Tipping Points: How Equipment Maintenance Evolves with Brewery Growth

The more you’ve experienced equipment downtime, the more familiar you will be with the realities of lost revenue and employee frustration. There are tipping points at which a solution is needed to get downtime and maintenance tasks under control.

Those tipping points are different for every brewery and team. At Uptime Dynamics , we’ve had clients come to us with annual barrel production of 2,000 all the way up to 25,000 - at various stages in their growth, but all looking for a better way to manage equipment maintenance tasks. Meeting their needs is a bit more complex than knowing how many barrels they produce. Today we’ll provide a bit of context on how your equipment’s condition, the knowledge and technical capabilities of your team, and equipment usage rates all shape your equipment maintenance needs. We’ll focus on the key pivot points where “good enough” stops working, and how to re-chart your course for sustainable growth.

The Early Days: When Vendor Visits are (Almost) Enough

The most common strategy we see in younger breweries is splitting the small stuff among team members and relying on outside service providers for major equipment and small maintenance items. With new equipment, this approach makes sense - a 6 month check up is effective and affordable. The downside to this approach comes when equipment usage increases with brewery growth.

I’ll use canners as an example. A brand new 4 head unit runs flawless for the 8 hours it runs a week. However as your  brewery increases production, you may notice usage of the canning machine slowly increasing to 24 to 32 hours a week. With the use increase comes wear increases and the canning line starts to malfunction. The lid dropper starts to bind, the de-pall doesn't unload properly, the system has air leaks everywhere, and so on. This is when the cost of lost production and service costs increase, and where we find most breweries looking for a system with more control.

Searching for the Silver Bullet: A Growing Brewery Explores Equipment Maintenance Options

The next maintenance jump is typically a computerized maintenance management software (CMMS). CMMS solutions can be affordable and powerful tools. All modern CMMS are capable of managing cyclical due dates, equipment data, and issue tracking. Online platforms provide a way view task progress and crowdsource the maintenance initiative by providing multiple users the ability to see maintenance tasks and maintain the equipment.

There are a lot of options out there, and where most maintenance software companies fail to advertise is their products come as blank templates. Data building – defining what equipment needs to be serviced when and in what way – is the tricky task on which traditional CMMS. It is time consuming, technical, and requires a large amount of equipment knowledge to be done in an effective and scalable way. As a result, many breweries and other types of manufacturers struggle to recognize value with CMMS. Without the right information in the system, people just don’t use it.

Solutions that Stick: Ingraining SOPs for Maintenance and Compliance in the Brewhouse

Most breweries really find their footing with maintenance and compliance when they hire a qualified maintenance technician. They are present to perform preventative maintenance checks, make daily rounds, and ideally catch small issues before they become major problems. If something breaks or goes down, there is an internal resource to diagnose, repair, or call in outside help as needed. The added bonus of a maintenance technician is that their work occurs outside of daily operations, allowing them to split time on maintenance and special projects like getting a new fermenter installed or get the still in the brew space hooked up and operational. A qualified and dedicated maintenance technician is irreplaceable in a larger brew house.

The downsides of hiring a maintenance technician is the challenge of finding a qualified applicant at a reasonable price point, who’s equipped to achieve system-level goals. Often maintenance technicians are expected to build technical data from scratch with little to no resources in an area that is not their specialty. They can fix anything, but may not have the skills to build a forward looking maintenance program from scratch. Without help or assistance most maintenance technicians may struggle to get out ahead, and the system will stay reactive.

The In-Betweeners

The majority of our clients are interested in a maintenance tech or CMMS software, but lacking the in house expertise to build out a comprehensive maintenance program. We’ve been able to offer a turnkey solution to prevent downtime and optimize routine maintenance with a process that combines their team’s local knowledge, their equipment’s manufacturer data, and our systems and safety expertise.

We love working with Maintenance Techs, but we’re also here to chat before you make that key hire. You’ll be amazed how much more a dedicated Maintenance Tech can achieve once you have SOPs and mobile maintenance management system in place.

Thomas Smillie