Crafting maintenance best practices for your brewery

Crafting maintenance best practices for your brewery

June 20, 2024
"The upper level of the microbreweries are starting to take maintenance seriously. That's the transition phase, and above that it's a requirement – you can't maintain that capacity without it."

Corey Dickens, CMRP, is a senior solutions consultant at Brightly, and describes himself as a maintenance practitioner and CMMS super user. Hs career has taken him into a wide variety of plants and industrial facilities, and recently he presented on maintenance best practices to the Craft Brewers Conference. In this conversation with chief editor Thomas Wilk, Dickens explains why some brewers refer to it as "equipment caretaking" and the hunger among brew pubs and micro breweries for maintenance knowledge.

Listen to Corey Dickens on Great Question: A Manufacturing Podcast

PS: What kind of conversations came out of your presentation? Did the attendees at the conference recognize what you were saying? Was there an untapped hunger for knowledge about how you manage these facilities better?

CD: I've spoken to that conference two years in a row. The first year was probably about 15 to 20 people, still more than I expected and the positioning was how to sell technology internally. It was brewing interest in technology. But I brought it around a maintenance because that's my experience, right? 

Well, this year was like back to the basics, get back to maintenance management being effective at it, and what does it mean for breweries, because again there's untapped potential there if you know how to tap in. If you understand, if you can assess the problem and understand, hey, this is an opportunity for us to grow, then you must understand, OK, what does maintenance management actually mean? If you Google “maintenance management” right now, you're going to be bombarded by every solution provider of every type, with their white paper on maintenance management, different pillars and histograms and everything. 

So, it was like a back to the basics and this year was over 40-something people and I started my session with, “y’all are here to talk about maintenance, right? I just want to make sure you’re in the right room. We're talking about maintenance.” Everyone just nodded, and I only had three maintenance people in the audience. The rest were business leaders. A shift that happened that I didn't notice was they have all these committees under the Brewers Association, where they put industry standards out, help guide people in best practices. They've had an engineering subcommittee, and I don't know when the shift happened, but also now I just noticed it's “maintenance and engineering.” 

I was like, now they're using the word. The year before I talked to someone, they're like, “we don't call it maintenance, we call it equipment caretaking.” OK, I don't care what you call it. Your job is to maintain the asset at a desired level or desired condition, right? And when it goes wrong, you repair it. As a business leader, then you need to collect enough information to drive some asset management principles: “Hey, we bought a vat tank or a fermenter brewhouse second-hand last time. Maybe this time we have enough information to understand we need the design for these type of things from these OEMs.”

PS: You answered the question I was going to ask, which was, of the people in the session, how many were maintenance professionals? And you said, 3 out of 40.

CD: It was funny because it I think it was a sponsored session, but I don't lean into the Brightly name obnoxiously, it was a little thumbnail at the bottom. And then it's like, do you have one that you recommend? I’m like, yeah, let's talk after this. But honestly it comes back to, are you the only maintenance person? Is there multiple? Is it a full team? What are we talking about? What's the other infrastructure? And again, not just CMMS, I’ve told people many times, “you can do this without any software – without any additional software,” I want to make sure I'm keeping that clear. “I still want you to digitize a lot of this because that acts as a tribal knowledge capture, as a knowledge database.”

I left my company in better position than when I showed up because I started documenting my processes. So again, who's the landscaper we call to trim trees after a weather storm? Who's the HVAC contractor? Who's our plumbing? Who do we call for these different facets of business that maybe we only touch once or twice a year? I know how to take care of a loom. I know who my suppliers for those OEM parts are. I don't know about all the other peripherals that, now as a brewery, you started concocting something, fermenting it, bottling and selling, and now you're in charge of a facility. That's a liability and an asset at the same time, and you want to make sure you maintain that. A lot of breweries are so successful, they're actually building their own facilities. It's like, let's put the processes in place to ensure you achieve design life of this asset.

PS: So when it comes to craft brewers, not only the large Anheuser Busch’s, but the craft brewers, would you say that's about where they're at, where they're developing out these processes and just starting documentation? Are they at the point where they're having some of their team writing maintenance job plans on how to take care of specific assets?

CD: There's a few levels there, right? So I think they call those the large breweries, maybe the regional breweries. At the micro breweries, they measure things in barrels, barrel output per year. So brew pubs are generally 5,000 or less barrels per year, your micro brews go up to about 15,000 barrels per year. There's some microbreweries that do well above that, and still fall into that category for whatever reason, and then your reach number is to 15,000 barrels or more. 

The upper level of the microbreweries are starting to take maintenance seriously. That's the transition phase, and above that it's a requirement – you can't maintain that capacity without it. So at the lower level it's a little bit of awareness and again a lot of people are speaking on it. They have to kind of start professionalizing the industry. There's a place for hobby brew, 100%, I don't ever want to take that away because it is an art. And if you start to professionalize too much, you remove the innovation, the crafting, the craft beer and everything kind of becomes the same, too much of a business. But the good ones are developing those business processes, those best practices, and they're seeking out the knowledge. And again, I was surprised I had that many people show up to talk about maintenance.

PS: That's great though. It's good to see that these audiences have an awareness of the importance of maintenance to what they're trying to get done.

CD: They're realizing, and again, that's because they've been running for a few years now and then things are starting to catch up. You don't know what you buy sometimes, and things do have an initial kind of honeymoon phase, and then they start giving you some headaches.

