FOOD ENGINEERING’s FA&M Conference, held virtually this past September, included a presentation surrounding manufacturing plant sustainability—and how automation can help.

Lance Musson
Lance Musson, controls and automation manager, Diageo North America.

Lance Musson is the controls and automation manager, Diageo North America, at the company’s Brand Technical Center in Plainfield, Ill. Musson has worked on capital projects and all the different 11 sites. He’s also been involved with design layouts, including installing brewery expansions. And most recently, he’s spent a little over two and a half years helping develop and now commission the Bulleit Carbon Neutral Distillery in Lebanon, Ky.

Operating in more than 180 countries around the world, Diageo is a global leader in the beverage alcohol industry with brands including Johnnie Walker, Crown Royal, Bulleit and Buchanan's whiskies, Smirnoff, Cîroc and Ketel One vodkas, Casamigos, DeLeon and Don Julio tequilas, Captain Morgan, Baileys, Tanqueray and Guinness.

Diageo’s future

As part of the presentation, Diageo shared its sustainability goals in a brief video. “We are committed to a low-carbon future. It's vital that we all act to resolve the increasing flow of emissions and start to heal the wonderful world we all live in,” said Musson.

Diageo is committed to reducing carbon emissions and their sustainability goals to achieve carbon neutral operations by 2030. It’s part of Diageo’s Society 2030: Spirit of Progress, a 10-year action plan to help create a more inclusive and sustainable world.

The beverage giant already has halved the carbon emissions from their operations around the globe and they are now pushing to become net zero with a goal by 2030. Diageo will shortly cross that frontier again with the new Bulleit carbon neutral distillery. One of the largest of its kind in North America, the new whiskey distillery will operate using 100% renewable electricity, zero fossil fuels for production and virtual metering technology.

Biting the Bulleit 

This carbon-neutral distillery is powered by 100% renewable electricity and designed for highly efficient water usage. With the capacity to produce up to 10 million proof gallons per year, the site is distilling Bulleit and eventually a variety of bourbon and American whiskey brands. Using electrode boilers, the site will utilize a mix of renewable energy sources to power seventy two thousand square foot two story dry house and warehousing facilities. “The distillery was built on 144 acres, strategically selected because of the available utilities and industrial zoning,” says Musson. 

The distiller was built to be extremely compact with the thought that only 30 employees would run the entire operation, split across separate crews. There are only about six to eight people working in the site at any given time. Because the staff is so lean, accessibility and proximity to the equipment was key consideration, keeping everything within a compact distillery. Minimal distance between areas reduces the need of wasted movement to sustain operations, and most importantly, the automation in the facility allows for the team to be in full control with visibility of all the processes from a single control room location.

electrode boilers
At the Bulleit distillery, 100% of the steam on-site used for the cooking distillation and drying processes are generated by the electrode boilers, which are powered by renewable electricity.

There's room on the site for 18 warehouses. “One of our key sustainable achievements at the site was the electrification of operations, including the electrode boilers. The electoral boilers will enable the avoidance of direct carbon emissions that would normally be generated by the use of fossil fuel fired boilers, electrode boilers also offer benefits that include reduced noise pollution and the reduction of other air contaminants,” explained Musson.

Automating the distilleries

He added that 100% of the steam on-site used for the cooking distillation and drying processes will be generated by the electro boiler boilers, which are powered by renewable electricity. Diageo also focuses on energy efficiency, which will be optimized in the new electrode boilers by using utility monitoring software developed to histories, energy usage and they will have the ability to analyze that for optimization later. 

As well, all of the distillery’s exterior lighting is solar powered, and all onsite interior lighting is light emitting diode LED. The warehouse interior lighting is automatic and only turns on and off during loading and unloading activities. Diageo also lowered roofs in the design to minimize heating and cooling requirements. With regard to electricity, Musson says they implemented long-term contracts with the local utility to allow for the purchase of zero greenhouse gas emission electricity from certified renewable sources.

Water savings design has also been built into the distillery. The site is being designed to be industry leading in efficiency and minimization of water usage by strategically placing meters in history, raising the data, Musson added. The distillery was immediately able to capture water usage and look for opportunities to generate and reduce the use of water and generate savings. The site is also committed to sending zero waste to landfills. Once operational, the site is designed to minimize the use of materials and waste through reuse and recycling. Any residual waste will not be sent to a landfill. They are also using all-electric vehicles at the site, including forklifts, and charging on-site with renewable energy.

Diageo basically thought of everything and implemented everything possible for the new distillery, but what about automating some of these tasks and equipment to make it even more sustainable? “So when we when we knew we were going to be operating the site with a limited number of people, we had to align on an automation strategy and we had developed a vision. That we would automate as much as we possibly could, reducing as many manual, repeatable tasks as possible. So there was a lot of focus on where to build in automation,” explained Musson.

“We wanted people to be focused on ways to improve efficiency, reduce energy consumption and of course, make a whole lot of bourbon!”

Lance Musson, controls and automation manager, Diageo North America, Brand Technical Center

So the product team looked at this and chose strategic partners with Diageo to bring our vision to life: Rockwell Automation for the pulses and motor mixes. All integrated by network over Ethernet IP. But then for each of the displays, the company chose inductive automation ignition software, which has shown continuous growth over the last couple of decades.

Diageo chose Ignition software because their tool sets are easily customizable for the application. The team worked with an integrator to build screens that are intuitive and easy for an operator to use. The distillery building also has two main control rooms: one in the distillery and another one in the dry house.

Another area where they built in some strategic automation is in the barrel filling area. Automatic barrel filling stations were already in place at most of the distilleries. The handling of the barrels, the unloading and loading of the stations, the caulk that that keeps the barrel closed, preparing barrels for fill and storage, and stacking barrels neatly on pallets, all adds up and becomes very cumbersome. “So we spent some valuable engineering time doing a deep dive and found that by adding robotics to the barrel and loading, we eliminated almost 77,000 moves annually by fork truck to unload and stack barrels onto pallets to prep for filling,” Musson explained. 

In the end, they eliminated 156,000 manual, repetitive moves by an operator at each one of those stations. You add all those up, and the automation is now handling over 384,000 repetitive moves, saving an enormous amount of wasted time and movement. There's also an automated guided vehicle, or HGV that will handle all pallet loading into the trailers headed to their warehouses—taking on another 25,000 moves. Diageo is also looking at RFID barcoding of palettes and barrels for improved inventory processes and long term tracking and tracing capability.

“I know it’s a sensitive subject of replacing labor with machinery, but where we're at today, where you actually can't find the labor, you're not replacing anyone and your employees are more valuable to you now than ever,” said Musson. “You're just buying a piece of equipment instead of having the constant churn and burn of employees where you're just hemorrhaging money out in training and you just can't find people to stay.”

To view the presentation in its entirety, please visit