Case Study Automation and Materials Handling

Heavy Barrel Handling - Drain and fill line

Whisky casks offer a unique and important materials handling challenge by the very nature of their variable size and shape. As an essential part of the whisky production process, finding safe and efficient means of moving barrels during the drain and fill process is a materials handling challenge.

Most casks come in various sizes from about 200 to 650 litres. A 200 litre barrel and 250 litre hogshead are the most common sizes. A hogshead is essentially a barrel made from the staves of a bourbon cask with new oak ends. A butt is the standard size cask used for maturing sherry, with a capacity of approximately 475-500 litres.

L.B. Foster Automation & Materials Handling has successfully delivered heavy barrel handling projects for a number of internationally acclaimed distilleries.


Draining and filling whisky casks demands an exceptionally heavy duty conveyor specification. In some instances, this can include the capability of handling double stacked pallets, as well as different pallet sizes.

Due to the hazardous manufacturing environment within which whisky is produced, heavy barrel handling conveyor systems are also required to be ATEX rated.

The ATEX Directive consists of two EU directives describing what equipment and working conditions are allowed in an environment with an explosive atmosphere. Brewers and distillers handle flammable (explosible) materials so must comply with ATEX 1999/92/EC Directive or in the UK DSEAR 2002 Regulations. These ensure workplaces are safe from fire and explosion risk.

L.B. Foster Automation & Materials Handling are experts in the design, installation and commissioning of complex materials handling and automated manufacturing solutions for the luxury beverage markets. Our solutions conform with ATEX 2014/34/ EU (previously 94/9/EC) for industries that supply equipment into hazardous areas.


  • 27m roller conveyor
  • 24m chain conveyor
  • Operator controlled bung removal machine
  • Automated cask boring machine
  • Automated pneumatic tilting conveyor
  • 132 casks per hour throughput.
  • Two different pallet sizes, maximum pallet mass of 2200 kg
  • Infeed and outfeed chain conveyors capable of handling double stacked pallets to a maximum load of 5000 kg
  • Pneumatically operated 90 degree transfer conveyors, capable of transferring 2200 kg pallets x 4 -1.2m wide operator platform with x 3 control stations and x 1 HMI
  • ATEX rated equipment.

Our solution

L.B. Foster Automation & Materials Handling designed, manufactured and commissioned a high performance drain and fill line capable of handling up to 132 whisky casks per hour. The line incorporates a special, automated pneumatic tilting conveyor. The conveyor tilts to a four degree angle, enabling disgorging of casks following the automated removal of the cask’s bung.

L.B. Foster’s automated conveyor solution combined a number of innovative, added value features with a traditional roller and chain conveyor. The drain and fill line incorporates infeed and outfeed chain conveyors capable of handling double stacked pallets with a maximum load of 5000 kg.

Integral to the line’s specification is the capability to accommodate two different pallet sizes, with a maximum pallet mass of 2200 kg. Further innovations include an automated cask boring machine and four pneumatically operated, 90 degree transfer conveyors capable of transferring 2200 kg pallets.

What they said

“The Drain and Fill Line is at the heart of our production. With the help of L.B. Foster’s team of expert engineers a number of innovations were designed into the final solution. These included the capability to handle some serious weight - up to 5000 kg. We are very pleased with the final outcome and it is on view to the thousands of visitors we get at the distillery each year.”