In the late 2010s, breweries began to explore the usage of AI and automation in crafting beer. Considering the rate at which AI technology is taking over production and service sectors across the world, the integration came as no surprise.
AI and Robotics Revolutionizing Brewing
Article from | Eltmore
In the late 2010s, breweries began to explore the usage of AI and automation in crafting beer. Considering the rate at which AI technology is taking over production and service sectors across the world, the integration came as no surprise. In addition to contributing approximately $80 billion to the economy in 2018, the brewing industry also sustained close to 550,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, thus making it one of the fastest-growing sources of employment and a vital element in the larger equation of economic development. In fact, from brewing to bartending, robotics and AI are gradually automating almost all processes in the beverage industry. Eltmore looks at the various ways breweries have adopted automation and its impact on manufacturing in the brewing business.
At the dawn of automated brewing, in 2016, Rob McInerney, founder of the machine learning company, Intelligent Layer, and Hew Leith, CEO of the creative agency 10x, collaborated to form IntelligentX. This London-based firm went on to produce the world’s first AI-brewed beer using an algorithm named Automated Brewing Intelligence (ABI). They released four flavors - Amber AI, Black AI, Golden AI, and Pale AI, each formulated using this algorithm. What makes this even more impressive is the active consumer feedback mechanism that runs this whole operation; consumers who taste these beers can give their opinions and suggestions to the ABI via Facebook Messenger. Interestingly, depending on the consumer feedback, these four primary flavors have already been altered and improved almost 11 times. Thus, by crowd-sourcing popular tastes, IntelligentX has evolved its initial line-up and paved the way for automating an initial process in the production of beer.
Other breweries and manufacturers followed suit: Carlsberg, the Copenhagen-based brewery, introduced their Beer Fingerprinting Project in collaboration with Microsoft, Technical University of Denmark and Aarhus University. The American brewery, Champion Brewing Company, partnered with the machine learning firm Metis Machine to create a new variety of India Pale Ale using machine learning. Apart from automation of the brewing itself, robotics and AI has enabled automation of other related activities such as bartending and serving. Today there are smartphone networking applications such as Untappd, which allows users to rate the quality of beers they are consuming, and view what their friends are drinking. The app would also suggest beverages based on user-preference. All of these advancements improve the overall experience of the consumer.
There is no denying that, in terms of product development in the brewing industry, automation is more preferable due to the speed, efficiency, and guaranteed consistency. Moreover, programmed machines eliminate the risk of human error in the manufacturing process, thus making the whole process and the end product safer than when a human resource is involved. With automation, the taste and quality of the brew remain consistent while the scale of production expands.
AI makes customization, in terms of alcohol content, flavor, color, and aroma, and product development much more feasible and faster. Automation, to this extent, significantly reduces production cost and time consumed and thereby optimizes productivity. Automating packaging, labeling, etc. in the brewing industry would be a relief to the human workers who would otherwise have to seal each beer bottle manually and label them separately, all of which increase the chances of musculoskeletal disorders and repetitive strain injury (RSI). Also, with AI, microbreweries can effectively tackle competition and increase their production to facilitate expansion.
However, the cost of installing the cobots and integrating them with the existing machinery in the factory is a concern. Also, traditional brewmasters are reluctant to adopt automation because it would invalidate the whole idea of hand-crafted, artisan beer, and that the essence and quality of the end product would not be the same. In spite of these challenges and concerns, and although AI in brewing is at a very nascent stage now, it is a promising prospect, considering the level of flexibility it allows.
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