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Exact measuring results in a schnapps distillery

VEGAPULS 64 – Radar level measurement

There are people who claim that Krautinger is more of a ‘medicine’ than a beverage. Everyone has their own opinion about the taste of the liquor, which has a hint of vegetables in its flavour. In any case, it is unbeaten when it comes to the number of stories that proliferate around it and its what gives it its uniqueness. What other foodstuff or beverage can claim to have received a royal warrant personally from the Empress Maria Theresa in the 18th century? This granted the farmers of the high mountain valley Wildschönau, the sole right to distil this liquor from the autumn turnip.

This tradition is still followed today by just 15 families in Wildschönau, an Austrian community in the Kufstein district of Tyrol and it has become a hallmark of the region. Josef Thaler, a member of one of these families, has more of a straightforward attitude toward the many stories that revolve around this schnapps. It is thanks to his commitment and hard work that Krautinger today is a protected, EU-wide trademark. "The quality has to be right, and has remained that way over many, many years,” explains Thaler, “For this you need great patience and perseverance, until the product meets the exact quality requirements, as well as the high expectations during official tastings by expert judging panels". The distillers also need patience in other areas, too. It starts with the cultivation of this special turnip with a specially high sugar content, only guaranteed if the weather is right. 

The production of Krautinger still involves a lot of manual work. The white turnips are harvested by hand, greens and roots removed, washed, chopped up and pressed. The resulting juice is then thickened overnight, of 1000 litres of original liquid, only 300 litres containing about 18-20% sugar remain. Next, yeast is added to the liquid, which is allowed to ferment four to five days. The liquid is then distilled, yielding the precursor to Krautinger, consisting of 85% alcohol. Now the liquor is given time to mature, which can be two to three months. After that it is mixed with water to further develop its final texture and taste.

Keep the quality constant
A long time ago, to keep the quality of the schnapps constant, Thaler started the process to make production more efficient. The turnips used to be washed by hand, so he invested in a washing machine. Now it was time to automate the actual cooking process. In order to ensure consistent high quality, it is necessary to maintain a defined and, above all, uniform, taste. "The problem, however, is that the sugar beet does not always contain the same amount of sugar. And besides that, we had to constantly check the filling level by hand. That’s why, the morning after the thickening process, sometimes the sugar content was too low and sometimes too high." Explined Thaler, "This situation was simply impractical and not sustainable in the long run."  Many ideas were floated, but their implementation always proved to be more complicated than initially thought. However it turned out that the expertise and inspiration required was already in the family. His nephew, Andreas Haas is an industrial measurement and control technician, and he thought, "If excellent non-contact measuring methods exist, why not use them?" It was certainly a justified question. Haas already had good experience professionally with VEGA in his pharmaceutical industry work and therefore suggested using their radar sensor. However, the distiller didn’t want to invest in a new boiler, the old one should remain in use. And the installation costs and work should be kept within reasonable limits. This posed further challenges: For one thing, the boiler in the distillery is relatively small also with an agitator inside, the lower part of the container is also conical and contains a double bottom for the steam. Older radar instruments with a typical measuring frequency of 26 GHz would not work because of their blocking distance (dead band) and the amount of installations inside the vessel. And what is more, "When I heard about the new VEGAPULS 64, I realized immediately that it could be the solution for our family business," recalls Haas. 

The ultimate for small tanks

VEGAPULS 64 has all the features it needs to handle the difficult measurement situation. The radar sensor operates with a transmission frequency of 80 GHz and has an antenna diameter of approx. 80 mm. A beam angle of only 4° results from this configuration. This allows the radar beam to simply pass by the agitator without generating interfering reflections.

VEGAPULS 64 is ideal for measuring tasks in small containers and apparatuses, for example in the food and pharmaceutical industry. Since the antenna system has been integrated into the process connection, the antenna itself does not project into the container. This makes it possible to measure reliably right up close to the process fitting. The operator utilizes this feature to great advantage in the production of Krautinger, since foam and bubbles often reach the top of the boiler.  

Furthermore, the sensor is completely unaffected by build up – ideal for the sticky sugar beet mash. This is achieved primarily by an adaptation of the sensor sensitivity in the close range. The effects of interference are reduced directly in front of the antenna system by special automatic gain control, yet at the same time it allows a very high signal sensitivity at greater distances.

VEGAPULS 64 also proved to be easy to install. Haas simply mounted the sensor onto an existing socket. After that, however, he had more ideas: He set up the system so that the signal, i.e. the level in the boiler, is automatically sent to Thaler’s mobile phone.  

The family head is thus always up to speed on his process, knowing whether or not the liquid has boiled for long enough. As soon as the correct volume is reached, the burner now automatically switches off and the temperature drops, Thaler is then able to continue with the subsequent processing steps. Even though production is gradually being automated, probably no more than 700 to 800 litres of this unconventional schnapps will be produced per year. "Our Krautinger will always be something special," says Thaler.

Author: Dipl.-Ing. Sabine Mühlenkamp, ​​specialist journalist for chemistry and technology

Facts, background information, dossiers
  • sensors
  • measurement
  • fill level measurement
  • fill level
  • process measuring t…
  • automation technology
  • radar level transmitters
  • radar measurement
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