Keg tracking is a growing concern for breweries of all sizes. Back in 2013, columnist Jack Curtain estimated some 400,000 kegs were lost every year. The Brewers Association reports the average annual keg loss costs every brewer between $0.46 and $1.37 per-barrel of annual keg production. Multiply $0.46 by your annual barrel output and you can see why keg tracking is so important.
Keg Tracking Options:
There are many options for solving the keg tracking challenge. Some include technology that has been designed to handle tracking of objects, while others may not require you to keep track of the kegs at all.
1. Scan it – Barcode Scanning
The most common method for tracking kegs is barcode scanning. This method requires you to slap a barcode label on every keg shell and track it throughout the various stages of production, shipments and returns.
There are drawbacks to consider with barcode scanning, including:
- Tedious – Requires manual scanning of each keg during each stage
- Cost – The barcode scanners can be costly, including time & labor. Although there may be low cost options such as mobile apps, most of the proven technology still requires some hardware investment.
- Upkeep – Tracking tends to fall off because of the tedious nature of manual scanning each keg every time you fill it, ship it and return it. That’s a lot of scanning.
Pros: Prevalent options with proven technology Cons: Tedious and Laborious. Stops being used.
2. Outsource it – Keg Leasing “Pay-per-fill”
If keg ownership isn’t an option, consider outsourcing to companies like MicroStar or Keg Logistics, to avoid having to manage your kegs. These leasing companies provide keg shells that you can “pay-per-fill”. Once these kegs get shipped, you don’t have to worry about making sure you get it back.
Atlanta-based Eventide Brewing Co., wrote up a quick cost comparison of leasing kegs versus owning:
“In short, Eventide is a capitally intensive start-up and you will probably be seeing a blue star painted on the side of our kegs.”
Pros: Scalable, Worry-free Cons: Ongoing, per-fill cost, limited branding opportunities
3. Tag it – RFID Keg Tracking Systems
RFID – The “Holy Grail” of keg tracking. RFID systems track every single keg that automatically scan in and out of your facility. Additionally, it can keep track of what is currently sitting in your warehouse. Sounds perfect, but it’s a massive undertaking and few breweries can afford them. Fully implementing an RFID system requires:
- Attaching RFID tags to every keg
- Software setup and configuration (can be very costly)
- Purchasing RFID tags($1k-$3k each and up to $50 for geolocation tags)
- Purchase RFID scanners (hundreds to thousands of dollars for each scanner).
Then there’s this:
“In addition to the obvious technology costs like RFID tags, scanners, GPS systems, and high-end computers and databases, there are also IT costs such as development and customization efforts, database development and non-IT costs like training a keg-filler how to put the information into the system and convincing your distributors and retailers to let you install hardware and/or software.” Read more
Keep in mind that RFID technology is still being perfected – so you can expect inconsistencies from time to time. Everybody wants their dream car, but few have the upfront cash to buy one, let alone keep it running smoothly.
Pros: Automated, reduced loss, long-term ROI Cons: Expensive, complex project, long-tail ROI
Keg Tracking With Orchestrated®BEER:
OrchestratedBEER provides built-in reporting to perform your own keg tracking without the spreadsheets and expensive equipment.
Ask yourself if it’s really worth investing significant time and money into RFID or barcode keg tracking just to have the satisfaction of knowing exactly where keg #1234 is at any time.
Yes, RFID & barcode scanning can track the number of turns per keg and notify when it’s time to refurbish. But a trained eye can tell you the same thing. Is it worth the investment just so you can automate what your eyes can already tell you for free?
A more practical approach to effectively track kegs is to keep a running tally of what kegs go out to which customers and what kegs were returned from the same customer.
Think of kegs as commodities, just like the propane tanks you trade out at your local Home Depot.
That shiny, brand new tank that comes with your grill gets swapped for a full one, that’s typically old, rusty and beat up. The propane companies don’t care who has tank #1234, as long as they know how many tanks Home Depot has should have on hand. The same is true for tracking kegs.
OrchestratedBEER has solved the keg tracking conundrum with a keg container activity report to show how many kegs went out to a customer and how many were returned. The net difference between went out and what came back is what they should still have on hand.
How OBeer Keg Tracking Report Works:
OrchestratedBEER knows what gets shipped to customers based on the Bill of Lading and can assign keg deposits on a shipment. That deposit is held in a liability account until the keg shell is returned. Once returned, OBeer automatically applies invoice credit to the customer’s account.
The keg container activity report uses this process to determine what was shipped out and what was returned. The net difference indicates what’s on hand at your customers & distributors.
OBeer can tell you how many kegs went out, how many were returned and the net difference between the two.
If you want to serialize your kegs and know exactly which kegs are out floating around, then consider investing in a RFID or barcode scanning system to provide that information.
Talk to the large regional breweries around you to get their take on RFID keg tracking. Chances are that the OBeer keg tracking report is a healthy balance between practical and ambitious, without the hefty price tag.