Staff at the Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev) brewery in Leuven, Belgium took Boston Dynamics’ Spot robot on a test run in 2022 to see how many mechanical issues or air leaks it could find in the sprawling facility. Less than two hours later, they were ready to offer the robot a full-time job.

In the year since, Spot has become a key part of AB InBev’s “Brewery of the Future” program, which invests in emerging technology to support the company’s ambition of achieving net-zero operations at the Leuven facility by 2028. Spot conducts 1,800 individual inspections each week across ten packaging lines that churn out over 50,000  containers of Stella Artois, Budweiser, and Corona beer every hour. In its first six months of deployment, Spot discovered nearly 150 anomalies and slashed average repair times from a few months to a mere 13 days.

“Our machinery experiences a lot of wear over time, so predictive maintenance is a top priority,” said David Sönksen-Gregory, strategic projects acceleration manager at AB InBev. “Spot is seeing more than double the anomalies we were expecting, but we’re also now able to make repairs and see performance increases and energy reduction within the brewery.”


inspections per week


anomalies detected in the first 6 months

13 days

average repair time

Europe’s Landmark Brewery

With local roots dating back to 1366, the Leuven facility is world famous for its age, as well as being the largest brewery in Europe. Established in 1992, the current facility covers the equivalent of 30 soccer fields, with four brewing houses and over 800 employees.

The packaging floor is a labyrinth of stainless steel piping and conveyor belts that move bottles and cans through the filling and packaging process. Intricate machinery—including pumps, compressors, gearboxes, and conveyor motors—are critical for production.

“You would think that a conveyor belt is fairly simple, but there are thousands of motors and even more bearings that guide the belt,” said Staf Vanzurpele, a plant technical expert in the brewery’s maintenance department. “It is quite a challenge to keep all of them in top condition.”

At this scale, any mechanical issue that threatens to slow or halt production is a major concern, especially since the packaging lines operate around the clock when not under repair. Preventing unscheduled downtime means identifying mechanical problems before they reach critical failure.

“It is very important for us to make sure a line does not shut down at unexpected times due to crashes or errors on our machines,” said Yentl Degeyter, a line owner in packaging. “We can only achieve zero downtime by ensuring we can predict when a particular machine will exhibit faults so we can perform our maintenance in advance.”

The advantage of working with Spot is that the technicians can concentrate on fixing the problems Spot detected. We have been able to solve a whole number of problems with Spot, especially on motors that were overheating.

Staf Vanzurpele, Plant Technical Expert

Joining the Team

Spot initially caused quite a stir during its first weeks of deployment in early 2023. Employees responded with a mixture of amazement and curiosity, treating Spot like a celebrity. However, over time, employees came to consider the robot more of a colleague than a machine.

“When you see Spot walking around in an area, it brings a smile to people’s faces,” said plant manager Olivier Maillet. “For us in the brewery, it’s our dog and it’s a colleague that’s helping our operating procedures and our sustainability agenda. So everybody’s looking at Spot in a really positive way.”

Finding Hotspots and Air Leaks

Spot currently focuses on two types of inspections: thermal and acoustic. When mechanical parts begin to wear out, they tend to generate heat. Spot uses a thermal camera to provide visual evidence of excess heat emanating from problem areas. Spot simply points the camera up at a specific piece of equipment and captures an image.

In one case, Spot identified a faulty transport motor that would have shut down a packaging line for at least 6 hours. Spot has also discovered gearboxes low on oil and faulty motor fans. By performing these tedious, repetitive inspections, Spot frees up staff to focus on repairs.

“The advantage of working with Spot is that the technicians can concentrate on fixing the problems Spot detected,” said Vanzurpele, who has worked at the brewery for 26 years. “We have been able to solve a whole number of problems with Spot, especially on motors that were overheating.”

As for air leaks, Spot uses a Fluke SV600 acoustic sensor that identifies the characteristic sound frequencies produced when compressed air escapes under pressure. Prior to Spot, the maintenance team had to shut down entire packaging lines to listen for leaks. Spot can identify leaks amidst the hum and clatter of normal operations.

“We’re identifying things that even when you’re standing right next to it, you can’t hear it because the background noise is just covering up that decibel,” said Sönksen-Gregory.

Pinpoint Accuracy

The majority of anomalies Spot finds are leaks of compressed air and other gasses, the cost of which adds up quickly the longer they remain undetected. For example, Sönksen-Gregory estimates the average cost of an air leak as $550 in wasted product. Leaks of ammonia and other expensive gasses can create losses of up to $15,000. Even when staff can smell a gas leak, Spot can find the exact location within seconds.

“One day the safety department called asking if Spot could help them pinpoint a very small ammonia leak,” said Sönksen-Gregory. “Spot found it and we repaired it instantly. Ammonia is something like ten times more expensive than CO2.”

Easy to Operate

Two small teams have received training to operate Spot. The brewery has several zones, each with a designated “robot wrangler” who identifies inspection points and programs the robot’s missions. Sönksen-Gregory says anyone who can play a video game can learn how to operate Spot in less than 15 minutes. Creating a mission is as easy as maneuvering Spot to a given point along a production line and using a multitouch tablet to set and name an action.

“You can create a simple mission in five minutes or a complex mission with 50 or 40 inspection points in under one hour,” said Sönksen-Gregory. “The advantage with using Spot is that we’re able to continuously and accurately reproduce the same measurements—and keep reproducing those results—day in, day out.”

An operator stands behind Spot, setting up an autonomous inspection route on the Spot tablet controller

Reliable Reporting

When Spot discovers an issue, it sends an alert via email to brewery and packaging managers. Even if the matter doesn’t require immediate action, Spot enters it into the system. Such a large volume of data helps the Leuven team prioritize the most urgent repairs.

“Spot will generate a number of work orders for us in advance through its autonomous rounds,” said Degeyter. “Spot takes away certain workloads we would normally have to do ourselves, allowing us to focus 100 percent on the preventive maintenance itself, which saves us time.”

Potential New Roles

Even while the maintenance team intends for Spot to focus on the packaging lines for the time being, there is growing interest in having the robot conduct inspections in other departments. In one case, Spot checked for leaks inside a CO2-only environment that would have otherwise required a technician to put on a bulky breathing apparatus. Spot trotted in without issue and found two leaks within 20 minutes. It’s one more example of Spot’s inspection capabilities.

“This is not where we will stop or want to stop,” said Maillet. “We have additional brewing facilities, utilities and water treatment departments. We can use Spot for safety inspections in all of these areas. The solutions Spot can deliver are potentially endless.”

Swift ROI

Sönksen-Gregory says Spot has been so effective in increasing the speed and efficiency of repairs, he expects the robot will pay for itself within the first year.

“When you say a one-year payback to companies, that’s the golden light bulb moment,” he said. “You always want a more efficient organization because that provides stability and further investment opportunities, like we’re now doing with Boston Dynamics.”