is a key element of beverage production. At SAB's West End Brewery, the bottling hall is a vast cavern of conveyor lines and process stages. Empty bottles are transported via conveyor from ground-floor storage to the first-floor bottling hall, where they are rinsed and dried in separate process stages prior to filling with any one of a range of cold beverages. Filling and capping are then followed by pasteurizing, which leads to numerous labeling and packaging options.

Diversification presents challenge

The ongoing diversification of SAB's bottled products presented a challenge to bottling-hall operations, which originally comprised two separate lines for packaging different products. According to SAB West End Brewery electrical engineer Richard Boiwko this meant there was no midway crossover between the lines; products on one line requiring a packaging stage on the alternative line would need to complete both lines at least once.

"We needed a more flexible and manageable system," Boiwko says. "The number of different bottling schedules and products has now increased to around fifty. We needed to reduce the impact of product changeovers and improve efficiency."

In 2001, the brewery embarked upon a bottling-hall upgrade that would provide ultimate production flexibility and would streamline the overall process. Included on Boiwko's list of objectives were an advanced automation and communications system that would keep track of multiple recipes for different schedules and would facilitate diagnostics; an upgrade from fixed- to variable-speed conveyors that, in conjunction with the control system, would allow automatic speed adjustments to optimize mass accumulation (buildup of bottles) and provide buffering; and a more flexible arrangement of the product lines, allowing product crossovers at multiple stages.

In addition, improved speed was of vital importance, with only the brewery's annual two-week Christmas/New Year shutdown available for its implementation. This included an all-mechanical rearrangement and additional conveyors, all-electrical installation and commissioning.

Turnkey automation and control

Adelaide-based automation solutions provider and Rockwell Automation ( system integrator, Sage Automation (, was contracted to design, install and commission a turnkey automation and control system for the bottling-hall upgrade. This included integration of existing equipment (each performing a stage of the process) and control of 115 new variable-speed conveyors that transport bottles between processes and packaging stages at speeds of up to 700 m/min.

Sage Automation's control solution was based on the information-enabled, three-tiered communications architecture of Rockwell Automation, SAB's preferred automation partner. This comprises Ethernet communications for supervisory control and maintenance, ControlNet communications for high throughput and deterministic control and interlocking, and the DeviceNet fieldbus at the plant-floor device level.

"It was Rockwell Automation's three-tiered communications architecture that made the whole project feasible," says Sage Automation's technical development manager, James Wakefield. "Through the use of communications networks instead of hard wiring, the legacy equipment is incorporated more tightly into the overall control regime, for greater centralized intelligence."

The SAB control and communications system incorporates a single Allen-Bradley ControlLogix processor connected via Ethernet to a supervisory human machine interface (HMI), and via a deterministic ControlNet link to a remote ControlLogix rack. Both ControlLogix racks also support DeviceNet and Data Highway Plus (DH+) communications.

The plant's legacy systems are primarily based on Allen-Bradley SLC 5/04 programmable logic controllers that regulate existing equipment, such as depalletizers, rinsers, labelers and the singularizer/splitter. These are integrated into the new system via a DH+network that allows for intelligent control and pass-through programming via Ethernet and ControlLogix.

The conveyor system's field devices are integrated by the DeviceNet fieldbus. This includes 115 new field-located AC variable-speed drives and 162 Allen-Bradley proximity sensors, as well as 32 legacy panel-mounted drives, 30 photoelectric sensors, Flex I/O and stack lights—a total of 330 nodes supported by eight DeviceNet scanners.

Ethernet communications are used for the supervisory and maintenance layer that comprises a primary SCADA station with Rockwell Software RSLinx as the I/O server, as well as a secondary programming terminal that is used for online programming and diagnostics. Ethernet is also used to integrate and provide messaging to the legacy shrink-wrapping machine, which was recently upgraded by Sage to be controlled by an individual ControlLogix-based system with integrated motion control.

"It's a modern control system designed to match the flexible, mechanical installation in the bottling hall," says Wakefield. "The ease with which the system architecture is configured means that we could concentrate on commissioning the process itself, as opposed to commissioning the control system."

The bottling hall at West End Brewery is a vast cavern of conveyor lines and process/packaging stages


Boiwko is enthusiastic about the success of the upgrade, explaining that it has dramatically increased overall throughput as the result of improved flexibility and ever-increasing efficiency. This increase in overall plant throughput is due to a number of factors, such as increased flexibility of product paths through the bottling hall, which is the combined result of management of more than 50 product routes and settings and the new conveyor arrangement. Other factors include proximity sensors that detect mass accumulation along the conveyor and its relief by automatic adjustment of conveyor speed via the DeviceNet-integrated drives, plus immediate rectification of faults due to the advanced diagnostics and alarming afforded by DeviceNet.

The use of the DeviceNet fieldbus system itself also contributed to significant savings in installation costs, says Wakefield. "With DeviceNet cable along every conveyor, we could insert a tap point wherever we needed a sensor. With the added advantage of intelligent communications that facilitated commissioning and on-line diagnostics, the overall savings amounted to six percent of the installation costs."

Boiwko adds that the use of field-mounted AC drives on DeviceNet obviated the need for motor control centers and associated screened cable runs. "This saved us another fifty-thousand dollars [U.S.] easily," he says.

More information is available:
Communications architecture, controllers, sensors, scanners:Rockwell Automation, 414/382-2000. Circle No. 211.
Line design, integration:Sage Automation,
+608 8276 0700.
Circle No.212.

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