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RFID Delivers Visibility to U.K. Beer Containers

Britain's largest container rental provider, Close Brothers Brewery Rentals, has built its own UHF RFID system that captures shipping and receiving data, as well as each step of the cleaning and maintenance process, integrated with the company's management software.
By Claire Swedberg
Apr 14, 2019

Close Brothers Brewery Rentals (CBBR) wasn't satisfied with the bar-code- or RFID-based systems it was using to track the millions of beverage containers it rents to brewers, so the company built its own solution. Within six months, the firm deployed a system by which kegs and casks can be automatically tracked through their cleaning and maintenance cycles, and can be detected via handheld RFID readers each time they are shipped to a customer, as well as when they are received back at Close Brothers' facility.

The solution, which was taken live in August 2018, enables the company to automatically collect data regarding the status and locations of its products, says Darren Lock, CBBR's digital innovation director. In that way, the firm has been able to gain insights into asset loss and utilization rates, hold brewery clients accountable and collect automatic data about maintenance processes that can be used for scheduling, as well as for processing efficiency analytics.

CBBR has been in business for approximately 15 years. It started with 100 kegs that it rented to breweries about 15 years ago, and has since grown to become the largest provider of rental beer casks and kegs in the United Kingdom—now with a total of 2.2 million kegs, representing a quarter of the market. The firm rents the kegs to brewers on a long-term basis (with five-year contracts), as well in the short term (with its e-keg and e-cask service, by which kegs are rented only for a single use).

The company has faced a major challenge in monitoring the locations and conditions of each container. CBBR initially tracked its products manually, via pen and paper, as they were shipped to brewers and were then received from central distribution areas after they were emptied at a pub or restaurant. "[In the] early days," Lock says, "we had people writing serial numbers as containers were shipped and received. Then we tried bar codes," followed by low-frequency (LF) RFID. The latter two methods eliminated the need for pen and paper, but still required that each tag on a keg be scanned at close-range. "They would have to scan one by one to put it onto our [shipping or receiving] schedule," he states.

The company can have thousands of containers it needs to identify at any given moment. "For 750 containers," Lock explains, "it required two workers at least two hours to record them." However, he says, "With UHF, one guy can have it done in 10 minutes." The company didn't just want to track when the containers were shipped and received, however—it also hoped to gain visibility into which products were on hand, which were cleaned and serviced, and which had been sent out to customers.

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