Robots aid whisky barrel coopers

The latest technology is changing how wooden whisky casks are made at Scotland's newest cooperage

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Cutting edge robot technology is being used to enhance the ancient tradition of whisky barrel cooperage.

The hi-tech systems have been installed at a new custom-designed £10m cooperage near Alloa in Clackmannanshire.

Diageo said the systems at their Cambus plant had never been used in a cooperage and would improve the working lives of the coopers.

The project comes after Diageo cut 900 jobs at its Kilmarnock and Glasgow sites in 2009.

The losses were offset by the creation of about 400 posts at a packaging plant at Leven in Fife.

The 40 coopers at the new plant will craft a quarter of a million casks a year.

Start Quote

With the machinery you have it's not as sore on the old bones”

End Quote Callum Bruce Cooper

Each one weighs 85kg (188lb) and were traditionally lifted by hand into the kiln to be fired and sealed.

Callum Bruce, 51, has worked as a cooper for 35 years and said he was feeling the difference.

He said: "I'm not any youngster and the limbs are getting a bit sore now, and I think the machinery helps that aspect of things.

"It certainly helps when you're working away. With the machinery you have it's not as sore on the old bones."

The Diageo team worked closely with engineering firm CI Logistics to design conveyors for moving the casks around the cooperage, between the hand-craft elements of the process.

Similar systems are used in car factories around the world and the company said the result was the world's most "innovative cooperage".

Training ground

But Grain Distilling Director Richard Bedford said machinery would never replace men when it comes to coopering.

He said: "We're investing heavily in apprentices, we've had 16 apprentices here in the last five years, we've built an apprentice school into the cooperage here where we've currently got eight apprentices training at the moment.

"We are determined to keep the craft and skill of coopering alive, that's very important to us."

The casks built by the coopers will be filled with whisky and stored in the bonded warehouses that stand alongside the cooperage. It is the largest bond in Europe and already holds 3 million casks.

The new Cambus cooperage will be officially opened on Monday morning by the Earl of Wessex, an Honorary Member of the Incorporation of Coopers.

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