Any bartender will tell you: it’s only when the pub is packed that the keg runs out. The scene quickly sours when the pints stop flowing, causing a ten-minute delay in service, angry customers, and a backlog at the bar.
Amazingly there’s never been a solution even though humans have been drinking beer for 4,000 years. There’s no way to tell if an aluminium keg is running low, except by shaking it.
Enter KegoMatic, the brainchild of six electrical engineering students from QUB.
KegoMatic enables multiple kegs (two, three, or four) to be tapped at once, and it switches the line automatically when the keg runs out. The technology not only prevents the problem of changing a keg during service times, it also provides critical data analytics back to the business. The system includes hardware, packed with LED sensors and weight scales, plus a tablet app to manage the influx of data.
Co-founder Connor Carville said, “For an average bar in Northern Ireland, our system would immediately save £2,500 annually, purely because it means their beer lines won’t fill up with foam. When a keg runs out, the foam fills the line and that takes 1.5 or 2 pints to clear – those pints are put down the drain.”
Kegs are changed “27 million times in the UK each year,” according to Connor, so the need is real.
Connecting to the KegoMatic system involves detaching beer and gas lines and plugging them into the KegoMatic lines. Simple stuff, but what’s more complicated is how these young entrepreneurs will get their product into pubs.
“We’ll sell through the large beer distributors, and we’ll motivate them with a cut of our revenues. Large distributors like Diageo would be our target customer,” said Connor.
Once installed, the kegs sit on a base with in-built weighing scales. By analysing the weight over time, KegoMatic’s companion software, BarTrender, shows the rate at which beer is being poured. It can help with planning live music or events in the pub, and obviously with stock management. Also it can link this data in with till data, to ensure all pints that are pulled are also put through the till – catching any thievery by pub staff. The data can be compared with employees’ shift timetables if a thief needs to be uncovered.
Up to 30% of pubs’ stock is lost to theft and wastage, the founders claim, and this is where KegoMatic aims to show real return on investment of its product. The product will cost around £995 to start, plus a 30% subscription fee for the data analytics software.
How does it work?
Co-founder Conor McGurk explained, “When an optical sensor placed at the start of the beer line detects foam, a solenoid closes that beer line and simultaneously opens the line from the next, full keg, resulting in a continuous flow of beer to the tap.”
Do you have competitors?
“There are a few doing data analytics for beer stock, but they’re all focused on looking backwards, whereas we look to the future,” said Connor Carville. “We help pubs to plan.”
Onto the most important issue -- is the beer fresh and tasty?
“There’s no difference in freshness in a keg hooked up to our lines, as one sitting in storage, and that’s crucial,” said Conor McGurk. “We took a market survey and taste was the number one factor in a customer’s purchasing decision – even more important than the amount of time they waited for their pint.”
According to the ambitious co-founders, there are just shy of 60,000 pubs in the UK and Ireland, their initial target markets. “We can also target the concert and festival market. If an intermission at an event is 15 minutes long, and people are standing at the bar waiting for 10 minutes while the bartender changes the keg, that’s a lot of business lost,” Conor said.
Are you seeking funding?
“Right now we’re focused on getting the prototype right. We have applied for TechStart and we’ve won some awards (including QUB’s Dragons Dens finalists) but we’ve taken no other funding.”
If they advance further in the INVENT competition there will be prize money coming their way. Good luck to KegoMatic.
*KegoMatic’s other co-founders are QUB students Donovan Campbell, Patrick Devlin, Bryan Murphy and Aaron Rath