Production Scheduling in Large Versus Small Brewers

3/9/22 2:30 PM




One of the most important considerations in production planning and scheduling is the industry being planned. For instance, it is important not to approach, much less model a cheese plant as you would a toy plant.

What is generally less well known is that is also important to consider other differences that exist even within the production of a nearly identical product, but which is produced at different companies.

In this article one of the more interesting and most significant differences in how production scheduling is performed is discussed, for what seems to be a simple item. These scheduling differences however are not based upon the product made, but instead based upon the volume of production and the size of the company performing the manufacturing process. 

Large Versus Smaller Brewers

The brewing industry breaks down into mega-brewers like Anheuser Bush and smaller brewers that develop beers for a niche. Nearly everyone is familiar with the microbrewery sub-industry within the larger brewing industry. To those who appreciate beer, the mega-brewers are known for offering lower costs and wide distribution. The smaller brewers bring a great deal of variety to brewing.

Yet, behind the scenes, large brewers actually operate quite differently from large brewers and this impacts specific areas of the manufacturing process. Furthermore, the largest differences are not the actual brewing process itself, but in the following manufacturing processes: 

  1. Raw Material Management (which impacts what beer can be scheduled to be produced)
  2. Packaging

It is true; the brewing process does not vary much from brewer to brewer. Brewing, at a high level, has the following basic steps: 

  • Mill the grains, which is the starch to be fermented. 
  • Produce the mash
  • Boil the mash in water
  • Add the hops and the brewer's yeast

The yeast begins by consuming all the sugars it likes first and then moves to the less desirable sugars. The brewer must decide when to stop the process to get the brew they are aiming for. 

The process is roughly the same per brewer. Yet, before the brewing can be scheduled, large brewers have a major advantage over small brewers. That advantage is raw material availability.

Large brewers are given "first dibs" on the available grains. In the market, These purchases are based upon contracts and are made far out into the future. This allows the larger brewers to keep a smooth production schedule. Raw material availability is one of the ways the complexity of scheduling is reduced.

When we interact with large brewers to gather their requirements, we tend to know that production scheduling of the brewing process is not where we can expect to see a large number of changes to the production schedule. However, with large brewers, they do need a lot of flexibility, and therefore significant scheduling changes for packaging.

Beer can be packaged in kegs, bottles, or cans. But within these categories, there are more packaging options. Once again, the large brewers benefit from having suppliers, often located close to the brewery. This can allow the brewery to get access to the packaging material that they need. the packing companies forecast the packaging requirements for the brewer. They print the material far above what they need in order to obtain their own manufacturing efficiencies and they maintain the packing stock for the brewer.   

Production Scheduling for Smaller Brewers

Small brewers have all of the challenges already discussed. But in addition to these challenges, another must be added, and that is the small production runs often used by small brewers. Small brewers try new beers quite a bit. This means test batching, and more instability in the overall final product. 

In San Diego, where PlanetTogether is located, there are roughly 120 brewers. If each brewery packaged its own beer, it would lose a lot of manufacturing flexibility and the costs would be high. One smart approach has been to outsource the packaging to firms that specialize in just beer packaging. This means the small brewer fills what is called a bright tank A bright tank is ready to pour, and it is what they hook up to the packaging lines. The productivity differences in packaging between smaller brewers and beer packages are great. What might take a smaller brewer a week to bottle - the specialized beer packaging company can bottle in a day.

Making Strategic Production Scheduling Decisions

This is the type of decision that small brewers must make which is critical to determining how to allocate limited resources. Those small brewers that make the decision to outsource packaging remove one of the most complex areas of production scheduling from their company. One of the most important strategic decisions a company can make is to decide what work it wants to keep, and then to optimize the efficiency of what it does as its core. For companies that approach us for production scheduling assistance, these types of questions are what we can help with. We use our experience seeing many different brewers support our advice as to where to focus energies. Another question of primary importance is how long it will take to improve the efficiency of a production area. We have one of the fastest to implement production-scheduling applications, but choosing the areas of focus is still important.


Intelligent production scheduling means breaking down the production scheduling process into steps and seeing each as a particular problem. If we take the example of brewing, the brewing process and the packaging process are along a production line, but each is its own separate process with its own specialized equipment, input materials, etc. 

In our application, we can combine a number of scheduling problems, such as brewing and packaging so that the overall manufacturing process is integrated from the scheduling perspective. However, in order to make effective scheduling, it means tailoring the model that we build in PlanetTogether APS for the specific environment. This means getting into the types of detail that have been discussed in this article. For instance, this means understanding the large differences between small and large brewers. These brewers from the outside appear to be doing the same thing, but upon closer inspection, their scheduling problems, or should we say where the emphasis needs to be applied, can be quite different. 

Scheduling has all manner of restrictions on capacity. These can be material, equipment/machinery, people among others. PlanetTogether APS has been designed to be able to represent the resources that are used in the production schedule accurately. Furthermore, we have designed the software with a strong emphasis on being able to update these resources as easily as possible. However, there are many more factors to get right in order to schedule a production facility in the most efficient manner. We also think it comes down to understanding how many changes are generally desired in the scheduling process.

Topics: Factory Scheduling, Advanced Planning and Scheduling, manufacturing, production planning, APS, Brewery, beer brewing, production management, production planning and control, master production scheduling, operations scheduling, visual production scheduling, Production Scheduling Software, Concurrent Planning and Scheduling


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