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UC Davis Winery Tracks Fermentation Via RFID Sensors

The system allows the school's new facility to track the sugar content and temperatures of its wine within each of its 152 fermenting vats, putting an end to manual measurements.
By Claire Swedberg
The transmission is received by the RFID reader plugged into a laptop, and the data is forwarded to the Sense and Control Dashboard software, residing on the UC Davis server. The dashboard displays the most recent temperature and sugar content reading for each vat, and maintains a history of measurements. Although the software could issue alerts in the form of an e-mail or text message if a threshold is crossed, at present, it simply displays the alert on the dashboard. As such, the winery's staff must log in remotely via the Internet, or view a 46-inch video monitor on-site (provided by Cypress), that is plugged into the laptop and displays data in real time.

UC Davis professor Roger Boulton
Shortly before the system went live, the winery asked Cypress if water temperatures leading into and out of the building could be measured as well. Cypress spent two weeks designing a system of RFID sensors for measuring the water temperature within pipes mounted on the ceiling, as hot and cold water enter and leave the facility. This helps the winery monitor the condition of water going into and coming out of the vats. The incorrect temperature going in could affect the wine's quality, while the wrong temperature coming out could indicate a problem with one of the vats. Like the fermenter's sensors, the Cypress water sensors are connected to active RFID tags that transmit the temperature data, along with a unique ID number, and are read by the hub reader.

The greatest challenge for this installation, according to Archana Yarlagadda, Cypress' senior applications engineer, involved ensuring that the reader could receive the transmissions of every RFID tag in an environment filled with steel and liquid. The vats' widespread placement, she says, necessitated a significant read range. The problem was resolved, in large part, by adjusting the tag's position to ensure it had the best orientation of its antenna relative to the reader.

Next year, Yarlagadda says, the winery intends to have the system go live with all 152 vats, which may require more than one hub, to ensure that each tag's signal can be received in the event that the distance from a single reader is too great.

Boulton is enthusiastic about the data the system provides—which, he notes, is more than any other winery of this scale has access to. "Do must winemakers measure the sugar content in their fermenters?" he asks. "Yes, but not very well. It needs to be done manually." What's more, he says, it's unlikely that most wineries have a large enough staff to measure the mix more than once or twice daily. "We've depended on this system this year," he says of the Cypress wireless nodes, "and we're happy with the precision and accuracy." In the future, he adds, "our issue will be filtering out some of the data," since measurements from each vat, taken every five minutes, might provide more data than the winery requires.

"It's created an enormous labor savings," Boulton states, but the other benefits are no less important—namely, ensuring that temperatures are tracked more precisely, and enabling experiments on a variety of grapes that could not have been conducted in the past. "It allows us to get to work on experiments, and not worry about the manual tasks of winemaking [such as manually taking measurements at each fermenter]."

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