Plastic Alternatives for Handling Bulk Beer

Designed and Manufactured by Brewery Plastic Limited.

ANDREW RHODES

Director of Group Sales, Brewery Plastics Ltd

How do plastic alternatives help in adding value to the brewery industry?

As an alternative to traditional materials like steel for casks and timber for wooden pallets, injection molded plastics provide some superior handling properties, while usually reducing costs and/or improving in-service life cycle. For instance, plastics should be seen as the catalyst for taking the draft beer industry into new practices – with improvements in safety of operations and improved efficiency of processes. The innovations from plastic engineering extend across segments like:

  • Brewing
  • Materials Handling
  • Storage
  • Logistics
  • Tracking and Returns
  • Robotics and Automation
  • Business Financials / Return on Investments

The Arguments for Plastic Casks vs Steel Casks, when packaging English Style Real Ales.

  • Plastic casks are lighter weight than steel casks and therefore much safer when handling – 40% lighter when empty. They are also much quieter when using around the brewery. Lighter weight leads to fewer injuries and less damage from handling. Lighter weight saves fuel on deliveries
  • The scrap value of plastic is a fraction of the scrap value of steel, hence plastic casks are not pilfered as frequently (if at all) versus the high theft rate of steel casks.
  • Plastic casks cost much less to purchase versus steel casks – plastic casks are 1/3rd the price of steel. So, a new brewery faces significantly lower set-up costs with plastic casks, versus investing in the same numbers of new steel casks. This means more positive cash flows earlier.
  • Plastic casks are self-stacking, so take up less space in storage and in deliveries.
  • Injection moulded plastic casks, can be made in a multitude of colours and varied colour combinations – helping with identification and assisting with branding.
  • Plastic casks do not impart any taste effects to the beer contents.
  • Plastic casks withstand typical washing and sanitizing processes used with steel casks.

The Arguments for Plastic Layer Boards, replacing Wooden Pallets between the Rows of Kegs in a Keg Stack

Wooden pallets are not well suited for use around breweries – steel kegs for draft beer are heavy and they easily damage slats and stringers on wooden pallets.

Plastic layer boards are built with excess tolerance to the weight of filled kegs, so they do not get damaged or deteriorate due to fatigue, like wooden pallets.

Being a non-natural material, plastic will not warp or go out of shape during normal use; plastic will not gain weight when wet or support mold growth; properly formulated plastic is UV durable and does not break down outdoors.

Injection moulded plastic layer boards can be given special features to better conform to kegs, thereby stabilizing them in multi-level stacks. Embossing brewery names onto the layer boards is possible, as is fitting with bar codes and RFID chips.

Durable and varied colour coding is also possible in plastic, assisting with branding and visual identification of ownership.

Plastics are inert and hygienic materials, when formulated correctly for the end use. Precision injection moulded plastic parts can minimize the wastage associated with wooden pallets, which break, splinter and generally need to be disposed of, usually in a non-friendly manner environmentally i.e. they are simply burned in a bonfire. Locator boards and transit layer boards increase stability and safety of keg stacks, there-by lowering the use of strapping and excess shrink wrap. So, using plastic allows for a whole range of innovation, leading to improved properties and features, versus less adaptable materials, all the while being less expensive.

Could you share some specifics of the products you offer?

Plastic locator boards and transit layer boards are designed to minimize the use of wooden pallets. With their beneficial features of lowering stack height and stabilizing keg stacks, plastic layer boards minimize the need for excess strapping and minimize the need for excess shrink wrapping. Heavy duty locator boards are designed to be used with larger kegs – all the way up to 22 gallons.

When used with modified fork lift trucks and clamping tines, the heavy-duty locator boards provide a pallet-free system for stacking and moving kegs. There is actually no pallet used with the stack of kegs, since the special tines grip the kegs bodies. Various configurations of LBs are available for most belly kegs and some straight walled kegs, down to 9 Gal and 50L EURO.

