Case Study: An Efficient Lab for Top Beer Manufacturer

CASE STUDY

Written by Robert Robles on 2/27/2017


The Customer

The customer is one of the largest and most popular beer manufacturers in North America. The Food & Beverage leader employs around 9,000 people and brews, markets and sells their famous portfolio of brands across the continent. The customer operates 8 major breweries, one craft brewery, and 3 microbreweries, all located in the United States. Their beer quality and testing laboratory is in Chicago, Illinois.

The Goal

Laboratory Information Management Systems (LIMS) are software-based systems that allow you to effectively manage laboratory and associated data in order to improve lab efficiency. An effective LIMS supports a modern laboratory’s operations and enables you to automate workflows, integrate instruments, and manage lab data and related information easily, quickly and reliably. LIMS also aims to make data and information easier to store, track, and assess over time and across experiments so that labs can evaluate and improve operational efficiency.

The goal of this project was to assist the customer in interfacing several laboratory instruments with their installation of Siemens SIMATIC IT Unilab 6.7, an industry-leading LIMS. Each of the customer’s instruments ranged from 10-20+ years old, and the computers interfacing with them also had to be upgraded from an XP to a Windows 7 environment. Finally, a third-party add-on software that was developed by the customer to generate sample IDs associated to beer samples also needed to be updated and seamlessly integrated into the complete LIMS solution.

How It Works Now

Currently, this is the way things work in the customer’s beer laboratory:

  • Each lab machine is used to measure certain properties of a sample of beer.
  • The beer samples that are tested are those that are made on a regular basis as well as themed/flavored beers (new formulas that are made for the first time).
  • For a successful quality control test, a single sample of beer could be processed by up to a dozen machines. Some of these machines can take anywhere from 30 seconds to 4 hours to complete.
  • Once the machine is finished processing the sample, the output is usually shown on machine-specific software (just as old as the machine).
  • Once a machine is finished processing a sample of beer, a lab technician will copy the results down on a note pad and later enter the results into LIMS.

There are certain inconveniences and inefficiencies associated with the above process. Each lab machine will output over a dozen values and each needs to be recorded. In some situation, the results from certain machines require additional calculation before the final measurement can be entered into LIMS. Human error is also a major factor in this kind of process. After all the values for each machine are gathered, the lab technician must now go into the Unilab interface and enter in those values to the corresponding beer sample. In one full day, lab technicians can get only one to two samples finished.

How It Should Work

The scope of the project involved a complete update and upgrade of all the customer's lab equipment and the software on each of these machines. Each machine is being replaced by a newer version of itself by the same company that manufactured the original. Along with that, each machine will be given a software update (also from the manufacturer). Hyla Soft's consultants led the set-up of all the new machines, configuration and implementation of the new software, as well as providing user training and providing user documentation. The new generation of lab equipment outputs a file containing all the information needed for a given sample. For the sake of convenience and reduction of human error, a "drag and drop" process was created for the lab technicians. On the computers that interfaced with the machines, a simple folder structure was created. With a simple naming convention of these folders the lab technicians can drag and drop the output of each machine to their perspective folder. Once that is finished, it is a matter of seconds before the information is recorded into Unilab.

The End Result

The customer and all their lab technicians are very happy with the results of the project. Because of their newly integrated and complete Unilab LIMS solution, the customer’s lab technicians no longer have perform any manual data entry. This saves a lot of time, paper and errors, considering that before the project, the customer's lab technicians spent 20-30% of their time manually entering data into LIMS on a daily basis. Hyla Soft’s team also provided full documentation to the customer’s end users about how to utilize the new process and system. We are proud to have helped our customer achieve a truly paperless, efficient lab, and look forward to working with them on other initiatives in the future.

Benefits:

  • Paperless lab
  • Full integration of Unilab with all lab equipment
  • Reduced scrap & rework
  • Reduced IT costs
  • Less lab administration
  • Integrated quality management
  • Optimum lab automation
  • Greater lab efficiency
  • Less entry errors


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