Hobsons Brewery and Company Ltd is a small, innovative brewery with an established network of sales outlets across the world, and a prize winning reputation for its beers. The success of the brewery and its many awards has been down to a strong culture of supporting its region, its people, and its resources. The company owns 3,000 beer casks and two pubs in the area local to their brewery.
Hobsons had a specific problem with tracking its beer casks and being able to successfully identify their location and contents. They had a logistics and traceability issue that resulted in barrels sometimes getting lost or misplaced, which also meant that collection and delivery of barrels was not always optimised. They approached us to see if there was a technological solution to the problem. We agreed to collaborate closely and investigate how a tracking and visualisation system could be developed to improve the logistics and traceability within the business.
The project initially involved the WMG SME team scoping out what sort of technology would be available to track the barrels and manage the stock and distribution process and create a new smart beer barrel system. A range of RFID (Radio-Frequency Identification) products were assessed, leading to the decision to implement a NFC (Near Field Communication) solution using a smartphone app and cloud database system to do the asset tracking. This solution allowed for communication between different devices and the ability for Hobsons staff to monitor assets while on the road. The next stage was to develop a robust smartphone-ready NFC tag capable of working on metal casks and withstanding the harsh cold, wet and physical environments. Through the manufacturing and polymer expertise at our International Institute for Product and Service Innovation, a waterproof tag casement was developed that was resistant to the inevitable wear and tear of a brewery’s operations. With the tag technology in place, a proof of concept software application was built using Google’s platforms to visualise the location data gathered from the tags for the Hobsons team users.
The working prototype is now in use and is being tested with 3,000 barrels in Hobsons to ensure that the product can be scaled up for wider use. So far the project has led to the creation of one new job in the company and there are plans for setting up a new division of the business that will facilitate the commercialisation of the new system. The smart beer barrel enables Hobson to better understand their supply chain and dynamically re-configure depending on supply and demand conditions.
This project is a real learning curve for Hobsons and has opened up a number of new business opportunities for us. We are planning to roll this technology out to other breweries which could revolutionise the way that operations are carried out.
Nick Davis, Managing Director, Hobsons Brewery and Company Ltd