11 August 2023

Automated beer line cleaning systems: Exactly how automated are they?

automated line cleaning

The dream of fully automated beer line cleaning systems

We know how much you’ve got to do and that managing a venue daily can be a huge challenge. Somewhere on your to-do list is cleaning your beer lines.

Naturally, the idea of pushing a button and the whole job being done for you can be very attractive. On the surface, this appears to be what automated beer line cleaning systems do, but are they truly the answer to your prayers?

So-called automated beer line cleaning systems are only ever semi-automated

The simple truth is, that regardless of brand or type, any so-called automated line cleaning system is only ever semi-automated.

You may still need to monitor the cleaning process

There are parts of a beer line clean where a machine can be left to its own devices, but before you can leave it to get on with things, it requires setting up and it may even need monitoring during the process.

It’s also possible that you’ll find yourself visiting the cellar during the cleaning cycle to ensure that fobs are bled and haven’t dropped because of leaks in the cleaning ring main – which is no different from doing a manual beer line clean.

Automated beer line cleaning systems need installing and setting up

There’s a lot that should go into setting up an automated beer line cleaning system.

You need to be 100% sure the installer fully understands this and that they can make the necessary adaptations for your cellar and its quirks.

Manual tasks you may still need to do when you use automated beer line cleaning systems 

1. Turning off the remote cooler

Beer line cleaning begins with turning off the cellar’s remote cooler. This must be done because cleaning beer lines involves water being in the lines.

Remote coolers are designed to chill beer and normally run at or below freezing point, so if the cooler isn’t switched off, any water introduced to the lines could freeze.

Automatic line cleaning systems don’t switch the remote cooler off for you.

2. Gas supply, couplers, and cleaning sockets

To clean beer lines, you must switch off the gas supply to each keg line, disconnect each line from its keg, clean and sanitise its coupler and then connect it to the appropriate cleaning socket – repeating the process as many times as you have lines to be cleaned.

Again, this is something automatic beer line cleaning systems don’t do for you.

3. Connect hoses to allow water and chemical to flow away

In the bar, you will have to connect hoses to each tap so that water and cleaning chemicals can flow away into the waste system associated with the line cleaning machine.

This is also a manual task.

4. Check that sufficient chemical is available to complete the full cycle.

It’s easy to overlook the chemical canister or overestimate how much is available. And the machine cannot draw up all its contents.

You need to know how much is used in a cycle and add on an extra amount for what is always left at the bottom.

5. Checking in with the machine during the cleaning process

The only truly automated part of an automatic line cleaning system is putting water and cleaning chemical into the lines and rinsing it out afterward.

But even during this automatic job you’ll likely want to check the process is happening as it should.

Without a trip to the cellar to check all fobs have line cleaning chemical in them and that it’s going into the lines, how can you be confident the lines are being cleaned?

6. Check that the rinse water is pH neutral

It’s absolutely essential that you check and confirm that all chemical has been fully rinsed from the line before disconnecting and reconnecting back to beer.

7. Unhook hoses, re-attach couplers, purge fobs, turn on gas and coolers

After the clean, you’ll find yourself unhooking hoses, re-attaching couplers, purging fobs, and turning gas and coolers on again.

8. Check your beer

Most importantly of all, check the beer is flowing! Pull the beer through and make sure it looks, tastes, and smells how it should.

Key reasons why Avani doesn’t recommend automated beer line cleaning systems

We’ve seen all manner of line cleaning machines and methods over the years. Here are some key reasons we don’t recommend semi-automated machine cleaning.

Machines don’t report on the state of your lines or pinpoint dispense issues

With a machine-led approach, the results are largely out of your hands. You’re also unlikely to know what those results are.

Many cellars have unique configurations

No two cellars are the same, which means no two machines should be set up the same.

Automated line cleaning systems are often made to be ‘plug and play’ and may not have the flexibility to adapt to the unique conditions of your cellar.

Variables include:

  • line length
  • tap count
  • location of cellar vs bar
  • water pressure
  • flow rate
  • condition of lines
  • beers on serve

One size doesn’t fit all, and any beer line cleaning system needs to be customised to your cellar.

Most lines are not much longer than a few pints, but in certain venues, they can be much longer.

Some automated line-cleaning machines can be set up for longer lines, but if you do have unusually long lines, or anything else about your cellar and dispense system that’s not the norm, it’s hard to be sure that anything other than a bespoke set-up (or a manual clean) will truly do the job.

Water pressure varies, venue to venue

Another issue is water pressure. This is measured in ‘bars’, with one bar being the force required to push water to a height of 10 metres. (In domestic settings one bar is the legal minimum pressure water companies must supply).

If the water pressure to a venue is, for example, two bars and you have 10 lines, you will need to be sure that two bars of pressure are enough for an automatic line cleaner to fill those 10 lines adequately and rinse them thoroughly afterward.

If your venue suffers from low water pressure, or the automatic line cleaner is in operation at a time when demand for water is high causing pressure to drop, there’s a risk that the machine won’t operate as expected.

But not all automatic beer line cleaners can be adapted to take account of this.

Automated beer line cleaning systems struggle to adapt when your operation changes

A big disadvantage to automated line cleaners is that it only takes a small change to operating procedures for things to go wrong.

Whether it’s water pressure, unusual line length, or adding an extra tap to a cleaning cycle, settings can be invalidated if the machine isn’t also re-calibrated.

This risks leaving chemical in the line. It also ignores drainage which, if inadequate, will prevent the cycle from completing, properly.

The intelligent application of technology – beer quality the Avani way

In short, there’s a whole host of things you need to do when your beer line cleaning is semi-automated.

Machines promise to ‘do it all for you’ and in many ways, they inspired us to create something better, a manually intelligent beer quality service called ProClean.

Not a machine but a system of experienced and dedicated beer quality technicians applying a robust, proven process using the best chemicals and tools available.

ProClean is a fully comprehensive beer line, cellar, bar, and glasswasher cleaning service that protects beer quality and improves hygiene from keg to tap. Use our handy savings calculator to find out how much ProClean could save you.

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