Over the last few months, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to take 2 trips to China to inspect our brewing equipment as it was being manufactured. Having never traveled to China in the past, it was an eye opening experience. I visited Jinan, a small Chinese manufacturing city that you’ve probably never heard of, with a population of around 7 million people! It’s not very touristy and is pretty much full of factories and business people.
China is an absolutely crazy place and what struck me most was the endless opportunities the country presents. You can find to purchase or have made virtually anything you can think of. Although I’m not personally about to buy or have anything manufactured in particular, I find the potential that exists incredibly exciting for some reason. Anyway…
When we first were looking for a brewery manufacturer we sent out our scope of works document to around half a dozen companies, Chinese and others, for quoting. We ended up choosing Tiantai who we had heard about as they were the same mob that the Black Hops blokes used. The reasons we chose Tiantai over the other companies were:
- They had good technical knowledge.
- They would respond to our emails generally within the same day.
- They had very competitive pricing.
- Their salesman wasn’t just a “yes” man, he worked hard to understand all of the specifics we had requested.
- They were happy to custom build any piece of equipment that I wanted and would indulge my personal preferences for certain items.
I get the feeling that people are somewhat hesitant of purchasing brewing equipment out of China due to horror stories that are floating around and just general negative attitude towards the quality of work that is associated with the country. I believe this is down to a few reasons:
- There are some dodgy manufactures out there that will cut corners,
- Some people expect each manufacturer to have the same technical knowledge as other countries that have been building breweries for 1000’s of years and
- If you aren’t specific about exactly what it is that you want them to build and to what standard, then it’s likely that they will build the brewery the way that they know but it isn’t necessarily going to be the way you would like it or are familiar with.
I personally think that if, as a customer, you are prepared to work closely with the manufacturer and are specific about what it is you want, then you are able to have equipment produced that is of a very high standard and comparable to equipment that is manufactured in western countries.
My first trip to the factory in August was mainly focussed around inspecting fermentation jacket welding and seeing their pressure testing method and reporting systems. I also spent a full day in their office in downtown Jinan designing and reviewing our brewhouse piping configurations with their in-house engineer. At this stage our brewhouse wasn’t really much more than being cylindrical pieces of stainless steel so there wasn’t much to inspect on this front.
The second trip in September was for inspecting our brewhouse before shipping. When I arrived on the first day after roughly 20hrs of travel from Brisbane we went straight to the factory. We spent the day going through all of the brewhouse pipe work. I ended up making around 20 changes to the pipework configuration, mainly for sanitation reasons or to make things easier for the operator. There were some bits of pipe that were too long which meant they were not able to be cleaned sufficiently, etc.
Although I brought it on myself, I also had the incredibly fun task of climbing into each and every one of the fermenters so that I could inspect the internal surface condition. I was glad I insisted on getting into every tank as some of the internals of the tanks were in pretty average condition. There was scratching, pitting and welding spatter in just about all of the tanks. Although Tiantai seemed to be a bit embarrassed, they were very open to going over every surface that I had circled with my permanent marker and re-polishing it.
On the final day we did a complete water brew, testing every valve pump and motor in the brewhouse. There were some small changes I made but these were mainly around touch screen visualisation. Naming things differently and having valves numbered and displayed differently, etc. I’m now confident that we will have a high quality efficiently functioning brewery when it arrives.
The biggest challenge I found when purchasing a brewery from China was completing an independent pressure vessel design verification. As Tiantai are a Chinese company, they don’t complete their vessel designs to AS1210 which is the Australian Pressure Vessel Standard. Luckily for us, WH&S in Australia do accept pressure vessels built to other standards including GB150 (the Chinese Standard). The biggest challenge here was finding a local Engineer who works with GB150 and then getting the correct information translated from Tiantai and in the correct format so that our local Engineer could verify the vessel designs against the standard. I began work on this process towards the end of May and only had it completed last Friday, 7th October.
The welding quality on the equipment was generally good and they were prepared to test and report on anything that I requested. The main downside has been the production time. We were originally quoted 80 days from payment of deposit to when it would be on a ship. It has now been well over 130 days and will likely still be another week and a half. But all in all, for our project, buying a brewery from China has worked pretty well, and the price of the equipment and flexibility in design has made it well worth-while.
What I have learnt and would tell someone who is buying a brewery from China is:
- Be specific and go into as much detail as you can about everything!
- Don’t write-off ideas or suggestions that they have, some are good and can be better than what you have seen before.
- Go over everything with a fine tooth comb. And then do it again.
- Visit the factory during production (at least once but more if you can) and be involved with process as much as you can.
- Stay in regular contact with supplier.
- Get spares and lots of them. Spare seals, elements, everything you can think of and more than you think you’ll need. Having a critical spare in stock could be the difference between brewing and not brewing for weeks.
- Build in redundancies. For example, we designed the pipework of the brewhouse so that both pumps can do any task. If one breaks, then we can still brew using the other.
I’ve done a very basic list of Pros & Con’s that I found from working with a Chinese Manufacturer.
- They worked very hard to get everything to the standard I wanted
- Pricing is very good, potentially half what you’d pay elsewhere
- Very flexible and will customise any bit of equipment
- Language Barrier
- Experience is less than manufactures from other countries
- Pressure Vessel Design Verification
- Have to be very clear about exactly what you want
- Production time blew out for us
Finally, here’s a very basic list of what we purchased from Tiantai.
3 Vessel 25HL Brewhouse – Including all pneumatic valves controlled by my PLC
- Mash Tun/Wort Kettle
- Lauter Tun
75HL Hot Liquor Tank
50HL Cold Liquor Tank
25m2 Heat Exchanger
2 x 25HL Fermentation Tanks
4 x 50HL Fermentation Tanks
3 x 2HL Fermentation Tanks (for use with our pilot kit)
2 Head Keg Cleaner
2 Head Keg Filler
Massive list of assorted spares for all pumps, manways and electrical elements. Also a heap of cellar gear, t-pieces, valves, elbow, hoses, clamps, sight glasses etc.
Cheers & Beers