To be clear, any automated line cleaning machine is only ever semi-automated. There’s still LOTS to do. Starting with the obvious, they won’t work without detergent in them! You also need to stay in the cellar during the chemical cycle making sure that fobs are bled and don’t drop because of leaks in the cleaning ring main – so no different to manual line cleaning.
Next, no two cellars are the same, so no two machines should be set up the same. Variables include line length, tap count, location of cellar vs bar, water pressure, flow rate and condition of lines.
It only takes a tiny change to operating procedures for things to go wrong. Adding an extra tap can totally invalidate cleaning cycle settings if the machine isn’t also re-calibrated, and risks leaving chemical in the line. It also ignores drainage which, if inadequate, will cause waste water to flow back to contaminate the clean.
Some machines promise super-quick (eg, 4 minute) cleaning cycles for ad-hoc cleans between kegs. Any button promising to clean in a few minutes becomes a tempting default for pub teams looking to save time and effort – but it won’t do the job thoroughly.
Despite all this we believe semi-automated line cleaning systems can work – with the caveats above. The machines are only as good as the installation, your team, their training and the detergent used. The bottom line: even semi-automated machines can’t do all the work for you.