Brewing more with industrial Ethernet

Case study: Saugatuck Brewing expanded beer output fourfold in two years, with help of EtherCAT industrial Ethernet and PC-based controls. See photo gallery.


Saugatuck Brewing makes several classic beers, such as pilsner, ale, hefeweizen, porter, stout, and IPA (India Pale Ale), with some balanced, modern refinement. The brewery, based in Douglas, Mich., has made significant production gains in 2011 and 2012, with expansions of fermenter and bright tank (beer finishing tank) equipment. Saugatuck achieved just under 500 barrels of production capacity in 2009. Expansion doubled output to approximately 1,000 barrels in 2010, and more than 2,000 barrels in 2011. The ambitious goal of 4,200 barrels in 2012 would continue the doubling trend for the third year in a row, if the brewery can do it.

The reality for U.S. microbreweries is that expansion can come at a rapid pace, but it is also realized in several increments. This calls for a modular automation system that can flexibly expand in multiple phases that occur in rapid succession. For Saugatuck, the solution for maintaining ideal carbonation levels and accommodating further brewery expansions came from PC-based control and an industrial Ethernet communication system.

Today, Saugatuck Brewing uses EtherCAT throughout its brewing process as the networking system with cabinet-mounted IP20-rated I/O terminals and IP67 EtherCAT I/O box modules mounted outside the cabinet in plant areas. For the process controller, Saugatuck uses a compact control panel with 5.7-in. touchscreen with Ethernet interface to the brewery’s updated carbonation system. The control panel has an Intel IXP420 processor with Intel XScale technology and 533 MHz clock frequency.

The control panel also runs the Saugatuck Brewing human-machine interface (HMI) so brewery staff can adjust carbonation parameters and change other settings. Saugatuck Brewing programmed its HMI using one integrated programming software platform for the controller and HMI, instead of relying on a stand-alone HMI software package.

Using PC- and EtherCAT-based technology, Saugatuck Brewing improved product quality and consistency, and drastically reduced production equipment cost.

The control system is “50% less expensive per tank compared to an alternative controller architecture Saugatuck Brewing considered,” according to Ron Conklin, Brewmaster at Saugatuck Brewing. “The other system was ruled out as soon as we determined we would have to purchase a new hardware controller every time we expanded. Standardizing on one PC-based system that controls all brewing tanks makes plant operation, maintenance, and further upgrades much easier.”

Also read: Technologies used at Saugatuck Brewing industrial Ethernet upgrade, linked at the bottom of this article. 

- Shane Novacek is marketing communications manager, Beckhoff Automation. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager CFE Media, Control Engineering and Plant Engineering,

(Place your cursor over the photos to see captions.)


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