By Eric Peterson | Jun 09, 2019
Brewing tools and automation
Salemo and Merrick first met in the 1990s working at Summit Machine Builders in Denver, a manufacturer of weighing and filling automation systems, before going out on their own with separate automation-oriented businesses.
They reconnected on a project building enclosures for Wild Goose Canning, then teamed to launch Altitude Automation together on Veteran's Day in 2014. Merrick, a veteran of the Marine Corps, says, "It's a fun coincidence, but it's a coincidence."
Early on, they learned that putting plastic can carrier lids on six-packs was a literal pain point for breweries: A volunteer who did it worked for Altitude part-time, says Salemo. "His hands were killing him."
In response, Merrick and Salemo came up with the CanSquatch, which Merrick calls "an ergonomic assembly aid" for PakTech handles. "You're using larger muscle groups instead of just thumbs."
"It saves some hands and saves some money," adds Salemo. "There are some automated systems out there, but no manual ones."
The patent-pending product, which is currently being tested by Caution, New Image, and other Denver-area craft breweries, runs $2,000 to $2,250.
Altitude's second product, the Themis Checkweigher, brings rigor to a process that's often left to chance. Some breweries use a bucket of water to check fill weights. "If they float to the right height, it's a good fill," says Salemo of the imprecise status quo.
The $25,000 Themis can be integrated with canning lines to check up to 90 cans a minute and automatically reject fills that are at least 1.5 grams higher or lower than the target.
Merrick says there are issues with both underfilled and overfilled cans. Underfilled cans are "going to taste like wet cardboard because it's oxidized," he says. With overfills, he adds, "How many beers are you giving away? "You're giving away profits."
It's not just a problem with breweries: During testing, Salemo and Merrick regularly found cans of LaCroix sparkling water to be off by six grams.
Altitude launched both products at the 2019 Craft Brewers Conference in Denver and will start shipping by summer 2019.
Altitude Automation is also a UL 508A-certified panel shop and has built several brewing control systems. The company also offers cable-harnessing services.
Per Revolution Machining in Westminster makes custom parts for Altitude, which handles assembly and QA in-house. "All of the electrical is done here," says Salemo. "That's our background."
The company is currently focused exclusively on brewing, but Merrick isn't ruling out projects for other industries. "Everybody likes to eat," he jokes.
Favorite beers: Altitude's founding partners are equal opportunity quaffers. "I like them all," says Merrick.
"Same," says Saemo. "I'm willing to try anything."
Challenges: Marketing is the big one for 2019. "Getting ourselves out there," says Salemo. "We're relying on our salesperson, Alan Coon."
Opportunities: With the products' launch, Salemo and Merrick are aiming at Colorado first, then look to other states and countries by early 2020.
It's all about process improvement for craft breweries. "This industry is growing up pretty quickly right now," says Salemo.
After getting some traction with CanSquatch and Themis, the strategy is to introduce more products for the brewing industry. Porting Themis to bottles is another possibility; canned wine, canned cocktails, and canned coffees are also potential markets.
Cannabis is a potential market. "Obviously, if we can get into CBD or some area in the grow industry, that would be an opportunity we would entertain," says Salemo.
Adds Merrick: "I'm sure weight is very important to them."
Needs: "We are very conservative from a financial standpoint and we have done all of our development in-house," says Salemo. "We need our sales guy to sell."
More room is another need: "We'll probably need to get a larger space," says Salemo.
And Merrick points to talent. "That's historically a problem," he says. "We're losing out on the trades."