The Binary Beer Story

by | Jun 17, 2019 | stories | 0 comments

300 smart kegs are being tracked around Sydney right now. You probably won’t see them but the chances of a fresher beer have certainly increased. Binary Beer are an Internet of Things (IoT) start-up based in the iAccelerate building in Wollongong. They have created a device to increase the efficiency of keg usage and the quality of the beer inside by tracking the location, temperature and movement. With their first paid trial taking place now, a project in Kenya and big deals in the pipeline they are solidifying their place as an IoT leader.

James and Michael at the Binary Beer office in iAccelerate.

Internet of Things (IoT): IoT is a term used to describe physical devices and everyday objects connected to the internet, generally via electronics or hardware sensors. IoT devices can communicate and interact with other devices and be controlled or monitored remotely. The technology is set to revolutionise the way we interact with and understand the world. An example use case are the devices used to make a smart home.

Humble beginnings

Michael and Brooke Burton started as Digital Homebrew. As an avid home brewer, after being introduced to craft beer by Brooke, Michael knew first-hand the frustrations of running out of beer at the worst possible times. Being a software engineer at the time with a background in electrical engineering Michael decided to solve this problem himself. He created a device that would track beer usage. They ended up creating and selling around 1000 of these to other home brewers throughout Australia. It was around this time they decided to finish their jobs and go at it full time.

The Pivot

After being accepted into iAccelerate they started pitching the idea on the Jobs for NSW pitching circuit. This provided a steep learning curve on the business model and idea, they won the competition and got a trip to Boston. During this pitching they quickly realised that the homebrew market was very niche. However, they could provide the same value proposition and technologies to corporate breweries, a much larger and global market. Binary Beer was formed and development began.

The University Project CSIT321

During the development of Binary Beers first product Michael was looking to expand the team. This is when, through iAccelerate’s strong connection with the University of Wollongong, he heard about the computer science department looking for yearlong projects for a team of students. Already being late to apply Michael ‘banged together an application’ and quickly sent it off.

Not long after, Michael received a brilliant proposal from a team that were passionate about the business and even had ‘hospitality experience’ (meaning they had worked in bars). The student team of 5 including James Rule and Ethan Dunne (who both work at Binary Beer full time now) got started helping with the design and development.

Product Design, Development and Trials

During the development of the product they had to validate the feasibility of the idea. Firstly they needed to work out how they can understand how much beer is left in a keg. After experimenting with weight sensors they quickly realised this was not suitable and overly expensive. They went back to the fundamentals. Realising that the stage the keg was at in the supply chain is a clear representation of how much beer it had in it. This can be done by monitoring the temperature and location. A keg during transport will be room temperature, this will drop suddenly as the keg is cooled on tap and will increase when the keg is finished with and placed outside. Indicating pick up time.

“Expensive sensors and complex systems are not needed to return the same results.”

Secondly they had to work out how to obtain this data. There are various technologies in the IoT space that support this, but being relatively new tech they are not all at a level of maturity to make this an easy task. Binary Beer trialled various different technologies out in the field. Initially, a Wi-Fi enabled device would be used that could connect to the pubs Wi-Fi. Michael would call up the pub, get the Wi-Fi code, go to the location and set it up with a personal hotspot on his phone. This was difficult. Pubs were hesitant to give away the Wi-Fi code and it isn’t scalable to go out in the field to every pub. Next they tried a modem placed in the cellar near the kegs. After this crashed multiple times and then went missing altogether it was time to try something new.

They’ve made a lot of prototypes!

Partnerships (and a trip to Kenya)

One new technology that would allow them to transmit the data without Wi-Fi is the Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT). This Low Power Wide Area Network (LPWAN) wireless communication technology would allow for a scalable way to communicate the data needed. Vodafone hadn’t rolled out this technology in Australia except for a small spot of coverage in Sydney. Vodafone had the classic chicken and egg problem. They weren’t rolling it out properly until they had users but no one was using it because it had a limited coverage. Binary Beer placed themselves as the connector and formed a partnership with Vodafone. Now they could bring the customers in the form of big breweries and provide Vodafone with the confidence to set up the technology. The NSW rollout was timed to be ready for Binary Beers trial deployment.

During the development of this partnership Binary Beer were contacted randomly by a Kenyan telco. It turns out NB-IoT is already up and running there and they were looking for help designing products that can be used on the platform. To develop the test firmware for Kenya Michael would have to travel up to where the NB-IoT coverage was in Sydney. This was the start of Binary Things a Binary Beer spinoff focusing on general IoT products. It just shows if you put your ideas and product out there opportunities can come from anywhere.

300 Smart Kegs for a Paid Trial

Starting in 2019 Binary Beer has setup a paid trial with a large Australian Brewery. The plan is to test 300 smart kegs around the Sydney area and record the data obtained. On their app you can see the kegs out in the field right now, each represented by a dot on the map. The app is receiving real time data showing how the temperature has fluctuated, you can see exactly when they were filled with beer. During the trial they hope to gain an understanding of the exact value they can provide to breweries and use the data to improve the breweries supply chain. They have an idea of where each keg is meant to go and are excited to see what happens next.

Manufacturing, Assembling and Testing 300 Products

Low volume manufacture is a big risk for hardware start-ups and is arguably one of the hardest parts of getting a product to market. Binary Beer had the customer lined up first which certainly helped. To create the PCBs they chose an Australian based manufacturer called Circuitwise. They wanted to be close to production so they could have a quick feedback loop. This turned out to be a great decision. Although more costly and potentially not sustainable for larger volumes they were able to test devices instantly. They even found a problem close to the start of production which saved a lot of time and money. For the enclosures they enlisted the help of a Sydney based industrial design studio called CoCreators that has close relationships with a Taiwan manufacturer. They created a beautiful design that is ergonomic, tough and water proof.

Once they had all the parts, they enlisted the help of friends and family for assembly. They set up an assembly line and got to work. Although this was time intensive they learnt huge amounts about how the product assembly line will look in the future.

What does the future hold?

“I can’t see a future where all kegs aren’t smart kegs.”

Binary beer are now a team of 8 with a wide range of backgrounds and skills. Their core focus is hardware and software design. They plan to use the skills and knowledge they have acquired to expand nationally and globally. The IoT market is growing 40% each year as global brands find their use cases. The creation of Binary Beer has led them to be the leaders in this space and with Binary Things I am sure we will see more leading products.

Find out more about Binary Beer here: https://binarybeer.io/

Do you have any questions or want more information on the story? Comment below and we will try our best to answer them.

Resources & Recommendations

  • CoCreators are an industrial design studio based in Sydney. They can create practical and aesthetic enclosures that are injection mould ready.
  • Circuitwise are a PCB manufacturer based in Sydney. They provide a quality and reliable PCB assembly service.

  • Starting a business and creating new products is a marathon not a sprint. Although you want to move fast you also need to be consistent and thorough especially when creating hardware products
  • Breakdown problems into smaller ones. There are a wide range of moving parts when getting a product to market and problems occur regularly. Make sure to take some time to understand the problem, how it can be solved and who can solve it.

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