Since brewing its first Mr. Beer brew kit over a kitchen stove and fermenting it in a bathroom tub in 2004, Four Corners Brewing has outgrown its production environment time and time again. Officially launched as a company in 2012, the craft brewer moved from the home garage to a bigger automotive garage. In 2017, it moved to its current home—an even bigger garage—in the Cedars neighborhood just south of downtown Dallas.
With each move came a system upgrade as well. Any craft brewer trying to compete in the burgeoning market over the past decade has had to increase system efficiencies, continually striving for process improvements. Four Corners’ newest operations included adding multiple process vessels in its cellar, including fermenters and brite tanks.
The latest move was also the first time Four Corners owned its own space rather than leasing. “We expanded into this facility and increased our production capability,” Orrell says. Once we were actually in the facility, we began to soup everything up and begin to lay the process out in more of a permanent way.”
By last year, the brewery had realized that it was going to have to reevaluate not only the efficiencies of its production systems, but also the efficiencies of its cleaning equipment. Without the ability to clean tanks and piping quickly and effectively, breweries open themselves up to product integrity issues, increased downtimes, and increased labor costs—all significant threats to a company trying to grow in a highly competitive market.
The equipment expansion that Four Corners had gone through meant its existing clean-in-place (CIP) equipment was not large enough to effectively complete cleaning. The system was not designed to clean the new tanks properly and could only clean one piece of equipment at a time—leading to increased downtime, longer tank turnover periods, and ineffective cleaning of vessels.
The existing CIP system had its share of limitations, according to Caton Orrell, facilities and maintenance manager at Four Corners. They were only able to run one CIP circuit at a time, creating scheduling conflicts, along with other issues.
“We were doing a lot of what you would call one-and-done type CIP processes,” he explains. “We would make up a reservoir inside of a tank and recirculate it. Then, once the allotted time was up, whether the tank was clean or not, you just open the drain and put that into your sanitary sewer. Then you do your inspection and your rinse, and your tank is going to be clean—or it’s not. There’s a possibility that you’re going to have to redo that and then put more chemical down the drain.”
This setup brought all kinds of problems with it, particularly related to chemical handling and inefficiencies. “First, our guys were having to handle a lot of non-diluted bulk chemicals, which can get you sideways with OSHA real quick,” Orrell notes. “Then, it was very labor-intensive to set the whole thing up—mix the chemicals up in the tank, recirculate it, have them walk around and not really be terribly engaged in anything else while the CIP was running.” Then, he adds, the tank would have to be opened without having any confirmation about how effective the clean cycle was.
Orrell contacted Central States Industrial (CSI) to engineer, design, and build a CIP system that could not only handle the expansion in process equipment that Four Corners had taken on, but that could also provide a safer, more sustainable cleaning process.
The completed system from CSI consisted of two skids: A three-tank CIP with dual supply headers and a standalone hot water set. The CIP has a hot and cold customization that allows operators to bypass the tank—which provides the option to perform a hot or cold rinse for anything in their process. The hot water set was engineered by CSI to meet the requirements of Four Corners’ steam availability system in the plant. Providing hot water to the CIP system and other areas of the facility, the hot water set is much more efficient and replaces an existing—and leaking—hot liquor tank. The new system also allows the brewery to clean two pieces of equipment at once, translating to significant increases in uptime and faster tank turnover.
The new system will save considerable cost and time, Orrell notes. With two CIP supplies and two unique returns, operators no longer have to wait around for 30 minutes at the end of their shift to run a CIP cycle. Running three cleaning cycles a day, Four Corners’ operators are saving an hour and a half of downtime every day, adding up to 7.5 hours a week.
But even more important to Orrell than the time savings is the efficiency in chemical usage and the improved safety to the operators. “We’re recovering more chemicals, and we’re using less energy to heat this stuff because we’re not doing a one and done. It’s recirculated and put back into an insulated tank,” he says. “But the biggest benefit to me was that we minimize our employees’ exposure to handling bulk undiluted chemicals.”
Previously, Orrell explains, employees were having to work with a lot of hoses in multiple locations. Four Corners has been able to incorporate more hard piping into the system, which helps not only from a sanitary standpoint, but also a safety standpoint, he says.
“The new system doses the chemicals itself, so operators don’t have to touch anything,” Orrell says. “By eliminating operator exposure when dosing chemicals, we’ve essentially reduced their chemical handling by 95%.”
Four Corners has also reduced overall chemical usage for CIP by 40% during standard production cycles. CSI provided custom programming for the system to meet the brewery’s sanitization process needs. Operators are able to handle the cleaning from one central location, selecting a pre-programmed recipe that better streamlines and homogenizes the process. Rather than operators making guesses about how long they might need to run the system for a full clean, the new system automatically programs the correct titration, correct temperature, correct runtime, etc. “In a lot of ways, it just really simplifies the whole process,” Orrell says.
The brewery has realized significant improvements in repeatability and traceability for its cleaning processes, allowing for refinement and standardization. With better control of what is sent to the wastewater system, thanks to the controlled titration of chemicals, Four Corners is also seeing a reduction in its wastewater bills with the city.
This new equipment allows Four Corners to effectively and reliably clean its separator—an essential requirement for the facility. In addition, the increased capacity of the three-tank system enables Four Corners to reuse some of the cleaning solution by storing it in the third tank, reducing chemical consumption. This will save the brewery thousands of dollars each year and help the environment, health, and safety (EHS) protocols of the plant.
Available features and lessons learned
Despite the upgrade in space, Four Corners’ new facility still had strict dimensional requirements due to the placement of the system. The limit that the brewery demanded also affected how much memory the system could have—something that Orrell now regrets. “[An integrated server] would give you a lot more flexibility on how you can program and set it up,” he says.
Another CIP feature that was available and Orrell regrets not getting was a dedicated return pump. “It would have been nice to have something that was integrated into the machine,” he says. “That would allow us to clean other areas that we’re currently not using the CIP skid to clean. And it would be a redundant failsafe for some of the return pumps on some of the machines."
CSI offers complete CIP 2.0 skids that are fabricated in-house. The skids can be built with a variety of configuration options including tank size, the number of tanks, heating type, valve type, chemical dosing, and dual supply.
CIP 2.0 has a uniform graphical interface for all its systems, which helps to increase familiarity with the controls and lower training costs. The operation and appearance of the controls remain the same for multiple CIP 2.0 skids, either within a plant or in different plants.