Logicraft Industrial Systems launches machine to help craft brewers | Crain's Grand Rapids Business

An Allegan County industrial automation firm has developed a beverage packaging machine that can slash labor costs by two-thirds while boosting production for craft breweries and wineries.

Hopkins-based Logicraft Industrial Systems Inc. has introduced a compact can packer designed to quickly assemble four or six packs. The ferris wheel-designed machine, which eliminates the need for workers to glue containers by hand, occupies just 30 square feet.  jumbo bag filling machine

That speed and efficiency would particularly suit small breweries and wineries that package their own products, according to Jason Apol, Logicraft’s president and principal engineer. 

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Apol said Logicraft has worked with large brewers but recently discovered a need among smaller craft breweries for automated packaging equipment that can fit their footprint. 

“We’re accustomed to speeds (of) over 2,000 cans a minute. In fact, 2,220 is the fastest that we’ve done,” Apol said. “But the smaller craft brewer, if they’re using a carton, they’re often gluing them by hand.” 

Founded in 2007, Logicraft integrates global automation technology provider Rockwell Automation hardware and software for the manufacturing community. The company primarily serves the food and beverage and personal care industries. 

A friend connected Apol to Bob Bonga, owner of Cascade Winery in Kentwood, whose team would typically spend four or more hours a day assembling and gluing cartons together by hand. 

“It becomes pretty evident that people just can’t do that type of repetitive work over and over and over,” Bonga said. 

Logicraft ended up developing the patent-pending design of the compact can packer, meeting three specific needs for small operations like Cascade Winery: small volume, small footprint and a reasonable price point. 

The new machine can be programmed to pack up to 15 six-pack cases, or 90 cans, per minute. Cans can be fed by hand or through an existing automated canning line, depending on the brewery’s setup. 

Breweries that typically have a few employees assembling and packing cartons by hand can expect to cut labor costs by two-thirds with the automated can packer, according to Apol. 

Apol also said the design is unique from other automated beverage packaging machines on the market, which tend to use larger conveyor-type systems similar to a merry-go-round design. 

“We took that merry-go-round and turned it into a ferris wheel,” Apol said, noting that “nobody has done that, that we could find.” 

For Bonga, the integration of the new machine went smoothly overall, and what used to be a two- to three-person job for packaging cans at Cascade Winery now has become a one-person job to run the machine, freeing up employees to handle other aspects of the company’s operations. 

“I paid for that line in one year with the labor savings,” Bonga said. “It’s a great time saver.”

Though certain advantages to automation are obvious, every brewery has its own process and specific needs when it comes to integrating the technology. 

Chad Doane, co-owner and director of operations at Muskegon-based Pigeon Hill Brewing Co., said most of the brewery’s operations are manual, but can packing is “probably the most automated process we have in the brewery.” 

Pigeon Hill’s canning line includes two conveyors and a label machine that affixes labels to the brewery’s silver cans, which are packaged in rings.

Two to three employees operate the canning line, which runs around 40 cans a minute, Doane said, depending on the brand. The brewery’s entire canning operation spans about 360 square feet.

“Our goal is to keep the canning line running as much as possible because that’s ultimately what dictates how long our canning run is going to be for the day,” Doane told Crain’s Grand Rapids .

Doane recognizes the benefits of new automated solutions for breweries with relatively small footprints, though investing in equipment that’s cost-effective is more of a priority than conserving space for Pigeon Hill, he said.

“We’re more cost-driven first … we kind of have the space so I don’t have to really worry about the space, but I can see a small footprint is an advantage,” Doane said.

More broadly, Apol sees Logicraft’s new machine as a hiring advantage and talent retention solution for breweries as it eliminates the need for people to engage in repetitive manual labor and instead focus on other tasks. 

“It’s just harsh work,” Apol said. “And nowadays, (automation) is a hiring advantage. The brewer that has automation is going to have a better chance at the labor pool … people want to be where they are not going home sore every night.” 

Looking ahead, Apol said he hopes demand for the can packer will improve as growth and investment seem to be stagnant across the industry. 

In a keynote address at the 2023 Craft Brewers Conference last May, Brewers Association’s (BA) Chief Economist Bart Watson told attendees that “years of double-digit growth are well in the rearview mirror,” according to reports from the conference. 

Watson forecasted minimal to no growth for the craft brew industry for the coming year, as evidenced by the previous six years of slight improvement. 

Still, Apol is optimistic about his firm’s unique product for the industry.

“I think we’ve come up with a pretty interesting mousetrap for that world,” he said. “Nobody’s come at cartoning this way before, and we’re excited about it.”

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