Nearly a century and a half of operations has made Casa Sauza, owned by the multinational Beam Suntory, a pioneer brand in the production of iconic Mexican tequilas. Since beginning operations in 1873, Casa Sauza, located in Tequila, Jalisco, has used numerous distillation and preparation methods for its tequilas, ranging from manual production to fully automated processes. The company is now focusing on integrating Industry 4.0 production concepts.
Also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0 represents a transformation involving the use of advanced technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence, as well as integrating communications among all systems and connecting them to cloud or edge systems for data analytics, remote monitoring, and continuous operational improvements.
At Casa Sauza, Festo México, a supplier of pneumatic and electric control and processing technologies, has played a significant role in the company’s move towards greater digitalization of its production operations.
Mundo PMMI spoke with Servando Calderón, CEO of Casa Sauza, as well as operations leaders and members of the Festo Mexico team involved in the digital transformation of Casa Sauza. They described to us the advancements they have made and their vision for further advances at Casa Sauza.
A shared experience
As much as Industry 4.0 is about technology, it also depends on the abilities of production-line operators. To enhance Casa Sauza employees’ abilities, Festo implemented a program to develop specific operational and maintenance skills as well as “soft skills”, such as adaptation to change, accountability, resilience, and emotional intelligence —all of which are required to comprehend and successfully navigate the new panorama drawn by Industry 4.0.
“In the field of Industry 4.0 it does not suffice to own the technology, but also to have an understanding of the processes and to coach the team throughout the developments”, said Héctor Ramírez, Festo México applications engineer for the food and packaging market.
The combination of technologies and personnel training carried out at Casa Sauza has translated into greater levels of operator autonomy to control their equipment. For example, in the processing areas where manual adjustments or preliminary inspections were made, such steps are no longer necessary. “It is what we call non-touch, non-stop manufacturing,” Eng. Servando Calderón explains, “which leads us towards higher productivity with a four-zeros model: zero accidents, zero defects, zero failures, and zero waste.”
Calderón says that, in addition to the greater productivity and precise process control provided by Industry 4.0 technologies, the elimination of waste, in every sense, is a critical factor for the company. “The most important loss is the waste of the human brain by using it for tasks that do not add any value; [eliminating this kind of waste] is not only about adding value to the company, but also to the person who performs the job,” he says.
Fiction becomes reality
The training supplied by Festo has helped Industry 4.0 concepts trickle down from managers directly to Casa Sauza’s bottling operations and distillation processes. To highlight the most important teachings the company has gleaned from these new perspectives, Calderón points to an “awakening among our team that what we used to contemplate as something resembling science fiction—robotics and advanced automation—is now within reach.”
For Casa Sauza, the relevance of adopting Industry 4.0 is directly related to improved productivity and enhanced competitiveness for the company based on the optimization of worker skills. “One thing we now see is that our people have ceased to carry out routine, physical, or managerial activities that do not add any value. We are training all of our team members on data analytics, so they are able to interpret them, detect patterns, and keep improving based on these analyses. I am convinced that this will truly differentiate us and push us ahead of our competitors,” says Calderón.
An example of how this has already begun to take place is in the reorganization of production lines at Casa Sauza in January 2022 to push productivity increases and eliminate operators’ non-value-add activities. One such change involves placing a labeling machine directly alongside another labeling machine so that both labeling lines can be controlled by only one operator.
Festo Didactic, Festo’s division specializing in automation technology education, played a large role in training Casa Sauza personnel. Eng. Eduardo Ortiz Villagrana and Eng. Javier Eguía of Festo Didactic guided workers in an array of training programs, ranging from the functionality of programmable logic controllers to failure management and analysis. “Festo served as our business ally in learning what this new industrial model signifies and aiding our development,” says Nancy Beatriz Montoya, Casa Sauza’s human resources director.
Together, Festo and Casa Sauza designed a strategy for how each training subject would address workers’ needs while meeting the company’s vision for future growth. To do this, two groups were organized: One focuses on the fundamentals of mechanics, pneumatics, hydraulics, servomotors, and PLCs; the second is a special course on robotics designed to help workers better understand their functionality. “Nowadays, one technician operates a production process in full, from a computerized equipment station, because it is all connected to operate in an automated fashion,” says Perla Hernández, a member of the human resources team of Casa Sauza who has been involved with the company’s implementation of the Industry 4.0 model.
Maintenance technicians and electricians received advanced training in PLC programming to better engage with programming pre-existing and new controllers, as well as with aspects related to other automated equipment, such as servomotors. Currently, 97% of employees are operations technicians whose purpose is the collection of data through specific activities requiring knowledge of company procedures or techniques.
Thanks to Casa Sauza’s move to Industry 4.0, the company is also progressing towards Lean Manufacturing to give the company greater adaptability in the face of changing marketplace scenarios. “We have also worked on staff flexibility, so they can move through different teams; that way, a technician can operate simultaneously two lines, with less probability of reductions in throughput due to lack of operator competence,” Hernández says.
Since beginning Industry 4.0 training with Festo, Casa Sauza workers’ knowledge and skill levels have increased, both in distillery and bottling operations. “In the case of bottling, we are doubling productivity, while in the distillery we have added equipment without having to increase the number of technicians,” says Calderón.
According to data gathered by Casa Sauza, efficiency has grown by 20%, while critical defect cases have been reduced by 50% since 2018. Another indicator of higher efficiencies achieved under the Industry 4.0 model is the flexibility of the company’s filling lines, which can now run more than 100 different product types with diverse presentations and bottle shapes.
Technology at the service of “tequilero” art
The process of tequila making has always included a high component of artistry to amaze the senses through taste and fragrance. But to fully comprehend, in real time, the chemical processes taking place during tequila production, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) levels of device and equipment connectivity are required to precisely process and analyze data in a way that can contribute to a tequila maker’s ability to surprise consumers.
The presence of gas and liquid chromatographs in the production lines makes possible to evaluate each one of the components, their behavior and contribution to the sensory profile of tequila, and guarantees a better understanding and precise management of the process, from the extraction of crude agave juice to its distillation. At stages such as the conversion of complex sugars into fructose and glucose, and of agave starch into simple sugars, the use of these devices has replaced the controls that previously took place in a laboratory. "Now we can see the transformation processes minute by minute and detect points at which cooking must be stopped to avoid reactions that inhibit fermentation," explains Servando Calderón.
Another level of analysis being pursued by Casa Sauza via its Industry 4.0 technology adoption is the detection of congeners (byproducts of alcohol production) which provide aromatic and flavor characteristics to tequila. “Although the distillation we perform is now done with more knowledge, it remains an art form and no one else does it like Casa Sauza. That’s why generating information [from the production process] is not enough,” says Calderón. He says the added information generated by the company’s new Industry 4.0 processes enables the company to develop profiles preferred by consumers based on the identification of components that affect the tequila production in accordance to specific taste preferences.