A NEW digital cask filling process could save Scotland’s £5.5 billion whisky industry millions of pounds each year in inventory costs by tackling overspill, under-fill and foaming, it is claimed.

The money-saving discovery has been made by researchers at the University of Strathclyde’s Advanced Forming Research Centre, technology giant Siemens, drinks company Diageo, and process control system and electrical experts Kigtek.

The project is set to save distillers significant capital expenditure related to logistics and warehouse space for additional casks by tackling the problem of inconsistent cask filling levels. Other cask fillers have already been brought to market to tackle this issue and have been employed to make cost savings by some distillers.

The project partners worked together to create an industry demonstrator with a new whisky cask filling test rig and cyber-physical system, incorporating a digital twin that replicates the physical process in a virtual environment.

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Providing real-time data on fill volume, the digital design allows operators to account for every drop that has gone into each cask, achieving a better than 99 per cent fill consistently on a 200-litre cask in under one minute.

Cask production accounts for between 10% and 20% of the overall cost of whisky making, and with a minimum of three years required for Scotch whisky maturation, consistent and precise fill levels are extremely important for distillers.

Diageo alone holds 11 million casks in maturation at one time so to achieve close to maximum fill would save it significant costs.

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Traditional Scotch whisky casks are handmade using oak, meaning variation in the volume that each can accommodate, making the project particularly challenging.

It is claimed the Innovate UK backed digital approach is set to revolutionise industry equipment, allowing it to offer a high degree of repeatability and enhanced environmental impact with reduced waste.

Danny McMahon, of the AFRC, said: “The digital twin system achieved as the output of this project will allow Scotland’s whisky industry to truly embrace industry 4.0 using data to digitise a traditional process.

“The collaborative nature of the project combined the centre’s design and digital manufacturing expertise with industry partners Siemens instrumentation know-how, Kigtek’s process and control understanding and Diageo’s industry knowledge, to devise a revolutionary system with immense benefits for a multi-billion pound industry that is crucial to Scotland’s economy.

"Industrial Internet of Things development sector-wide, is changing the way we manufacture, with new designs, processes and innovation allowing for a modern approach that comes with huge savings in costs, time and energy consumption.”