Brewing Faster With Process Management

Anyone who has been around the manufacturing industry has likely heard of Lean or other similar manufacturing methodologies.  As brewing is a manufacturing process, elements of such methodologies can be applied. Beginning process improvement is in of itself time consuming but the long term benefits will result in faster brewing, increased quality, improved product consistency, and for the commercial operator lower costs, less waste, and improved on-time delivery.  While delving into how process management can help a commercial operation is beyond the scope of this article, this introduction serves to start everyone from the homebrewer to commercial brewer thinking how they can improve their processes.

Brew House Organization Leads to Brewing Faster

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One of the simplest tasks of process improvement begins with organizing the brewhouse.  There are a few ways to approach organization. One is to keep like items together and another is to keep items required for individual processes together.  The former is helpful to maintain a logical order while the latter is beneficial for maximum time efficiency by having all items a process requires in one spot.  In some instances, one item may be needed for multiple processes. As having duplicate items is often unrealistic in the home brewery, a hybrid between the two approaches may work well.

Labeling everything will also help make it easy to identify items, speed up inventory time, and shorten cleanup.  Going even further, building shadow boxes or shadow boards will create greater improvements as it will only take the quickest glance to know where an item belongs or identify if something did not get put away.  The internet has plenty of information on shadow boards and boxes for further information.

Keeping the brewery clean and free of clutter also helps with maintaining organization and limits the potential for forgetting to do something like add a hop addition because it was lost on a cluttered table top.  As most home brewers do not have the luxury of a dedicated brewing area, make sure to start the brewing process by having the area clean and during the brewing process clean as you go.

Process Flow

An orderly brewhouse goes only so far in speeding up brewing.  Mapping out the processes of brewing and then breaking down individual processes will help develop knowledge of how long each process should take and at what point it can be accomplished to maximize the use of time.  Once the process is mapped, identifying weaknesses is much easier.

To begin, establish the basic steps of the process and then plug those into a process chart.  Following is how my process flows:  recipe development, acquiring ingredients, equipment setup, ingredient preparation, brewing, fermenting, and bottling/kegging.

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This overview provides a beginning structure as each above step can be further broken down into sub processes which is where this exercise begins yielding results.  There are a few ways developing data for sub processes can be approached.  First, mentally map out the process and fill in the blanks while performing the process. Second, go through the process and take detailed notes along the way. Finally, have someone who is knowledgeable watch the process and take notes.  The last is the most ideal as it allows the processes to occur without the distraction of data collection.

For an example of data collection for sub processes let us look at what might be a typical brew day for many, Equipment Setup through Brew.  The only thing that is required for this is a notepad and a couple of stopwatches. Use one stopwatch for processes with delays, such as heating the hot liquor tank (HLT) and the other stopwatch for tasks you are completing while delay processes are occurring. For processes that do not have delays, do one at a time to ensure accurate time data.  Once the brew day is complete log the data into a chart and graph. Below is the raw data for brewing on a HERMS system with 20 gallon kettles and 5500w heating elements in the HLT and boil kettle (BK):

chart12

If all steps were done one at a time the brew day would take 453.5 minute or just shy of a eight hours, which is exactly what we are trying to avoid.  However, as most brewers have already intuitively understood, some things can be done while waiting for processes with down time, or a delay. Taking that into consideration a flowchart can be built.  Below the brown ovals represent the beginning and end of the process, the blue squares represent an individual process, and the green “D” represents a delay process.

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By using process delays to accomplish other tasks the brew day has been reduced to 355.5 minutes or just shy of six hours for a two hour savings.  A closer look reveals that there is plenty of down time remaining.  For instance, under the “heat strike water” delay, the processes consume only 46 minutes, leaving an extra 14 minutes of delay before the next process can begin.  This is where another consideration that has not been fully addressed comes into play.  Between each process is the time it takes to transition from one to the next.  With so many small processes, the transition times can easily exceed the extra 14 minutes of delay time takes us back to brew house organization.  Coming around full circle, transition time is greatly reduced by having an orderly brew house where all items for a process are setup for easy access.

However, transition times still do not fully utilize delay time.  The process of mashing and mashing out has 75 minutes of un-utilized down time.   This is where other brewhouse jobs can be completed, such as kegging, bottling, inventory and ordering, playing Xbox, lunch etc.

Conclusion

This only scratches the surface of developing a process and many of these steps in one form or another are already intuitively included in many brewer’s process.  These tools serve to highlight some of the basic concepts in developing a process and system in a way that comes together synergistically to yield a faster brew day with fewer errors and more consistent results.

About the Author: From starter kit to 1/2 barrel electric, carboys to stainless conicals, bottles to barrel aging, ice baths to glycol, brewing fads to lonely roads, Ben S. has been brewing for 15 years.  A two year old son helping in the brew house he hopes to use brewing to teach him art and science while keeping his lovely wife happy with a never ending source of IPAs.

written by chris

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4 comments on “Brewing Faster With Process Management”

  • I've worked for Toyota in the auto plants for 28 years. What you're describing in your article is a simple yet effective method similar to some of the tools in Toyota Production System (TPS). We are constantly applying these tools to are Homebrew house. Every time we brew and in between brews we are making adjustments and Kaizen's (improvements). One thing that is critical is to build standards. 335.5 was your new standard to be used as a benchmark. By doing so you can the measure if your Kaizen's were effective and by how much. Without standards you can not make improvements. Each process should have a standardized work. This documents the major steps, key points, and reasons that the procedure is performed. By doing things the same way, changes can be documented and measured. I could go on forever and dive down deeper but that's for another day. Awesome job on the article and look forward to reading more.

    Reply
    • Thanks Ted, that is good praise from someone with a great deal of experience in the TPS. I wanted to go very high altitude with this article to get people to start thinking towards process improvement. IMO there is a balance for the hobbyist that such tools can be used to make the process more enjoyable because they result in better outcomes while not going overboard and making it monotonous. Perhaps I'll deep dive later.

      Reply
  • Awesome thanks for sharing. You've provided much more time to sample product in between steps ;)

    Reply
  • Good article.

    Reply
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