California Brewer Gains Peace of Mind With IoT-Managed Chiller Temperatures

By Claire Swedberg

Savagewood Brewing Co. has achieved a return on investment based on ensuring its glycol chiller doesn't fail and cause beer to spoil during brewing, using a Direction Communication Solutions system with CalAmp's cellular-based gateway and sensors.

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Craft brewery Savagewood Brewing Co. is ensuring the quality of its beer as it is brewed and served, by tracking the effectiveness of its glycol chiller temperature-monitoring solution and cold-storage area. The brewery has adopted Internet of Things (IoT) technology provided by Direct Communication Solutions (DCS) that employs gateways from CalAmp.

The technology has not detected any temperature problems since it was taken live a year ago, says Darrel Brown, Savagewood’s owner and founder, but he has peace of mind in knowing he’ll be alerted if that happens. The solution consists of a CalAmp asset-tracking gateway device, connected to temperature sensors and DCS’s app, to capture and manage sensor data and issue alerts regarding any sensor reading changes that might require attention. DCS is now selling the solution, tailored for small- to medium-sized businesses.

Savagewood’s Darrel Brown

Savagewood, a nanobrewery based in San Diego, Calif., opened in 2017 with its own brewing operation and tap room, Brown says. The company is what he calls a neighborhood brewery, and 90 percent of its products are sold directly at the tap room.

One stage of the brewing process is especially sensitive to temperatures, Brown says: fermentation. Beer is poured into fermentation vessels with yeast, where the beverage needs to be kept at about 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees Celsius). If the liquid becomes too hot or cold, the yeast will die. A glycol chiller is used to ensure the beer remains at that temperature, even on a hot summer day.

The beer is stored in the fermentation vessels for 10 to 35 days. During that span of time, staff members typically check the temperature multiple times each day, in order to ensure the proper conditions are being maintained. In fact, glycol chiller failure is among the most common sources of concern for brewers, according to Brown. “Ninety percent of the time, it’s fine,” he says. However, when a chiller malfunctions, there’s the potential for an entire batch of beer to be ruined. That happened last year during a weekend, he recalls, when one glycol chiller was unable to keep the beer cool enough. Brown didn’t know the malfunction had occurred, and the resultant product loss cost the brewery about $20,000.

The system DCS customized for Savagewood consists of a CalAmp gateway installed inside the glycol chiller. The temperature sensor, in the form of a probe, can be inserted into the chiller tank, and is plugged into the TTU2830 4G LTE- and GPS-based gateway, according to Kevin Blakeborough, CalAmp’s channel sales senior director. The gateway is plugged into an external power source, but also comes with a back-up battery in case of a power outage.

As the system captures temperature readings, it transmits that data at regular intervals to DCS’s cloud-based server via a cellular connection. In the event that a temperature falls outside the predetermined threshold, the system will alert Brown to the problem. Up to six sensors could be attached to a single gateway. The device can also detect vibration with its built-in accelerometer, says Carl Burrow, CalAmp’s senior VP of global sales. This, he explains, could indicate a future problem with the chiller.

Brown can use the DCS app, downloaded on his phone, to access the latest temperature readings at any given time, as well as view a history of those readings. What’s more, he can modify the temperature requirements to prompt alerts, as well as customize how those alerts are sent and to whom. The system was taken live during the summer of 2017, Brown says, following the glycol chiller failure, and there have yet to be any further incidents.

The brewery has now installed a second sensor inside the cold-storage area, in which finished kegs of beer are carbonated and stored at approximately 36 degrees Fahrenheit (2.2 degrees Celsius). The sensor is attached to the carbonation system in order to identify any carbon dioxide leaks, and to monitor the temperature at that location.

CalAmp’s Kevin Blakeborough

First and foremost, Brown says, the system provides him with peace of mind so he can be confident all is well with his product when he’s not onsite. But it also creates a digital record of the temperatures to which the beer is exposed, thereby providing an audit trail to meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) requirements.

Initially, Brown says, he uses the system for real-time data, but he could eventually install additional sensors to capture individual fermentation vessel temperatures. In that way, he explains, he could understand the typical fermentation process taking place for each type of beer, and could thus tweak the fermentation process accordingly. For instance, Brown says, a fluctuation in temperature data could indicate when fermentation is complete, and thereby potentially reduce the amount of time the firm needs to spend fermenting that product. “We could then create more batches,” he states.

Since DCS designed the system, it has been offering the technology to other breweries and related companies, says Chris Bursey, Direct Communication Solutions’ president. Existing temperature-monitoring solutions are typically designed for larger companies, he says. The DCS solution comes with an app that can be compatible with both iOS- and Android-based devices. Breweries could utilize the system during their fermentation process, as Savagewood is doing, but could also track beer or other products as they move through the supply chain. “We have a full fleet solution as well,” Bursey says, “so we can track location, in addition to sensor data.”

Beyond CalAmp’s cellular transmitting device, Burrow says, the company has sold solutions since the early 1980s that capture data regarding vehicles and assets, which are aimed at improving safety and efficiency within the fleet, construction and industrial markets. The device can enable such features as user authentication, impact detection and geo-zoning when used with vehicles or other moving assets. It employs CalAmp’s PULS device-management software to update the device behavior for specific deployment attributes.

The DCS system that Savagewood has deployed represents a solution that could impact smaller breweries and other businesses as well, Burrow reports. “The IoT market is so vast and so fragmented into so many different industries,” he states, “but what DCS has done is come up with qualities across vertical markets that have a really clear ROI. There’s a lot of cool things you can monitor, but if you can’t pencil out the ROI by increasing revenue or improving profits, then it’s hard to establish that value proposition.”