National Manufacturing Institute Scotland

Digital cask filling solution could save Scottish whisky industry millions

A distillery cask with machinery

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), a specialist technology centre within the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), have collaborated with industrial partners to devise a digital whisky cask filling process that could save Scotland’s £5.5 billion whisky industry millions of pounds each year in inventory costs.

Bringing advances in industry 4.0 to a manufacturing process that is steeped in tradition, project partners include the AFRC, technology giant Siemens, world leading drinks company Diageo, and leading process control system and electrical experts, Kigtek.

The Innovate UK funded project is set to save distillers significant capital expenditure from logistics and warehouse space for additional casks by tackling the problem of inconsistent cask filling levels resulting from overspill, under fill and foaming.

The project partners worked together to create an industry demonstrator, complete with innovative whisky cask filling test rig and cyber-physical system, incorporating a digital twin that replicates the physical process in a virtual environment.

Providing real-time data on fill volume, the digital design allows operators to account for every drop that has gone into each cask, achieving a better than 99% fill consistently, on a 200-litre cask, in under one minute.

Cask production accounts for 10% to 20% of the overall cost of whisky production, and with a minimum of three years required for Scotch whisky maturation, consistent and precise fill levels are extremely important for distillers. Diageo, for instance, holds over 11 million casks in maturation at one time so to achieve close to maximum fill would save significant costs.  

Traditional Scotch whisky casks are handmade using oak, meaning variation in the volume that each can accommodate, making the project particularly challenging.

The digital approach is set to revolutionise industry equipment, allowing it to offer a high degree of repeatability, with additional improvements to health and safety of operators, and enhanced environmental impact due to reduced waste.

Danny McMahon, Digital Manufacturing Team Lead at the AFRC, said:

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 digitise a traditional process.

"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.

“Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) 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 costs, time and energy consumption.

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