RTLS Brews Up Benefits for Historic Czech Republic Beer

Sewio's ultra-wideband solution, deployed this year, enables Budweiser Budvar to determine the locations of its forklifts within centimeters, and to thereby understand the movements of its returnable pallets, thus preventing errors, increasing efficiency and reducing inventory space.
Published: October 13, 2019

Budweiser Budvar Brewery has been producing beer for two centuries, with a recipe that dates back to 13th-century Bohemia. These days, as other manufacturers open bottling sites around the world, Budvar is holding onto tradition with a commitment to produce, bottle and can its beer at its original site in České Budějovice, in the Czech Republic. The company says it is using 21st-century technology to make that possible.

Budweiser Budvar’s tour guide claims the company’s beer is brewed from artesian water so pure, it’s fit for a baby. In fact, the facility’s home city, known as Budweis, is considered one of the earliest sites for beer, dating back to Ottokar II, the former King of Bohemia. With that in the mind, the company has been expanding and automating its facility to meet its growing worldwide consumer demand, with no intentions of moving its location. The expansion includes a new site dedicated to logistics, across the street from the existing structure, and an overhead throughway for product to be delivered by an automated monorail transportation system over that street without disrupting traffic.

Automation has made the bottling and canning of beer faster, the firm reports, while making delivery to the logistics site and the loading of vehicles more efficient. Real-time location system (RTLS) technology, however, is what ensures the right pallets are picked up and then loaded onto and from conveyors, and into vehicles. The solution, provided by Sewio and ICZ Group, has not only boosted efficiency and accuracy, but also improved warehouse utilization by 19 percent, the company reports.

With RTLS UWB anchors tracking tags on forklifts, as well as barcode scans on each pallet, the company can automatically locate each returnable pallet as it is received back from customers and then prepared for reuse. It can also track each pallet filled with finished product, thereby ensuring the accuracy of receiving and shipping, while reducing the stockpiling of pallets.

Budweiser Budvar sells beer to customers throughout 76 countries. The name “Budweiser” translates into English as “beer from Budweis,” and the company is the only beer manufacturer owned by the Czech government. Not to be confused with Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser, which is sold from the United States, Budweiser Budvar has its own recipe and has no plans to bottle its product beyond České Budějovice.

Martin Kormorny, the company’s primary distribution manager, shared his experience and offered tours of his facility as part of the Sewio Summit, which took place in September 2019. Kormorny will speak about the technology as part of the RFID Journal LIVE! Europe conference and exhibition, being held in November.

The beer company produces 1.6 hectoliters of beer annually, but it plans to increase its production capacity to 2 million hectoliters. Kormorny says the sale of beer is seasonal, with a spike in sales during summer months and the Christmas season. This, he adds, makes it much harder to meet the growing demand during those periods.

Budvar decided to automate much of its operations, as well as expand its existing production area, by building a new bottling, storage and shipping facility. “Thinking about the capacity,” Kormorny says, “we split logistics and production,” and thereby freed up more space for the latter. “We firmly linked production and logistics,” he adds, both physically, with an overhead monorail system, and in the software to ensure data was integrated between the two operations. The bottling and logistics facility has been under construction for three years and is now operational.

Martin Kormorny

The bottling and canning processes are fully automated, as is the delivery of finished product to the warehouse area. Budvar’s software platforms include a system to manage operations flow, along with a transportation-management system and light gates for monitoring goods moving into and out of the site, all connected to the warehouse-management system (WMS) and the company’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system.

PLCs manage onsite processes as beer flows into bottles, which are then sealed, loaded onto pallets and automatically routed to the warehouse. The company uses a material-flow system (MFS) from SSI Schafer to move empty pallets from the warehouse to the bottling area, then back again, loaded with new product.

