Days 15-17: Brewing/Keg Washing/Canning

When you’re the intern, and just getting started helping out a brewery, there is a lot to see and take in before you can really help out. However, even after only seeing the canning line in operation for a few days, I was feeling comfortable to jump in and help out…

The image below is a closer up view of the Ska Fabricating depalletizer, which sends cans into the canning machine. It’s amazing how important it is that this machine functions smoothly and doesn’t damage any of the cans. A misstep in its operation could either send cans flying or damage cans which could no longer be used. Neither of those things happen often, which makes you appreciate mechanical precision.

As the cans come off the depalletizer, they come down in a line, are filled over and rinsed with water prior to being filled. This makes sure any dust or other residual is removed from the can before filling. This also cools the can and the thin layer of water helps to reduce nucleation sites so that foaming is decreased while filling.

Below is an example of the operation screen of the canning line. In a system like this, there are seemingly thousands of operations and settings that can be controlled throughout the canning line. Surprisingly, the system is very intuitive and without too much training you can learn how to do things like manage line errors, reset the lid counter, or change the delay time in different spots along the line. This is important so that you can adjust the system timing to accommodate the exact style of beer you are canning. For example, there are some delay timers which need to be implemented when canning the “White” shown above, to accomodate a higher foaming level than is seen in beers like “Pilsner”.

Here’s another view of the canning line, this time looking down the line from the lid-dropper to the filler lines. The fill heads are each controlled as a peristaltic pump, where pressure on the flow line controls the speed of flow. This allows you to fine tune the fill level on each head, to ensure that the beers consistently meet their fill level despite changes in temperature.

As soon as the cans are filled, they pass under the lid hopper and get a lid dropped onto the beer just as it starts to foam. The foam helps to purge any residual oxygen from the can and ensures the the cans are capped immediately after being filled. As soon as a lid is place, the cans move along the belt and are pressed into the can top and sent through the seamer.

The image above shows a bit more detail of the canning line from filling to seaming (right to left).

The Filtec unit on this canning line, shown below, uses gamma rays to inspect the fill level inside of each can. If the can is underfilled it is automatically rejected from the line, to ensure that only properly filled cans make it off the line.

After going through the filtec and passing inspection, the cans continue down the line where they are manually grouped, pactec 6-pack lids are added and the 6-packs are cased and palletized.

There is a lot going on and things move fast. There is pretty steep learning curve to all this, but the guys at River North have been great to show me each section of their process and get me working at each stage of the process. I am starting to put it all together, and really feel like this is great experience for my internship!

Typically canning isn’t the only thing going on in the brewery, and often one person is brewing while the others are canning. This picture I took during a brew just helps remind me of the difference you see in commercial vs. homebrewing. Hopping additions on a commercial system are fun too see, when the hops are measured in pounds as compared to ounces, and additions are made via bucket!

 

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