In this increasingly common situation automation of the sequence of brewhouse operations is indispensable. This automation is no substitute for the brewhouse operator knowing what is happening in the vessels and his training in this respect is crucial. Very expensive mistakes can ensue if automation is slavishly followed when things are going wrong.
The big change in automation in the last 20 years has been the gradual replacement of hard-wired relay logic systems with the silicon chip based programmable logic controllers. This has been coupled with the very rapid development of personal computers (PCs), which has provided user-friendly operator interfaces and the ability to store huge amounts of data.
Concurrent with all this have been big reductions in the capital cost of equipment, as the ‘Microsoft’ operating systems have come to dominate the world. The developments in PCs have facilitated and made cheaper industrial systems’ development in what has truly been a buyer’s market. A major problem is that systems have advanced so fast that obsolescence has become a factor that the brewer cannot ignore.
The language of the control systems expert has also become difficult and obscure for the brewing technologist and this has sometimes led to increased expense when supplier and customer have not understood one another. The old adage, ‘the customer is always right’ still holds but it is imperative in this area that the customer sets out very precisely what is required of the system he is buying. There is no substitute for the ‘Design Brief’ and the ‘User Requirement Specification’, which must form the basis of the Contract. The brewer (the customer) should remain the most important person in the deal.
Systems are usually designed bespoke and are not universal. However it is possible to make some comment on the most successful systems. The way the system is put together is called architecture, which describes the links through from plant level to a management information system (MIS). Several important steps can be recognized.