Vodafone Group’s network helps breweries keep tabs on kegs

Startup companies from the United States all the way to Australia are developing sensors to help beer companies keep track of their kegs, writes The Wall Street Journal. This new technology is being designed because kegs often go missing on the way from the brewery to the bar and back again.

Phil O’Shea, owner of Five Barrel Brewing in Sydney, Australia stated his brewery has lost 20 to 30 kegs since it opened two years ago. The loss pushed him to work with Binary Beer to test an early prototype of its keg sensor.

Binary Beer’s sensor transmits data regarding a keg’s location using Vodafone Group PLC’s new mobile network for low-power devices. Brewers can track the locations of their kegs in real time on a computer or smartphone and access information like temperature so they can see if their beer is being stored properly.

“I think that most of the time people don’t understand that kegs are really valuable to breweries,” O’Shea told The Wall Street Journal. “If a keg is looked after, it can last 10 years or more.”

According to Binary Beer, the keg tracking process works as follows: a device is put a keg that can send out location data; that data is sent over Vodafone’s mobile network for low-powered devices. The sensor batteries can last up to 10 years; the data moves from the network to the cloud; finally a mobile phone app shows where the keg is in real time.

Although companies are currently connecting everything from refrigerators to cars on the Internet, it remains to be seen if high-tech kegs will be a success. O’Shea stated he’s interested in the technology, but how much the sensors cost will determine whether he buys any.

The other concern is whether or not these sensors will be able to broadcast from anywhere. Kegs end up in a variety of locations like refrigerated storage areas, basement cellars or if the keg is empty, it could be left in the alley behind a bar.

Also, “security of data would be an overarching concern,” brewery consultant and La Sirene Brewing founder Costa Nikias told The Wall Street Journal. Nikias also noted a competitor with unauthorized access to the data could see where a rival is selling beer.

Meanwhile, Kegstar has reduced its keg loss rate to about 2% with radio-frequency ID tags and bar codes on its collection of more than 400,000 kegs.

“(An average brewer) does not have a team of people sitting there ringing up venues and warehouses and chasing up empty kegs,” Kegstar managing director Adam Trippe-Smith said.

However, Kegstar’s trackers have to be hand scanned by a device and locations are not broadcast in real time. According to Trippe-Smith, the company expects to invest in high tech sensors, which could connect to a low power mobile network.

There are also “active tags” that automatically sends data in real time and might use Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology, but can cost more than the passive tags that have to be scanned manually.

“It’s nice to have, but it’s a question of how much you’re willing to pay for it,” Richard Aufreiter, director of product management for identification technologies at HID Global, a radio-frequency keg ID tag manufacturer.

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