An inside job

Electrical Construction and Maintenance students install

new temperature control system in brewing lab

An upgrade to Dakota County Technical College’s Brewing Lab provided a real-world learning opportunity for students in the Electrical Construction and Maintenance Technology program.

In particular, the Brewing and Beer Steward Technology program needed to upgrade its conditioning tanks with a permanent temperature control system.  Instructor Mike Buck said the former system consisted of a separate temperature controller for each of the 20 conditioning tanks. Since the tanks are portable, it was necessary to disconnect and stow the controllers when the tanks were moved.

“For a number of reasons, this was less than ideal,” said Deutsch.

Last spring, Chief Information Officer Todd Jagerson approached the program to see if it was a project students might want to tackle. Buck said the installation of the new system was a good fit because it offered students the chance to work with new technology.

The work included the installation of a programmable logic controller (PLC) with a human machine interface touchscreen. Additionally students installed resistive temperature detectors for each tank.

Instructor Don Deutsch said the four students volunteered and took time out of their day to complete the work. The students will receive class credit for their work and can use it on their resumes.

“It’s a good opportunity for them to do a project with a real-world application. They can also take satisfaction in knowing it will be there permanently,” said Deutsch.

Student Tony Hanto said he agreed to do the project for the experience and he liked the idea that helps other students.

“It’s cool to work on something that will help other students,” said Hanto.


Brewing instructor Jeff Merriman said the biggest benefit of the new system is a nicer control panel for the glycol system, the brewing lab already had in place. He explained that the new system enables brewing students to control the temperature of each of the 20 fermentation vessels from one panel instead of 20 individual modules.

“The control panel is connected to a temperature probe in each fermentor.  When the sensor reads a temperature higher than what we’ve set it for it opens up a solenoid and allows glycol to run through cooling coils inside the fermentor, therefore cooling the fermentation down to the set point,” explained Merriman.

That is significant because Ales and Lagers ferment at different temperatures. While Ales perform well at room temperature, Merriman said Lagers benefit from colder temperatures.

“Fermentation creates a small amount of heat.  Even a couple of degrees change can dramatically affect the flavor profile of a beer.  Being able to control that temperature helps a brewer create a more consistent product,” said Merriman.