ICZ Group provides the WMS software that manages data related to the products moving throughout the facility. ICZ recommended the RTLS solution so Budvar could gain automated location data regarding every loaded and empty pallet, and Budvar obtained the system from Sewio, a local ultra-wideband (UWB) solutions company. With the Sewio solution, location data flows to ICZ’s OSIRIS software so that management and carriers alike can view what is happening in the warehouse, confirm which pallets are being received or loaded onto vehicles, and identify any errors before a shipment takes place.

To accomplish this goal, the company needed a way to enable workers to ensure that they selected the right product from the warehouse when they delivered reusable pallets back into the production system, as well as when they loaded filled pallets onto vehicles for customer orders. Every day, approximately 50 beer trucks load up at the site.

Budweiser Budvar has used UHF RFID technology in the past. The system consisted of readers on forklifts and tags on pallets, as well as tags attached to the floor in specific zones or areas to identify each forklift’s location. However, the reader antennas were frequently damaged during the operations, requiring that employees have time to repair the hardware, while putting the vehicles out of operation. Additionally, the forklifts had to slow down to ensure proper tag reads. The data captured was limited as well, since the system didn’t track where a forklift was located if it moved out of tag range.

The company needed an RTLS solution that would track the locations of forklifts as they picked up and delivered pallets loaded with complete products, as well as when it received empty pallets and recycled bottles. “We need to track the forklifts—and for that, we need dynamic zones,” says Pavel Cizner, ICZ’s consultant for the project. The company installed 70 Sewio anchors, suspended from the ceiling at a height of about 20 feet, to create zones in which pallets were located throughout a 15,000-square-meter (161,000-square-foot) area. The system provides location accuracy within about 30 centimeters (11.8 inches).

Sewio’s RTLS Studio software runs on a local server and receives all location data from the anchors, according to Tomas Kocan, Sewio’s software team leader. The software forwards the location of each forklift to the company’s ICZ WMS software. In the meantime, barcode labels have been applied to 20,000 pallets so that each one can be uniquely identified and linked to the products loaded onto it.

When a pallet is loaded with product, a monorail transports it to the warehouse on a conveyor. At the point at which the pallet is picked up by a forklift, the barcode serial number is scanned by a ZETES light gate. At the same time, as the forklift comes within range of the completed pallet, the forklift’s ID number is linked to the pallet that has been scanned in the warehouse-management software.

As the forklift delivers the pallet to an assigned zone within the warehouse, the anchors capture the vehicle’s position and thereby determine where the forklift goes as it deposits the loaded pallet in a specific zone. In that way, the system can determine exactly where each pallet has been placed.

When an order is received for product on a given pallet, Budvar’s own WMS software identifies the product’s location, then the assignment is sent to the warehouse operator regarding what needs to be picked, as well as where it is located. As the forklift picks up that product, the Sewio software confirms that the vehicle is retrieving the correct product, or it can issue an alert if a mistake is being made.

The system also works with empty pallets received from customers. “It is equally important for us to monitor the inventory of returnable packaging online with a view to production planning,” Kormorny states. As empty pallets are received, the ZETES scanner reads the pallet barcode and the data is received in the WMS. The forklift that picks up that pallet is identified based on its location at the entrance, and the solution tracks where the pallet is then stacked for cleaning and reuse.

By tracking this data, the company ensures that empties are being used, that the pallet inventory levels are appropriate and that the right pallet is being delivered to the brewery for product refilling. Sewio reports that the RTLS solution has a working time of 99 percent, while the passive RFID system had operated only 80 percent of the time that it was needed. The RTLS solution is now scalable, enabling Budvar to add virtual zones to the existing system at any time.

With the technology in place, Kormorny says, Budweiser Budvar can do more to boost its productivity. For instance, he adds, “The software can accurately evaluate the OEE [overall effectiveness] of each operation, including each forklift’s standing and driving time, the route of each of them, places of heavy traffic and other important data that we can use to further optimize the process.”

Once it has such data, the company intends to begin paying employees based on their productivity. The data analytics will also allow the firm to consider human error rates or measure each employee’s workload.