Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A State of the Art Brewery

September 11, 2005

A State of the Art Brewery
By Jeff Mitchell

Anheuser-Busch Spent $120 Million to Modernize the 700,000-square-foot Brewery. (Photo)

FAIRFIELD - After spending some $120 million on technology and equipment upgrades at its Fairfield plant, Anheuser-Busch officials are pleased to say the taste of their beer won't change one iota.

Nor should it, they say.

But how they ship the popular, sudsy adult beverages they brew into bottles and cans has been revolutionized.

In its first major renovation since the hulking brewery was constructed in 1976, the changes involve the installation of state-of-the-art production lines, utility systems and improvements to its logistics systems, said Kevin Finger, plant general manager.

"It is exciting," Finger said. "The investment the company is making here is a testament to the success of the plant and to our commitment to the Fairfield community. It also speaks to our belief in the talents of the people we have working here."

The renovations began March 2004. Crews installed a giant, floor-to-ceiling clear plastic wall on the main floor of the bottling section and began adding the new, custom-made equipment.

Finger said the plant met every one of its production quotas during the construction period.

"We're very proud of our employees - then while construction was at full-tilt and now, as they continue to familiarize themselves and get more efficient in the use of the new systems," he said.

The modernization effort was largely finished earlier this year, with the final pieces of equipment installed and brought on-line in July, Finger said.

For now, the sound of construction at the 700,000-square-foot brewery is no more. However, Michael Poley, senior resident brewmaster, said one final phase is now being considered by company officials.

If approved, an automated piping system designed to convey the beer from house-size stainless steel brew tanks to the bottling and canning area would be constructed, thereby eliminating the need for brewhouse technicians to lug heavy, long hose lines.

Poley said if approved construction on the $14 million project could start early next year.

Finger and Poley both stressed that all of the renovations were designed with the idea of automating and improving the plant's flexibility and its overall efficiency.

But perhaps more important is the new equipment will usher in tighter quality control.

"Consistency in the taste of our beers is key," Poley said. "Now instead of waiting hours for lab reports, we pretty much know how the beer is doing from moment to moment. When you consider how much beer this brewery alone produces, having that kind of immediate information at your disposal is not a small thing."

Reach Jeff Mitchell at 427-6977 or jmitchell@dailyrepublic.net.

A state of the art brewery

Fairfield brewery at a glance

Key executives: Kevin Finger, plant manager; Michael Poley, resident brewmaster

Employees: 460

Operations: Three shifts, 24 hours a day

Plant payroll: $43.4 million

Beer brands produced: Budweiser, Bud Light, Busch, Busch Light and Natural Light

Plant size: 700,000 square feet

Production volume: 4.4 million barrels a year (equates to 136 million gallons)

Source: Anheuser-Busch, Inc.

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