Bell’s Brewery: The Advanced Manufacturing of Beer With a Craft Brewing Spirit
The hiss of steam, hum of churning machines, and a fragrant aroma of hops provides the greeting to Bell’s Brewery production facility in Comstock, MI. The complex, which spans 200,000 square feet, brews more than 20 beers for distribution as the national production backbone of the Bell’s brand.
“Once we got the robot arm in place we were able to add a second shift as a result of putting this automation in. Compared to what people’s mindsets are that you take jobs away, we actually sped up our production and were able to add more jobs to our workforce.” On the digital side of automation, Sippel said he could run most of the brewery on his phone while lying on the couch at home. “In a lot of ways Automation can make it feel like you are playing [a video game like] Sim Brewer,” Sippel said. “It is very easy to forget you are controlling very real processes that can be really dangerous.” Operating with safety in mind in the digital realm is key, but it is also important to be present in the room, he added. “You still need to have physical eyes and ears in the process.”
Bell’s Comstock facility is more than meets the eye. The brewery features an 85-ton geothermal field installed eight feet beneath its two-acre hop yard, using glycol filled tubes to exchange heat and offset HVAC demand in the brewery’s offices. Additionally, the LED lights installed at the brewery conserve 180,000 kWh of electricity per year in comparison to incandescent bulbs— that’s enough electricity to power 22 homes in one year.