The MillerCoors joint venture has created an expanded brewery network throughout the United States that allows the company to move beer production closer to distributors, increasing product freshness and reducing the number of miles beer is trucked to its ultimate destination. Miller Brewing’s hometown brewery in Milwaukee, Wis., for example, is set to take on production of some Coors brands and put it closer to the 125 Midwest distributors it serves.
Brewery Vice President Andrew Moschea says incorporating the new Coors brands in Milwaukee has been relatively easy because the facility already has a fair amount of flexibility built in. In addition to its own products, the plant contract brews for several other brewers, so “we’re used to assimilating new products and packages,” he says.
“We’ve made a strong commitment to keep the processes intact,” he says. “So the Coors Light that’s brewed in Golden [Colo.], that’s brewed in Elkton [Va.], it will be handled and brewed exactly the same way here in Milwaukee. We will not deviate one bit as it relates to material or processes.”
To accommodate the specific ingredients for the new products, the Milwaukee brewery has set aside four malt silos for the malts used in the Coors products, and has a separate yeast storage area to keep the Coors yeast strain apart from the Miller strain. Overall, volume at the brewery is set to increase about 25 percent.
“That’s a pretty big increase,” Moschea says. But he adds, “That’s the magic of the joint venture. It’s all about moving the volume closer to the consumer. It’s leveraging our locations to take freight expense out of the system and put it back into growing our brands, people and plants.”
Forty percent of the volume from the brewery goes to the nearby Chicago area, which Moschea says is a growing market for Coors, so the closer proximity puts production closer to a growing marketplace.
Blending the old with the new
Built in 1855, the Milwaukee brewery is a combination of 76 buildings on 82 acres of land. Construction ranges from a brewhouse built in 1886 that has been repurposed to house utilities, to more modern facilities, which Moschea says could be a curse if not for the brewery’s personnel and its adherence to best manufacturing practices.
“It’s not necessarily conducive to modern manufacturing practices, which is what makes world class manufacturing so important to us, because communication is key,” he says. “If you can’t get people to work as a team and talk to each other with this plant layout, you’re just going to struggle. We’ve seen over time as the respective trust and communications have improved, our performance has improved significantly.”
The brewery has put considerable effort into performance during the past several years. Moschea says the Milwaukee plant at one point was near the bottom of the Miller system in quality and safety measurements. It has been at the top during six of the past nine quarters, and he credits cooperation between the company and its union partners for much of the improvement. The plant works with seven union groups altogether and has tapped those relationships to reach its safety and quality goals.
“It’s moving from a contractual business and administrative relationship closer to a partnership … I’m convinced we would never be where we are today as it relates to safety performance without their help,” he says.
In addition, the plant puts a priority on asset management to get the highest levels of reliability from its equipment, from the oldest to the most modern. To keep equipment running in top shape, each packaging line is shut down once a week for one shift for maintenance.
The brewery’s age has proved to be a benefit in some ways, as it has made it easier to accommodate small craft beer production as well as the large volumes of its mainstream brands.
“Because of the age of our facility, one of the things that makes us unique is the size of our tanks and our ability to assimilate smaller batch sizes in our brewing process, which is operationally conducive to craft brands,” Moschea says.
That means more batches of high-volume brands. The plant produces 44 batches a day, which requires precise execution more of the time on equivalent barrelage compared with its peer breweries. But it also has allowed the plant to run smaller batches of products such as specialty beers and contract brews, which may have been inefficient in other systems.
One of its packaging lines, for example, which was idled due to increased efficiencies on other lines, was saved from obsolescence when it was designated for smaller runs.
“We were getting a lot of smaller volume requests for craft brews, seasonal brews, things like that, and on our mainstream high-volume lines, it didn’t make sense to take those lines down for small runs and the associated cleaning required for specialty brews,” Moschea says.
The company set up line B16, as it is called, for those specialty products. The move not only kept the plant flexible enough for small production runs, but improved employee morale as a result.
“They saw a line coming back to life that was basically relegated to the waste dump,” he says. “And they saw us able to do smaller brands quicker because now we designed that line for quicker changeovers and smaller runs.”
In fact, the line is now slated for upgrades that include a new pasteurizer and crown feed system.
“In hindsight it was a genius move, because now, with the increase in volume from the joint venture, it allows us to accommodate more volume, realize freight savings and push more volume onto our mainstream lines while pushing more of the smaller runs over to that line,” Moschea says.
Brewing flexibility
Beer is brewed at the Milwaukee plant like it is in most breweries, with one exception. “We do 27 wort streams, which is significant,” Moschea says. That is one of the reasons the Milwaukee plant has had an easier time taking on new products.
