Higher beer quality through brewing process with ultrasonic sensors, AI and cloud solution

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6 minutes Reading time
6 minutes Reading time

Ultrasonic sensors that detect the dispersion of substances in media such as beer bottles without contact and in real time are innovating and revolutionizing the beer brewing process. In combination with an IoT and cloud solution, the efficiency of the processes is raised and thus a higher beer and hygiene quality is achieved. SONEM – a sensor manufacturer in the process industry – relies on Azure IoT Edge from Microsoft.

The challenge: Local and manual processes require a lot of time and energy

Achieving the optimum in terms of safety, economy and ecology is a constant challenge for breweries. For example, to ensure the consistently high quality of their beers, many breweries play it safe: they give their beers additional development time in various process steps. This leads to longer throughput times and higher energy consumption. Conversely, this means too much CO2 emission per product or beer unit. Many breweries therefore lack process-related energy efficiency – a circumstance that calls for new, future-oriented solutions. The longevity of breweries also calls more than ever for technical concepts that are future-proof and can be flexibly adapted to changes and new challenges. Breweries are also driven by growing product ranges and increasingly individual customer requirements, such as smaller containers or faster delivery times. Many process steps that are intended to meet these individual requirements are still carried out manually today, to the detriment of the targeted parameters of “economy” and “safety”. This is because functional safety in the operation of high-speed machines and systems is also a relevant topic and has the highest priority at the control and field level of breweries.

As is so often the case, the solution lies in the data and new technologies and IT capabilities. First, it is about the actual extraction of the data. The key to successfully balancing the conflicting priorities of safety, economy and ecology is to refine them with the aid of networked production systems and to move them from the field level to the cloud:

  • More transparency and information gain for efficient derivation of autonomous or manual decisions
  • Optimization of controlled production – especially with regard to reducing the ecological footprint and conserving resources in energy and material flows
  • Safety for employees at the machines through monitoring and automation

The solution: Automation and networked technology with smart ultrasonic sensor technology

SONEM develops and builds ultrasound-based sensor technology for the process industry that enables the intelligent networking and digitization of processes in the production environment. The special feature of the solution: The technology is based on the material-characteristic propagation of the ultrasonic signal in the respective medium – in this use case of beer bottles. In cooperation with a medium-sized German brewery, the solution was tested and several ultrasonic sensors were installed in the brewing process and connected to IPCs via Ethernet. The so-called SONEM Liquid Analyzer collects and processes the data of the substance dispersion, which are subsequently evaluated by means of an AI-based evaluation algorithm. Using a cloud-based platform solution on which data analysts can work together with process engineers, the machine learning model of the evaluation software is continuously trained and made smarter. Smart sensors are also important complementary data sources for artificial intelligence.

But that’s not how the solution looked from the start. The collected sensor data and analysis results have been stored locally in the beginning. In addition, manual data transfer via a mobile workstation was necessary. The solution within the solution: simpler data management with regular model updates and condition monitoring of all sensor technology. Two long-standing official Microsoft partners were brought on board for this development step, and a case study was launched at the end of 2019 with the Industrial IoT expert, AIT GmbH, and MOXA Europe GmbH, a specialist in industrial communication devices.

Primary question of the case study: How can the data collected be preprocessed on the edge side and analyzed and visualized in detail in the cloud with the help of AIT’s Smart Edge kit based on Azure IoT Edge (Microsoft) and the appropriate hardware from MOXA Europe?

One level more technical, the interaction of the partners works as follows:

  1. SONEM: The sensor has a microcontroller for collecting data. The data is transmitted to an IoT gateway where it can be aggregated, analyzed and otherwise processed – even before it is transmitted to the cloud.
  2. AIT: Using the AIT building blocks, the collected data is sent to the cloud.
  3. MOXA Europe: provides the hardware that connects the sensors to the cloud.
  4. Microsoft’s Azure Cloud: enables SONEM to retrieve and process data from all sensors.

In addition, the results can be visualized for the end customer using the so-called IoT Central. AIT’s Smart Edge building blocks not only provide the basic infrastructure for collecting and forwarding all data, but all evaluation models can also be managed, distributed and configured using the cloud. In addition, the gateway can be managed and maintained by integrating MOXA’s edge module.

The result: Platform solution with optimized and scalable processes for the user

SONEM ultrasonic sensors help medium-sized and large breweries to make their brewing process more efficient and are superior to classic, imaging ultrasonic technology. The autonomous sensors continuously collect relevant data via the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) throughout the production process. On the basis of various ultrasonic properties and in comparison with a reference measurement, the quality of a medium can be recorded and monitored, and the beer quality can be ensured . The whole thing is contactless and in real time. The contactless measuring method is a real advantage and added value, especially for hygienically sensitive production processes such as the brewing process. The newly collected data can also be used to identify and expand optimization potential in the brewing process.

The AIT Smart Edge building blocks based on Azure IoT Edge have made a fundamental contribution to this result. Thanks to Microsoft and the management of software and devices from the cloud, data security can be guaranteed at all times and high scalability can be achieved. In addition, by retrieving all sensor data, the solution enables optimization of different models, which in turn can be used locally at the customer’s site. The MOXA hardware also offers further advantages over old industrial PCs: it is more cost-effective, smaller and more temperature-resistant.

The case study and strong collaboration with partners AIT, MOXA and Microsoft Azure has led SONEM to reach the goal of a platform solution faster. And the solution is transferable: SONEM plans to roll out the technology in other sectors of the process industry with similar needs in the future.

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