The lighter weight Transit Layer Boards (TLB) also replace wooden pallets in keg logistics, but allow for the use of standard fork lift trucks at the bottom of the stack, for lifting and movements. A traditional pallet is still used at the bottom of the keg stack, meaning no need to modify existing fork lifts – plus use of hand pallet trucks can be retained.

Craft brewers should be drawn to systems made from plastic. They are more hygienic, less wasteful of precious materials like wood and are 100% recyclable at the end of the life cycle

Sizes of kegs extend from US ½ bbl and 50L EURO, down to Slim Keg 278mm and right down to Slim Keg 235mm designs.

Most TLB designs match the EURO pallet footprint – 1200mm x 800mm

New designs for USA will match the 1200mm x 1000mm pallet footprint

How do plastics casks ensure the quality of craft beers since they have such a low shelf life?

Plastic casks will preserve beer quality just as well as steel casks, as long as casked beer is kept cool to avoid secondary fermentation and heat induced spoilage. It is simply good practice and common sense not to let real ales get too warm in storage. If brewers or distribution partners allow real ales to undergo secondary fermentation, they have lost control of their process and their beer drinking experience is compromised.

Beyond that, well formulated plastic is hygienic and easy to clean. The plastic will not impart any taste to the real ales filled into the casks. All industry standards fittings like shives and keystones will fit into our plastic casks. The retention times for real ales in plastic casks will be equal to that for steel casks. Plastic casks are currently being used in pubs for as long as steel casks. Users know not to subject plastic casks to the same rough handling practices as steel casks.

So as long as they are treated and not abused with handling techniques, they will last.

What are the key performance improvements in using Plastic Alternatives for Craft Brewing Industry, since scale is not a factor there?

Craft brewers are growing in size and in number, in every country, globally. Craft brewers are quick to adopt new technology, especially if they feel there is economic advantage as well as if they perceive the technology aligns with “Green Initiatives.” Craft brewers should be drawn to systems made from plastic. They are more hygienic, less wasteful of precious materials like wood and are 100% recyclable at the end of the life cycle (7 years minimum life span, as all products have UN ratings).

Layer boards nest effectively when empty, to take up only a fraction of the space for the same number of wooden pallets. Plastic casks also stack effectively, minimizing space constraints – steel casks do not stack effectively.

Given the Indian climate, do you think plastic alternatives need any customization for usage of these alternatives?

All our plastic products use automotive quality co-polymer polypropylene resin and stable pigments. The Indian climate will not present any challenges to our designs. The layer boards can be easily rinsed with water after use, to remove dust, dirt and other materials. Our plastic parts will not be attacked by mold spores or by boring insects, like wooden pallets. There are no exposed nail heads to rust or to snag on clothing or other surfaces.

Even our plastic casks have been designed to withstand extremes of temperature during washing and cleaning, so the Indian climate will not affect their use. Never the less, once filled with Real Ales, they must
be kept in a cool room for best practice and avoiding secondary fermentation.

Have you supplied to the Indian market (any brand), or elsewhere in the world?

So far, we have not made sales directly to the players in the Indian market. However, there is nothing to say our Layer Boards have not somehow found their way into the region, as part of the keg logistics of international brands like Miller brands, Heineken or Carlsberg. From our web site, you can see we supply plastic Layer boards to Italy, Scotland, England, USA, Spain, France, Germany, and Mexico. The customer logos are attached – in addition there are Birra Peroni and Estrella Gallicia.

Even our plastic casks have been designed to withstand extremes of temperature during washing and cleaning, so the Indian climate will not affect their use.

What are your expectations from the Indian market?

We believe the large internationally connected brewers should take notice of our layer board technology, for improvements to the logistics of kegs. The bigger local Indian beer brands should also take notice and see the benefits for internal storage / more efficient deliveries / exceptional use of shipping container volumes. Smaller brewers who make Real Ales and English style still beers should embrace the lower costs and other benefits of plastic casks.

It might make sense to explore whether an Indian company could become a distribution partner for our technologies.

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