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Dosing accuracy problem solved for Belgian brewery

04 November 2010

A traditional family brewery in Belgium, which produces about 5,600l of beer per month (much of which is still exported), needed help with its pumps so it turned to Watson-Marlow technology. By DAVID STRYDOM

Pumps are crucial to brewing so it’s important the pumps brewers use are the best quality equipment they can find. In the case of Belgium this is even more of a priority because the beer-loving Belgians won’t compromise on the quality of their beer. Belgian beer-brewing’s origins can be traced to the Middle Ages and there are now about 125 breweries in the country, ranging from international giants to microbreweries.

In Europe, according to Wikipedia, only Germany, France and the UK are home to more breweries. Belgian breweries produce about 800 standard beers. When special one-off beers are included, the total number of Belgian beers is about 8,700. Belgians drink 93 litres of beer a year on average.

In the case of one brewery in Belgium, Brasserie de Blaugies, which is situated about 80km southwest of Brussels, just 2km from the French border, Watson-Marlow pumps proved to be the answer. Brasserie de Blaugies is one of many small, family-run breweries scattered in the Belgian countryside, in a nation legendary for beer and ale production.

Run by members of the Carlier family, the Brasserie de Blaugies is known as a ‘microbrewery’, and while the process of brewing has been handed down through the generations, small family teams are often unaware of new technology that can help simplify processes and improve efficiency.

A traditional family business, the brewery was created by Pierre-Alex Carlier and Marie-Robert Pourtois, and its continued succession has been assured by their children – Kevin Carter, the brewer and Cédric Carlier, the restaurant owner. The bottling process was for many years mainly manual, as was the washing, corking, wiring and labelling of bottles but in 1992 Brasserie de Blaugies invested in an industrial bottling line.

The brewery produces about 5,600l of beer per month (much of which is still exported), still small quantities in brewing terms. A second bottling line is planned for next year, which it is said will also feature Watson-Marlow technology.

According to the original report, when Brasserie de Blaugies won a significant ongoing order to fill 20 and 30 litre plastic fermentation vessels with one of its beers, the challenge was to dose the precise amount of liquid sugar to ensure the beer is brewed to offer the required levels of alcohol and flavour.

‘’For each vessel, a precise measurement of liquid sugar is required,’’ the report says. ‘’As all brewers will say, too much or too little sugar can be disastrous for the final product, so the importance of the dose is not to be underestimated.

‘’As luck would have it, a friend of the Carlier family, Andres Urban, works for peristaltic pump manufacturer, Watson-Marlow Pumps Group,’’ the report continues. ‘’Following a site visit and initial dialogue, Andres was able to recommend the 520 Series close-coupled peristaltic pump, which features MemoDose for accurate single shot dispensing.’’

So who is Watson-Marlow Pumps Group? This company describes itself as a leader in positive displacement pumps, and says its range of technologies, which includes peristaltic, heavy-duty hose pumps and sinusoidal pumps, as well as liquid filling systems, is well placed to meet the demands of the food sector.

It was founded in Marlow, Buckinghamshire in 1956, and moved to Falmouth in 1969, where it’s still located. It became part of the global Spirax Sarco Engineering Group in 1990. In 50 years Watson-Marlow says it has sold more than a million peristaltic pumps.

Watson-Marlow’s accurate, hygienic pump technologies provide solutions to a range of food processing challenges including metering flavourings, colours or additives, handling abrasive and shear sensitive viscous fluids, or treating wastewater.

They can, it’s said, be easily scaled up and have the ability to handle several duties without causing contamination issues. The company is able to supply pumps that can handle flows from microlitres to 91 cubic m3/hour and pressures up to 16 bar.

But back to the site visit at which Andres recommended the 520 Series close-coupled peristaltic pump. The original report says the pump was installed and started helping dose specific quantities of sugar into premium beer. The project was reliant on accurate, contamination-free dosing, and, according to the company, Watson-Marlow was up to the task.

‘’The pump is rated for 24/7 duties, although at Brasserie de Blaugies, the pump typically works for one week and is then idle the following week while other operations aside from filling are undertaken,’’ the report states. ’’Installed in September 2009, the 520 Series pump accurately doses the sugar quantities into the vessels after the other beer ingredients have been pumped in at a temperature of 2°C.

‘’After a certain period of fermentation, the beer is decanted into smaller bottles ready for sale. In an added benefit to Brasserie de Blaugies, peristaltic technology ensures nothing but the tube touches the fluid, thus eliminating the risk of the pump contaminating the fluid or the fluid contaminating the pump.

‘’The complete closure of the tube, which is squeezed between a roller and the track, gives the pump its positive displacement action, preventing backflow and eliminating the need for check valves when the pump is not running.’’

The report goes on to say the 520 Series pump at Brasserie de Blaugies is used in combination with Marprene tubing, Watson-Marlow's thermoplastic elastomer. Marprene is said to be the longest life tubing with a wide chemical compatibility.

Unlike most other positive displacement pump companies, the Watson-Marlow Pumps Group says it’s owned by a world-leading engineering company and is able to provide global support. The company says it also has direct sales operations in 20 countries and a network of distributors.

These factors combine to give customers confidence their pumps and systems can be supported, maintained and optimised on a global basis. Watson-Marlow is also the only pump company to manufacture its own tubing.

With respect to working in a recession, Watson-Marlow says there’s a sign there’s a tendency for users to fall into the trap of ‘cheapest is best’ but that this isn’t always the right solution and factors affecting ‘whole life costs’ need to be taken into account.

It’s important to look at overall product performance, reliability and suitability for the application. While others may claim to offer similar parts – be it a replacement hose or a spare component – inferior product quality, support and lack of international back-up makes going elsewhere a false economy.

Watson-Marlow says it employs a dedicated applications specialist to support its food and beverage customers. Food and beverage processing now represents 12% of Watson-Marlow’s total UK orders, making it the third largest sector.

As for the future, Watson-Marlow says it sees the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries are territories which Watson-Marlow sees as critical to company growth and natural places for expansion.

The company has recently established divisions in Russia, Brazil and China – and it is likely India will be added to that list before long. The presence of Spirax Sarco as a parent company has certainly made this expansion easier. Watson-Marlow employs its own staff, managers and technical specialists in all of these countries – and now covers 52 countries.

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