All Keg Paths Can Now Finally Be Tracked

Brauwelt, 17.8.2012

The Laško brewery is very much backing i-Rose technology in beer keg tracking

With a yearly output of 1 million hectoliters, the Laško brewery in the spa of the same name is the largest brewery in Slovenia. Some 30% of the beer is exported particularly to the countries of former Yugoslavia. 40 % of the beer – the brand with the largest sales being “Laško Zlatorog” – is bottle-filled (of which 80% are returnables), 53% goes into cans and some 7% into kegs. The fact that there is no keg deposit and that the drinks trade handles much of what is sold has been responsible for the brewery losing over 5% of its kegs each year. This is about to change with the new “i-Track” detection and traceability technology of Slovenian specialist i-rose based on RFID technology (Radio Frequency Identification) – i.e. one using electro-magnetic waves for identification purposes.

Spa and brewery town
Slovenia (population 2 million) joined the EU in 2004. The country has both a well-trained workforce and a highly developed economy. Surrounded by Austria, Italy, Hungary, Croatia and the Adriatic, the country feels closer at home to Western Europe than it does to the Balkan countries. In the east of the country, Laško (13,000 inhabitants) lies in the valley of the River Savinja on the former Austrian rail link between Vienna and Trieste. The town is particularly well known for its traditional thermal baths (32 – 35°C) in existence since 1852 (“Kaiser Franz-Joseph Spa”) which since 1953 have been used for medical rehabilitation purposes for guests from all over Europe. The other image bearer in the town is the brewery and its beers which are amongst the best liked in Slovenia.

The golden horn
The Laško Group is today the largest drinks company in Slovenia. It includes the Laško and Union breweries and producers of the Radenska and Vital soft drinks. Output of the entire Group is over 4 million hectoliters of beer and soft drinks, with the beer enjoying an 85% market share and the soft drinks 70%. The brewery’s crest adorns the chamois buck with its golden horns. As such, “Laško Zlatorog” (golden horn) beer is the brewery’s main brand which internationally has been the recipient of numerous awards. “In Slovenia no deposit is charged on kegs which are not usually directly delivered by the brewery to the gastronomy business – as is the case in Germany, for instance. Most gastronomy owners buy their kegs of beer from wholesalers. That is why we have hardly any check on where a particular keg is, or, when it comes back to the brewery, how long it has been ‘out’. And every year we lose some 5% of our kegs – considerable losses indeed in view of the EUR 80 average price per keg. That is why we have been looking for a solution here and actually found it at our i-Rose ‘neighbour’,” explains Bostjan Tersek, responsible at the Laško brewery for automation and electrical maintenance.

Where are our kegs? What was in them? How old are they?
The i-Rose company has been responsible for the development and implementation of a detection and tracking system for kegs. Established in 1992, the company started to specialize in process management solutions and creating business information systems with emphasis on optimizing of business processes. Beside the process management solutions they have years of experience in telecommunications industry and in professional IT consulting. All solutions are integrable with ERP systems, handhelds, android and iOS devices.  Today the company has two branches – one in Laško and the other in the capital city of Slovenia, Ljubljana – and works for many different firms across Europe. The “i-Track” solution integrates a complete, high-end, state-of-the art solution for managing a whole range of operations in the beverage industry.
It enables a wide range of services:

  • production (Brewery Laško case study)
    • defines keg routes and turn over
    • optimizes management and maintenance cycles
    • monitors the productivity of the production line
  • sales and sales promotions
  • service network
  • ERP integration

The aim of an extensive tracking system and of process optimization is both to significantly cut costs and raise customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

With the use of i-Track outside of the brewery, traceability is ensured throughout distribution. The system gives us an accurate picture of the market route of the traced kegs and casks based on statistic data processing.
Statistical tracking of the entire distribution flow gives a clear picture about beer keg movement and sales channels shaped by consumers. Sale by wholesale dealers and distributors becomes manageable, and producer’s dependence on commercial traders is reduced considerably.
We can get information on current location of each and every specific keg, last known location of missing asset, re-filled beer kegs and casks and grey market analysis. Systematically stored data represent an excellent source for producing various types of analyses such as analyzing customers’ habits, effective customer stimulation, identifying the grey market and correctly defining market channels,” adds Mirt.

RFID tags
“We therefore want to know the following about each and every keg – When was it filled? What exactly was in it? How long has it been away from the brewery? When was it serviced last? What was the quality of the returned kegs? How big is the productivity of the racking line?, What is the total amount of the filled kegs according to different criteria?  ” explains Laško technician Bostjan Tersek.

Initially i-Rose devised a software solution with the brewery exchanging the kegs for those with already integrable RFID tags. RFID tags are passive and are readable utilizing Handhelds or RFID Gates integrated with the production line.  “Handhelds are used for the inventory, maintenance and supervision of all the kegs on the other hand RFID gates ensure the complete monitoring/traceability on the racking line,” comments Miha Mirt from i-Rose.

Three control stations
When a pallet with 6 empty kegs is returned to the brewery, each of them is put on a roller conveyor. “Ahead of the wash machine, the RFID on each keg is read in a first station. The keg is thus back in the brewery and clearly identified”, continues Miha Mirt. After cleaning and filling, a second reading head comes into play. Here weight and thus correct keg filling are logged on the scales. A camera additionally looks for any bubbles on the keg fitting. After all, instances in the past of incorrectly filled and leaky containers have always arisen – they can now be immediately recognized and removed. “Ahead of palletizing a third reading station is on hand. It again checks which keg with which content is now on the pallet and is to be stocked. At this stage, we prepare a SSCC barcode with the clearly printed content, expiration date, charge and lot number and fix it on the pallet – each SSCC barcode is logically connected to the RFID identifiers of kegs on the pallet. With the combination of i-Track and local ERP we know exactly which kegs are on which pallet. This label can be read in the trade,” according to Miha Mirt.

Complete keg tracking in the brewery
Thanks to the “i-Track” system, the Laško brewery can clearly identify all the kegs in the brewery, log the fillings and maintenance and thus record the life cycles of their kegs. This allows kegs which have attained a previously defined maximum number or fillings/circulation runs to be withdrawn from the production cycle before re-filling and serviced.

In this way, the brewery always has a maintained and intact pool of kegs in circulation, knows precisely which kegs are filled with which beer and where they are. This ensures that those kegs with the shortest time up to the expiration data are always in circulation. “We have now undertaken the first step in internally recording information and in processing the data of all our kegs. The second step could now follow with the recording of our kegs in the trade and in the gastronomy business. This would permit us to precisely know where each and every keg currently is, if it is properly stored and cooled, how long it has already been in stock (and thus will shortly reach the expiration date) or how long the keg has been tapped. However, we have not yet been fully able to convince our market partners here,” reports Bostjan Tersek. “We are nevertheless more than satisfied with the collaboration, flexibility and commitment of i-Rose and have amassed a wealth of data on our kegs. We will now process this data and use it!” comments Tersek.