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Diageo helps develop digital cask-filling system

Johnnie Walker owner Diageo has partnered with the University of Strathclyde to create a digital whisky cask-filling process that could save the Scotch industry millions of pounds.

The digitalised system will aim to tackle the problem of inconsistent cask-filling levels

The project’s partners include Diageo, the Glasgow-based University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC), technology firm Siemens and electrical expert Kigtek. The venture is projected to save Scotland’s whisky sector millions annually in inventory costs. The Scotch whisky industry is worth £5.5 billion (US$6.9bn) annually to the UK economy.

The partners have worked on creating an innovative whisky cask-filling test rig and cyber-physical system, which will include a digital twin that replicates the physical process in a virtual environment.

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.”

The project will aim to tackle the problem of inconsistent cask-filling levels resulting from overspill, underfill and foaming.

The new digital design will allow producers to account for every drop that goes into each cask, achieving more than 99% fill consistently on a 200-litre cask in under one minute.

The venture, which is backed by Innovate UK, will allow distillers to save “significant” capital expenditure from logistics and warehouse space for additional casks.

The AFRC said cask production accounts for 10% to 20% of the overall cost of whisky making. Diageo, the world’s biggest Scotch whisky distiller, holds more than 11 million casks in maturation at one time.

Consistent and precise fill levels are vital for distillers. As such, achieving close to maximum fill would save “significant costs”, the AFRC noted.

As traditional Scotch whisky casks are made from oak, the discrepancy in the volume that each can hold makes the project “particularly challenging”, the AFRC said.

The new system hopes to “revolutionise” industry equipment and enable a “high degree of repeatability” as well as improvements to health and safety, and reduce waste.

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