Miller turns to robots

As the core group of workers at the Miller Brewing Co. plant in North Carolina are retiring, they’re being replaced by robots.

“We’ve tried to schedule it that way,” said Patricia Henry, brewery plant manager. “You have to automate but I hate to lay off.” henry said that when the plant opened 25 years ago, most of the 1,500 workers were in their thirties or older.

As that core group is retiring, the company and its 710 workers have now activated 29 robots to move cases and barrels of beer to help with the shipping process at the plant. Moving beer out the door is a major task at the plant, which has 34 acres of production under roof, making it one of the largest breweries in North America. Miller has spent $10 million and more than 18 months installing the new machines from Italian robot maker Electric 80.

Meanwhile in Milwaukee, President and Chief Executive Officer Norman Adami told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the brewery needs a new corporate culture to turnaround its declining fortune. “We’ve got to break out of the cycle of a tolerance for mediocrity,” says Adami.

Restructuring at Miller will eliminate 200 jobs at the Milwaukee corporate headquarters. “The problems are quite fundamental, quite deep,” Adami said. “Having said that, the circumstances are not insurmountable.” He said he plans to promote a culture that demands results and breaks away from a system that rewarded all management workers in roughly the same manner – which Adami dubbed “the Socialist Republic of Miller.”

Back in North Carolina, the new robots and other modernization efforts have increased both the capacity and production at the plant. In 1978, the plant had six beer production lines pouring out 6 million barrels a year. Today, the plant has 11 production lines making 8 million barrels a year, but with the capacity for 10 million barrels.

In addition brewing Miller products, the Eden plant has also upgraded so that one-third of its production is outsourced brewing for other beer companies like Stroh’s, Schlitz, Pete’s Wicked Ale and Samuel Adams brands.

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