PS; Yeah, this has been a couple of years now, it was pre-COVID, I want to say 2018 or 2019 with a conference in San Francisco for OSIsoft, and I met someone who was digitizing the processes for wine-making. It was a craft artisanal place that she had begun, but then she was using Pi to help better understand, what were the conditions which generated the best wines, and could she repeat those. 

So she was documenting some simple things like temperature, pressure, things like that to see what she could do. Are these craft brewers, or are the people you talk to, are they at that point where they do have some key parameters they’re sensing to ensure quality, and maybe is that quality awareness leading to discussions of things like OEE?

CD: Yes and no. They are very much so becoming more digitized. A lot of these OEMs now are, you know, pushing it. Obviously PLCs are big, valve controls. You wheel around a cart, smaller operations with a centrifugal pump, to pump from the brewhouse to a fermenter, all these different tanks. So it's there, but how's it connected? And can I have the peace of mind of being the head brewer at home pulling up an app on my phone and seeing that my glycol pump is still running. Because if you lose that, you may lose an entire tank, and that's many, many gallons, and you literally watch the money pour out. My favorite one is that meme of the guy going to do a sample or a test, and he opens a little hatch of a full tank and it starts just spewing out, and I'm like, it’s just money down the drain, literally. 

So they are digitizing. Some of the bigger ones are enticed by OEE, but again I think there are those elementary steps that may be taken before that point. Come back to like, why are we doing it? What's our mission and vision? Do we want to grow or are we just trying to maximize the current process? I recommend OEE, because it allows you to see inefficiencies, allows you to see areas of constraints and your detractors from your overall OEE, and then gives you an area to improve.

I think there's many, many steps to get to that point. I don't want people jumping from, you know, I have no maintainer, and then all of a sudden I'm calculating OEE, and then with that information we don't do anything with it. What’s the point of calculating some of this stuff if you're not going to do anything with it? So I think there are some elementary steps to maybe put in place, and I think they're becoming aware of that.

We'll see how much other industries start to market towards that industry and see what comes about. We work with Siemens, and Siemens has a brewery automation system, BRAUMAT, and it's full automation and control, with recipe control and flow control and everything, almost a fully automated brewery setup. Obviously there's a size and a place for that in an environment, and those are typically the people that have maintenance and they have inventory control and they have all these steps in place. But I think it’s moving towards that direction and I think those committees are doing great work to document a maturity curve for brewers to follow.

PS: We'll get you out of here on this one. I'm curious because again, these are smaller sized companies. How would you assess the maturity of these non-traditional manufacturers, these smaller brewers against the same-size companies in more traditional manufacturing, like say a small candy maker or a small parts maker to supply automotive? Would you say that the craft brewers are about the same level of maturity or that they could take a few lessons from similar sized companies and other sectors on how they wanted to build out their processes?

CD: That's a good question, I don't think I've given much thought to it. I see universal similarities across the board. I mean, I talk about it often, right? My military experience, and I love manufacturing and I love talking about how our problems most of the time come back to people, so they are universal. We'll never fix them all, right, and that's fine, we're imperfect by nature, but I think they could strike similarities. 

Just like any industry, there are maturities or there are markers about the business that you can use to identify, but at that point it still comes down to the people and what is their mission or vision, and that's going to help you: are you comfortable where you are, or do you want to grow? I haven't seen an actual maturity curve for them, but I have helped our company develop what are the markers we're looking for? People who are a good fit for our solutions, versus just going to these conferences and providing free education without the need of pitching a software. 

Just become brilliant at the basics, right? Do it, and do it well, let's use the same terminology, so next time you do search something, instead of “equipment caretaking” and getting few results, now search “maintenance.” Now search a very specific type of maintenance or specific function of maintenance, right? You know, you talked about RCM or FMEA or RCA before this, and if they can start becoming more aware of these terms as well, and then leveraging the information we already have, and then apply that to their situation? I mean, why have many different niche spin-offs? We're all talking about the same essence, the same core thing.

PS: Yeah, I'm imagining next year at this time, when Reliable Plant returns to Schaumburg, IL, there's a lot of craft brewers around Chicago and the more they're aware of conferences like this and best practices, the more they'll be able to come to share their knowledge and learn from other people’s insights.

CD: There's a saying that I took from the founder of CrossFit, Greg Glassman. I used to be into CrossFit and I was a Level 1 coach, and one of his sayings was our needs as humans differ by degree, not by kind. He was talking about fitness. Whether you do CrossFit, or you do power lifting or bodybuilding, we need to exercise, and those are different types of exercises but the core is the same. I say our approach to maintenance differs by degree, not by kind. I don't care if you're a craft brewer, I don't care if you're a facility manager for an education facility. I don't care if you're a facility engineer for healthcare, or you’re a maintenance manager in manufacturing – maintenance is the same thing. We're all trying to achieve the same end goal, just to different degrees, and we may use different degrees of maturity or different degrees of approaches to achieve our desired outcome.

About the Author

Thomas Wilk | editor in chief

Thomas Wilk joined Plant Services as editor in chief in 2014. Previously, Wilk was content strategist / mobile media manager at Panduit. Prior to Panduit, Tom was lead editor for Battelle Memorial Institute's Environmental Restoration team, and taught business and technical writing at Ohio State University for eight years. Tom holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from Ohio State University

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