A new digital whisky cask filling process could transform operations across the Scottish whisky industry and save distillers millions of pounds each year.
Researchers from the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) collaborated with a host of industrial partners, including Siemens and Diageo, as part of a project to digitise the process of filling whisky casks.
The project, funded by Innovate UK, could save distillers significant capital expenditure by preventing overspill, underfill and foaming during the filling process.
Project partners worked together to virtually replicate the physical process of filling a whisky cask. Using real-time data on fill volume, the digital design enabled operators to account for every drop poured into each cask.
The system also allowed staff to remotely visualise the process through augmented and virtual reality.
Typically, the cask filling process is challenging because traditional Scotch whisky casks are handmade using oak – meaning the volume that each can accommodate varies.
Researchers said the project delivered significant improvements, however, and using the digital process they were able to achieve a 99% fill rate on a 200-litre cask in less than one minute.
Danny McMahon, digital manufacturing team lead at the AFRC, said the new system could unlock huge financial benefits for the nation’s £5.5 billion whisky industry.
“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 digitised a traditional process,” he said.
“The collaborative nature of the project combined the centre’s design and digital manufacturing expertise with industry partners Siemens instrumentation know-how, Kigtek’s process and control understanding and Diageo’s industry knowledge, to devise a revolutionary system with immense benefits for a multi-billion pound industry that is crucial to Scotland’s economy,” McMahon added.
Cask production accounts for up to 20% of the overall cost of whisky production. With a minimum of three years required for Scotch whisky maturation, distillers place huge importance on consistent and precise fill levels.
Organisations such as Diageo, for example, hold anywhere up to 11 million casks in maturation at one time. To achieve close to maximum fill would deliver significant long-term cost savings for the firm.
Headquartered in London, Diageo is one of the world’s largest producers of spirits and beers. The firm operates in more than 180 countries globally and owns a host of major brands such as Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff and Captain Morgan.
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Researchers insisted that new digital approaches could revolutionise industry equipment and greatly improve operator health and safety.
“Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) 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 cost, time and energy consumption,” McMahon said.