Equipment Logistics Talk with Cole Hackbarth, Rhinegeist Brewing

Major production upgrades — be it a new brewhouse, packaging line, tank farm or any litany of projects — will always take longer and cost more than you think. The amount of logistics experience a brewer has in buying and installing equipment will greatly affect the impact of the inevitable unforeseen, but Murphy’s Law will always prove true no matter how well you plan said Cole Hackbarth of Cincinnati’s Rhinegeist Brewing.

Hackbarth, the brewery’s Operations Manager who did a similar job for Los Angeles’ Golden Road Brewing, said that there are three factors that play into contracting equipment and services: cost, quality and speed.

“The best you can hope for is to get two of those variables in your favor, you will never get all three,” he said. “You can get equipment cheap and fast, but it will be low quality. If you want it high quality and fast, it’s gonna cost you.”

When scoping new equipment there are several things Hackbarth looks for.

“Of course price and availability are a big part, but other factors like technical service/support, and reputation can be equally as important,” he said. “This is where having good relationships with other brewers can be very helpful. If you buy from the same company as another local brewer, not only do you have someone to help troubleshoot issues and keep more spare parts close, but you are also more likely to get visits from the OEM as they can see multiple customers in the same trip.”

Hackbarth said being such a customer for can filling helped in that process since Rhinegeist and Sun King in Indianapolis share the same manufacture.

“Anytime CFT services one of our machines, they usually swing by to check in on the other one,” Hackbarth explained. “This is also useful in vetting equipment before making a purchase. If you can go see it run and get the operators opinions you will have a much better evaluation and know what to expect, rather than just taking the sales engineers word for it.”

Hackbarth used many of the same vendors at Rhinegeist as he did at Golden Road.

“This is due to quality equipment of course, but also my previous familiarity made commissioning and training much easier and faster,” he said.

When Golden commissioned a 4-vessel 50-barrel Braukon brewhouse they were tweaking recipes for several months, trying to flavor match what was coming off a 2-vessel 15-BBL Premier.

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“When I made the move to Rhinegeist I was able to use that experience to scale from a 3-vessel 20-BBL JVNW to a 4-vessel 60-BBL Braukon and hit specs and flavor on our flagship “Truth” IPA on the second batch  and fifth total brew,” he said.

That being said, Hackbarth will explore new equipment if the circumstances are right. When shopping for a centrifuge at Rhinegeist he got quotes from two companies he  had previous experience with and Flottweg, which at the time had yet to install any machines in the United States.

“We took the chance on Flottweg because their U.S. headquarters was only 20 minutes away and they had a smart, hardworking tech support team,” Hackbarth said. “It has been a win for both our companies to have a well serviced machine in their backyard.”

When it comes to shipping and installing equipment there are many ways to do it, and many companies willing to help.

For overseas shipments Hackbarth says he defers to the equipment vendors preferred shipper and importer, as they will be familiar with how to mark the containers and what to write on the bill of lading and importation documents to ensure it moves smoothly through customs and onto a truck for delivery.

On domestic shipments, he said he shops around a few carriers as shipping prices vary by day or location and transport companies will often mark up the cost 200-300 percent or more.

Once the equipment arrives the decision to use a rigging company or to do it in-house comes down to personal comfort level and technical understanding versus the associated risk, and cost of failure.

“Most equipment for breweries 20,000 BBLS or less per year is easy enough to set with just a forklift and chain hoist,” Hackbarth said. “Larger than that and the risk goes up quickly with multi-million dollar investments on the line. I prefer to use a good and well insured rigging company for the big installs as cranes and street closures come into play.”

When buying any equipment, especially automated, always get everything in writing, Hackbarth noted. This includes discounts, timelines, equipment speeds/yields, etc.

“FAT (factory acceptance testing) is important to schedule and be present for,” he added. “It forces the vendor to set up and test the machine before shipping which can bring to light process changes or equipment failures that can then be addressed easily at the factory. Waiting until delivery at the brewery to get a first look can cost you time and money waiting for parts to ship or techs to mobilize, especially from overseas vendors.”

Most vendors will suggest having one of their commissioning engineers onsite, and that is well worth the money.

“They should be the most qualified and fastest person to get you up and running,” Hackbarth said. “This also allows you to hold the vendor responsible to ensure all the promises you had contracted were met during commissioning.”

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