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This beer’s for you: AB InBev uses Artificial Intelligence

Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) makes some of the world’s most popular beer brands — including Budweiser, Corona, and Stella Artois. This global corporation is all about embracing the future and innovating to stay competitive. That’s how AB InBev came to partner with Pluto7, a technology solutions provider that uses Google Cloud Platform (GCP) services to improve operations at manufacturers and other companies.

READ MORE How did Vivino become so powerful with data?

Here is a series of 3 articles to explain how leaders in the wine and beer industries have become so powerful thanks to data. The articles will be published every Monday. The first article is about Vivino, the largest online wine marketplace. The second article will be about the leader AB-InBev which markets the beer brands Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois. Finally the third article is about the American leader in online sales Drizly.

AB InBev is reducing manufacturing costs and improving the quality of its beer by using Google Cloud Platform including machine learning.

The world changed around us. At one point, sales were dictated by how fast a salesperson could drive a motorcycle between locations. Today, AB InBev needs to digitize all aspects of its business to be successful.

Tassilo Festetics, the Vice President, Global Solutions at AB InBev

AB InBev Turns To The Cloud And AI

How does a company of this size and age begin transformation efforts? It starts with delivering customer-facing workflows where the return in investment is evident. To accomplish its transformation goals, the company has gone all in with Microsoft. It’s using Microsoft’s Azure infrastructure, AI cognitive services and the Microsoft M365 suite. Increasingly, companies are sharing that the selection of a software solution, such as the M365 suite, has impacted their choice of cloud providers. The company faced numerous challenges in its cloud transition. Its data landscape was extremely fragmented based on multiple mergers and acquisitions.

One of the challenges in selecting a cloud service for a global brand focuses on creating a consistent cloud footprint around the world that also adheres to the regulations of a specific geography. Data governance issues require transparency of data location and policies. Network latency for global operations is also an issue when you’re transiting data from destinations that range from Asia to Latin America. AB InBev transitioned 40 percent of its workloads to the cloud within one and a half years. A rapid journey for a company of its size.

Adopting the cloud versions of these systems provides the opportunity for AB InBev to move away from a monolithic version to more nimble and agile versions.

AI makes sense in the sales and the commercial section for analytics

However, simplification doesn’t mean simplistic. AB InBev uses AI for use cases that range from optimizing promotions to image recognition for planograms. The company uses AI in combination with POS system data to gain insights into consumer preferences, understand assortment, and how to combine beverages to optimize assortments.

In supply chain and logistics, the company is also using AI to move beyond routing optimizations for fuel and traffic. It wants to optimize routes based on when a customer’s shop opens as well as when it the best time for the customer to receive orders. Voice interfaces are hot in the consumer market, but it’s also gaining traction for commercial areas.

Natural language processing and sentiment analysis are core AI voice services that are available from the leading cloud computing providers such as Amazon, Google, IBM, and Microsoft. AB InBev wants to weave voice into its business applications with chatbots, but it also wants its employees to place orders and perform other tasks via voice commands to a mobile application.

What goes into refining the taste of beer? Malt, hops, rice, yeast, water — and machine learning

Pluto7 developed a prototype solution that is enabling AB InBev to optimize the beer filtration process with much greater accuracy — reducing costs, increasing efficiencies, and perhaps most importantly for beer aficionados, ensuring taste. The Pluto7 solution combines Google AI tools: TensorFlow, Cloud Machine Learning Engine, Cloud SQL, and BigQuery.

We honed in on more than 50 specific parameters that displayed potential predictive ability

Adam Spunberg, Global Director, Tech Explore, the AB InBev in-house technology group

The AB InBev team evaluated six months of manufacturing data from its Newark, New Jersey brewery. “We studied the potential impact variables and matched them relentlessly against previous data from the brewery’s filtration process, taking advantage of the supersonic speed of Cloud Machine Learning Engine and its capability to analyze at a far swifter and comprehensive rate,” says Adam Spunberg, Global Director, Tech Explore, the AB InBev in-house technology group. “Through that process, we honed in on more than 50 specific parameters that displayed potential predictive ability, and we leveraged the highest coefficients among those to revolutionize our system.”

Optimizing beer filtration

A top priority at AB InBev is optimizing the K Filter that kicks in at the end of beer brewing, right before packaging. The filtration process removes any remaining yeast, proteins, or other elements to achieve the best, crispest beer taste and meet brand-required turbidity levels.

Beer filtration is a complicated process with many unpredictable variables, such as the fluid’s turbidity coming into and going out of the filter as well as regulating pressure in and across the filter. The technology long in place to manipulate the variables is capable of only basic logic, using meters to monitor and react to adverse conditions, such as a change in pressure.

Adding ML and artificial intelligence (AI), the company can leverage a much larger dataset to better predict and prevent potential issues during filtration. Consequently, an ML-enabled filtration process could deliver great-tasting beer with significant cost efficiencies

We saw 60 percent improvements per run in barrelage

Adam Spunberg, Global Director, Tech Explore, the AB InBev in-house technology group

A month-long Makeathon

The AB InBev Tech Explore team had been actively exploring how AI and ML could solve some of the company’s top, ongoing business challenges. In late 2017, the incubator held a Makeathon, inviting providers of ML and AI solutions to participate. During the month-long bake-off, 14 solutions providers developed Proofs of Concept (POCs) that addressed the challenges that AB InBev needed to solve.

During the Makeathon, multiple Google Cloud Platform partners developed solutions for the K Filter challenge, knowing it was among three priorities identified at AB InBev. Developing chatbots and improving video analytics were the other two.

“The value of working and the partnership with Pluto7 is that they’re scalable with the Google Cloud Platform — so the learnings we get from Newark, we can scale across breweries in 126 countries,” says Benjamin Lavoie, Global Director of Technology at AB InBev. “The artificial intelligence of Pluto7 and Google Cloud Platform is a part of this broader vision to transform how we make beer, and deliver it faster at more consistently higher quality to our valued customer.”

In many ways, beer-making relies on traditional manufacturing processes. But AB InBev is open to shaking things up. “AB InBev is thinking a year or two ahead of its industry,” says Manjunath Devadas, Founder & CEO, Pluto7.

Endless possibilities with AI

Cloud computing, mobility, analytics and artificial intelligence are foundational services to any business. However, technology is only an enabler of digital transformation. The transformation win comes from the delivery of new ideas and concepts.