Digital solution could save Scottish Whisky industry millions

Posted on 15 Jul 2020 by Jonny Williamson

Researchers have collaborated with industrial partners to devise a digital whisky cask filling process that could save Scotland’s £5.5bn whisky industry millions of pounds each year in inventory costs.

The University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) has collaborated with a trio of companies to bring advances in industry 4.0 to a manufacturing process that is steeped in tradition.

Project partners include the AFRC – a specialist technology centre within the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), Siemens, drinks manufacturer Diageo, and process control system and electrical specialist, Kigtek.

The Innovate UK-funded project is set to save distillers significant capital expenditure from logistics and warehouse space for additional casks by tackling the problem of inconsistent cask filling levels resulting from overspill, under fill and foaming.

The project partners worked together to create an industry demonstrator, complete with innovative whisky cask filling test rig and cyber-physical system, incorporating a digital twin that replicates the physical process in a virtual environment.

Providing real-time data on fill volume, the digital design allows operators to account for every drop that has gone into each cask, achieving a better than 99% fill consistently, on a 200-litre cask, in under 60 seconds.

Cask production accounts for 10% – 20% of the overall cost of whisky production, and with a minimum of three years required for Scotch whisky maturation, consistent and precise fill levels are extremely important for distillers.

Diageo, for instance, holds more than 11 million casks in maturation at one time so to achieve close to maximum fill would save significant costs.

Traditional Scotch whisky casks are handmade using oak, meaning variation in the volume that each can accommodate, making the project particularly challenging.

The digital approach is set to revolutionise industry equipment, allowing it to offer a high degree of repeatability, with additional improvements to health and safety of operators, and enhanced environmental impact due to reduced waste.

Danny McMahon, Digital Manufacturing Team lead at the AFRC, commented: “The digital twin system achieved as the output of this project will allow Scotland’s whisky industry to truly embrace industry 4.0 using data to digitise a traditional process.

“Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) development sector wide, is changing the way we manufacture, with new designs, processes and innovation allowing for a modern approach that comes with huge savings in costs, time and energy consumption.”

*Header image courtesy of Depositphotos; all other images courtesy of AFRC