The facility has four malt mills, where the brewing process begins. Roasted malts are cracked open during the milling process to expose the starch and sugars inside. The brewery’s 12-story brewhouse holds four mash vessels and six lauter tuns, in which hot water breaks down the starches in the malts into fermentable sugars. The lauter tuns use a sparging process that periodically sprays water over the malts to pull the sugars from the mixture. After about 90 minutes, 98 percent of the sugars have been released from the malts, and the liquid, now called wort, is pumped over to the brew kettles. The remaining malt solids are removed to a spent grains tank and eventually will be sold as cattle feed.
The plant has six brew kettles that receive the wort from the six lauter tuns. Most beers are boiled in the brew kettles for about an hour, during which hops are added. Depending on the beer variety, hops are added at different steps of the brewing process. In many cases, they are added in the beginning and at the end, for bitterness and aroma, respectively. But some of MillerCoors’ products are hopped as many as six times.
The entire process takes about six hours, after which the wort is pumped to fermentation tanks where the yeast is added. The yeast converts the sugar in the wort to alcohol and carbon dioxide, turning it into beer. The products sit in fermentation for eight to 10 days, and then are aged for another 10 days or so, depending on variety, to allow the flavors to develop.
Some of the products in Milwaukee are pasteurized, and some are cold-filtered. Coors products are known for their cold-filtering process, so the plant’s new Coors volume will run on the lines that use that technology.
Once the beer reaches the packaging halls, it is filled into bottles, cans or kegs. The Milwaukee plant fills more kegs than any of the other plants in the system, but kegs tend to be a seasonal package and are more popular during the summer months than during the winter. During peak production, the plant will fill as many as 4,500 kegs per shift.
Most glass bottles are shipped to Milwaukee in bulk pallets. Like all raw materials, the pallets enter the facility from the north end. The glass is depalletized one layer at a time, and each layer is fed into a lowerator connected to the filling line. The bottles that are shipped in cases are emptied, and the boxes are conveyed across the plant to the end of the production line where they will be filled again with full cases of beer.
The plant’s filling lines run 825 to 1,200 bottles per minute, depending on the line and the size of the bottle. Cans are filled at a rate of 1,700 to 1,950 cans per minute. The packaging mix in Milwaukee is about 58 percent cans, 28 percent bottles and 14 percent kegs. Currently, the plant runs 50 products and 486 SKUs, but those will increase as the plant assimilates all of its Coors brand production.
Products that are cold-filtered or flash pasteurized are filled in special clean rooms, or draft rooms. The rest of the products go through a tunnel pasteurizer after filling, which pasteurizes the products by spraying hot water over the bottles and cans. The packages travel through the pasteurizer for about one hour. Moschea says warming the products has an additional benefit in that it prevents condensation from forming on cold bottles, which would make it difficult for labels to adhere and might damage case materials. Thus, even non-pasteurized products go through a warmer to reduce bottle temperature before labeling and case-packing.
At the end of some of the packaging lines, MillerCoors has installed new casing equipment for bottles that are shipped to the plant in bulk. Once the bottles are filled and packed into multi-packs, the caser builds a case around the multi-packs. Bottles that arrive at the plant in cases are placed back in those cases for shipping at the end of the line.
MillerCoors’ high-volume mainstream brands are filled on lines capable of multiple back-end packing options. Some lines divert bottles and cans to one of two multi-pack options, and some are capable of handling three packaging options on the back end.
Once the cases are palletized and wrapped, they are stored in a warehouse that holds about half a million cases. Most of the products are produced at the plant, but some are shipped from other locations such as the Leinenkugel craft brewery in Chippewa Falls, Wis., so they can be picked up by distributors along with the mainstream brands.
Product doesn’t sit in the warehouse long — inventory turns every 32 hours, Moschea says. The plant ships about 250 truckloads a day, and will increase to 300 once it has all its Coors production in place.
One of the things the company is working on is reducing that warehouse inventory even further. It would like to incorporate more cross-docking, which would allow it to take product straight from the palletizer to the truck more often. Ultimately, Moschea says it would like to use cross-docking for more than 50 percent of its volume.
“If you think about the expanded volume that we’re going to have, that’s going to mean more people, more moves and more cost unless we become more efficient on how we move it into the truck trailer,” he says. “That’s a significant focus going forward for us.”
Moschea gives credit to Milwaukee plant personnel for working toward that and the plant’s other future goals, as well as the assimilation of the new brands so far.
“The people systems at MillerCoors are first class,” he says. “Almost every piece of equipment out there is commercially available, so at the end of the day it’s all about people and how engaged and how much passion they have in the success of the brewery.
“The spirit of the employees of the Milwaukee brewery is tremendous, and there is a deep appreciation of our obligation to maintain the competitiveness of this brewery to ensure it’s long-term sustainability. Our employees realize the opportunity that we have at this moment, with the joint venture, and have a deep appreciation for what it means for the brewery in volume and for MillerCoors in synergy savings. I have no doubt we will do our part to deliver on the volume and corresponding joint venture savings.”