Jailbreak Brewing Company had a problem.
Once an hour, a can on its production line would fall off the track, grinding the Laurel operation to a temporary halt. Beer would get discarded because cans wouldn’t have lids, and exposure to too much dissolved oxygen compromised the quality.
In other words, product and profit were spilling on the floor, so co-founder and COO Kasey Turner added the issue to his list of problems that needed addressing. Co-running a successful craft-beer company, though, doesn’t always leave much time for such projects.
“It was enough of a pain where we were like, ‘Someday, we need to really fix that,” Turner said during a phone conversation on Thursday. “But we didn’t put the time in to figure out what was exactly causing the can to fall over.”
Recently, that problem and other issues around the brewery were finally fixed, thanks to aspiring engineers, including some not yet old enough to buy a beer.
This fall, Jailbreak participated in the University of Maryland Baltimore County College of Engineering and Information Technology’s Capstone Program, which challenged approximately 30 seniors to use their engineering educations to solve actual problems outside the classroom. Tonight, from 4 p.m.-7 p.m., the brewery will host presentations, open to the public, of the solutions the students created and implemented for Jailbreak.
“These kids were absolutely amazing,” Turner, 36, said. “They dedicated real time, effort and expertise to these problems. It taught me that some of my assumptions weren’t necessarily correct, and that was awesome to learn.”
One day while on a Jailbreak tour, a UMBC professor suggested Turner allow Neil Rothman, a UMBC mechanical engineer professor who runs the Capstone Program, and his class to take a close look at the facility’s operations. Turner, who studied engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, loved the idea.
“I thought, ‘Always, of course. We’d love to have a second set of eyes on some of these problems and knock out some of the upgrades we’ve been wanting to do,’” he said.
Over the semester, the students brainstormed and wrote multiple proposals with budgets and timelines, which were presented to Jailbreak. They ultimately solved five issues, including the canning problem, while also creating automated systems to increase productivity, like finding a more efficient method of drying cans after they’re filled with beer.
The students also created a way to keep customers better up-to-date on what’s offered in the taproom. Before, Jailbreak used an automated system that told followers of their social media accounts when a new keg was tapped.
“Sometimes that beer will get kicked that same night we put it on, and because of that, people get understandably upset if they didn’t make it in that particular day,” Turner said.
The students implemented a system that indicates how full a keg is in real time, he said.
“If somebody wants to come out, they can see … ‘Oh, it’s a third full now, I better get my butt to Jailbreak,’” Turner said.
While that solution is more about customer engagement, the students are saving the brewery money, too.
To solve the canning line problem, the students recorded the line in slow motion with GoPro cameras to determine and ultimately correct the error. With the issue fixed, Turner said he hopes to gain 25 percent efficiency on the canning line. With fewer shutdowns and wasted cans of beer, Jailbreak could save up to $5,000 per week, Turner said.
Rothman described the Jailbreak project and the program as a whole as “great training ground” for students.
They’re forced to solve actual problems companies are facing, he said, and in the process, they learn to deal with real-world situations, like working around the brewery’s production hours and not always being able to get people like Turner on the phone immediately.
“It’s safer than when they’re working [after graduation] but it’s still a real project,” Rothman said.
Turner has invited corporate customers of Jailbreak to tonight’s event with hopes of connecting students with employers. (Jailbreak is not hiring any of the students, he said, largely because the students are pursuing more “typical engineering jobs.”)
“We’re trying to link these kids up with employers who are looking for good talent, and these kids definitely have it,” Turner said.
While the students applied their studies and learned in real-world scenarios for this program, Turner said he might have gained the most. In recent years, he had heard others speak negatively about millenials and the idea they aren’t motivated or don’t work hard. He saw nothing of the sort.
“These kids showed that stereotype absolutely doesn’t hold true in large swaths of the population. The kids nowadays are even smarter than people my age, and in many cases, have a better work ethic,” Turner said. “The results speak for themselves, that they were able to solve these really hard problems in a very short period of time with a limited budget.
“That’s something everybody can learn from.”