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Manufacturing = Beer

Updated: Feb 1, 2021

Figuring out how to explain my company to people who do not work in manufacturing has been a constant struggle. A mentor recommended creating a metaphor with something familiar to everyone and mentioned a recipe. After some thought, a lightbulb went off. The most process dependent recipe that I know is making beer.

Beer is made from 4 ingredients: barley, hops, yeast and water. So, beer making should be simple, right? Unfortunately, that is not the case. Making beer is a complex process and mistakes made along the way can turn something that should be delicious into something that gets poured down the drain. It takes 2 weeks typically to make beer and it sucks to have a batch go to waste due to bad processing.

When beer is made, the grains are crushed, then soaked in warm water to extract the sugars. After the sugars are extracted, the liquid is moved to a kettle then boiled. Hops are added during the boil. After the boil, the goal is to bring the temperature down quickly so that the yeast can be added. After the yeast works, the beer is siphoned off the yeast and can be consumed.

Several things can go wrong in this process. For example, if the liquid touches contaminated equipment, an infection can occur, and you will end up with a vinegar flavor. Vinegar is great on fries, but certainly not beer. When the beer is on the yeast for too long, you can end up with beer that tastes like rotten garbage. If there is too much air exposure, the beer will resemble cardboard. These can all be prevented with good process steps defined and process controls.

For companies that manufacture parts for other manufacturers, they often do not own the design of the parts. Their customer provides them with the design and other specifications, such as material requirements. The manufacturer defines how the design will be met by creating a manufacturing process. In order to make sure that the output is correct, process controls are considered. Usually, their customer must approve these, along with a sample set of parts before they can make production parts. Any delays or quality issues can cost money, waste time and damage customer relationships. Our goal is to make sure these companies only end up with tasty beer.

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