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Brouwerij St. Bernardus looks into optimising packing department

Given the growing international popularity of special beers, Brouwerij St. Bernardus, or St. Bernard Brewery, realised its current way of working had reached the end of the line and so the brewery decided to optimise its production and other processes. In the packing department, the idea was to reduce the number of manual processes for both ergonomic and staffing reasons.

Brouwerij St. Bernardus is a family brewery based in Watou in West Flanders that has been brewing dark and blond-coloured 'St. Bernardus' abbey beers since 1946. The brewery has kept almost its whole production system on site. All its beers are brewed with the brewery's own yeast, hops and malt. The beers are produced, bottled and packaged in situ. After the beers have been consumed, the empty bottles are returned, washed and reused. It is hardly surprising, then, that continuing growth means the brewery's current manpower and infrastructure are now nearing saturation point, making careful streamlining, and maybe investments, necessary. The SME came to Sirris for advice in this regard.

Labor-intensive packing process

The first area where St. Bernardus thought of streamlining its activities was the packing line with its various ways of packing the different types of beer bottles. The beer arrives there in large and small bottles on pallets. These are then clipped and packed into crates or cardboard boxes. All the packing methods are fairly labour-intensive and involve a lot of heavy lifting, so these had to be reviewed, and the actions automated where possible.

Mapping complexity

There are a number of companies specialising in automating bottling and packing processes. Sirris acted as an intermediary and in an advisory capacity for St. Bernardus in this regard. First, it worked with the brewery and carried out observations on the shop floor to map the complexity of the packing process and to draw up a list of problems and required changes. Plans and ideas for the future were also set out here. This was all done with appropriate illustrations so that the various suppliers got the same clear picture of the situation and of the brewery's needs, making comparing the various price quotes easier.

Transparent comparison

Sirris analysed and compared the price quotes and for each one established a list of costs and benefits and drew conclusions from this. This detailed analysis gave St. Bernardus a ready-made clear picture of the options provided by each supplier. The brewery decided that ultimately modular step-by-step automation was a financially sound way of preparing the company for the challenges of the future.

Sirris also performed a similar, albeit more comprehensive study for the bottling plant. For both projects the brewery now has the information it needs to make appropriate strategic choices in due course.