Nothing quenches the thirst of craft beer drinkers more than an intelligent valve. Yes, you heard right. With craft beer accounting for more than 24 percent of the $114 billion U.S. beer market, it’s an ideal proving ground for connected manufacturing in the Intelligent Enterprise.

“Beer is a fiercely competitive industry, and breweries need to differentiate and innovate in response to changing consumer tastes,” said Ralf Lehmann, senior director of Solution Marketing at SAP. “Combining experience X-data with operational O-data provides a holistic view to make informed product improvements, run more efficiently, and create greater value for customers.”

Personalization and Co-Innovation Rule

I talked with Lehmann as we toured a near-perfect replica of a craft beer brewery at the 2019 SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference. The impressive onsite display of bright dashboards, busy robots large and small, and gleaming industrial machinery was created to represent any company’s Industry 4.0 digital supply chain. It showed how connected intelligence tears down the walls among product planning and design, assembly, shipping and delivery, maintenance, and updates.

SAPPHIRE NOW demo: craft beer and intelligent valve
Beer breweries need connected data to anticipate what customers want to drink so they can quickly adapt recipes for production and delivery.

“Companies are moving from mass production to mass customization,” explained Lehmann. “Like manufacturers in every industry, beer breweries need connected data to anticipate what customers want to drink so they can quickly adapt recipes for production and delivery. They also need to work closely with startups and partners, bringing technologies like eye tracking, gesture control, and robotics into daily operations.”

Business Insights from Connected Data

About that intelligent valve: The one I saw onsite was connected to a huge, bubbling, multi-colored water tank within the display. Each color represented flavor options for craft beer. Using data from SAP S/4HANA, the valve could mix new ingredients as fast as changing consumer taste trends ─ by target population or even geography. Recipe variations were only part of the story.

“We’re collecting and sending IoT-based data that customers can use for maintenance and repair,” said Lehmann. “In addition, blockchain technology allows customers to manage quality control for recipes. Customers can prove production compliance with geographical and other regulations and ingredient standards.”

Design for Continuous Product Evolution

But we’re getting ahead ourselves. Data from SAP software, including the SAP Digital Manufacturing Cloud, powered intelligence across each business process in the physical showcase, beginning with product design. For example, a smart kiosk using data from Experience Management solutions from SAP (Qualtrics), intelligent product design, and integrated product design, brought together real-time information about evolving consumer drinking habits and brewery operations.

“With a tightly integrated value chain, companies can manufacture and deliver the right products to the right customers at the right time,” said Lehmann. “They can reduce the amount of working capital required to manage inventory, serving customers faster by speeding up the time it takes to source and turn raw materials into targeted finished products — in this case, craft beer.”

Real-Time Visibility Increases Efficiency

Moving right along, sales orders were tightly integrated across an automated work flow that reached autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) picking components in the warehouse for product assembly at designated work stations. A dashboard brought customer order information to the shop floor, giving production operators a comprehensive view of brewery operations, down to assembly line details. Analyzing data from SAP Digital Manufacturing Insights, another screen provided executive decision-makers with a higher-level view of manufacturing operations connected to company strategies and key performance indicators (KPIs).

“On the shop floor, it’s much easier to assign and reassign people based on customer orders and unplanned events like employee absences or machine breakdowns. If one production line goes down or components run out, you can quickly shift people and machines to where they can keep production going,” said Lehmann. “Operators can see what’s happening at every step, avoiding mistakes and increasing traceability and process control.”

Speed and efficiency were the norm with real-time information from robotics and digital twins. Tool operators could use eye-tracking to manage robotics for hands-free product assembly. Every finished product, including that intelligent valve, was connected to a digital twin containing a wealth of data. In seconds, people anywhere could see the component’s entire “life story,” from original parts assembly through shipping and delivery to the customer’s final destination, including onsite operations and services, feeding back into valuable product updates.

After walking through the entire onsite display, I wasn’t surprised when Lehmann told me it had the highest attendee traffic of any show floor exhibit on the first day of the conference. People from many industries were fascinated and wanted to know more.

Digital supply chains are brewing unparalleled customer experiences in every intelligent enterprise as Industry 4.0 emerges.

Follow me: @smgaler
This story previously appeared on SAP BrandVoice on Forbes.