Monday, May 30, 2011

Not what we had in mind for World Domination...

Source Code: only safe in the hands of a trained expert
Our brewery has a great trick of being able to scare the bejesus out of you all by itself. It happens when you stand too close to the chiller unit when it's just reached it's high temperature limit and chooses to click into action with nary a warning, emitting a deafening roar of fans and refrigeration motors, blindsiding anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby. Now I'm not normally one to anthropomorphise ugly bits of industrial machinery, but I reckon that chiller has gained intelligence in a Terminator Skynet sort of way and is out to get me. Luckily for us all, it's chosen not to try taking over the world and killing all humans but to use it's powers of evil to make sure it frightens me as often as possible. I reckon it's taken the fact that I called it's use of the Fahrenheit scale nonsensical, (which I standby, I get offended that we have to chill our beer to 33°F rather than 1°C). Generally we try to be a pro-SI units sort of brewery, though PSI seems to have slipped through the unit selection process, which is unfortunate as the alternative is "bar", which would seem to specifically lend itself to use by a company in the beer business.

Programming: a high pressure job
Anyway, it so happened that the subject of this evil chiller and the various unpleasant character traits that it's wont to display came up when we were enjoying a few-post match drinks in The Mill. (No prizes for guessing the beer of choice.) So during the course of the conversation it fell out, that the evil chiller was a source of disquiet in that it needed a good deal of manual intervention to keep beer at the correct temperatures during the various aspects of fermentation. Involved in this conversation was our soon to be Senior Process Control Engineering Consultant Shane, who immediately saw an opportunity for the practical application of his knowledge of electronics, programming and computery stuff generally, in that the process of checking temperatures, opening and closing valves could be readily automated. Computers being much more suited to that sort of thing than Stephen, who rightly objects to being asked to stand beside the chiller interminably to make sure it's chilling prowess isn't misdirected. (Seemingly sleeping and eating are also other priorities that he's using to try and absent himself from his chiller baby-sitting duties.) So it was an enthusiastic Shane that left the pub that evening, with a grand scheme concocted to automate the refrigeration process, fermenting in his brain. I was enthusiastic about the not having to crawl in behind the fermenters to open or close valves every time a change to the beer's temperature was needed. I was less enthusiastic about giving the chiller more processing power, after all maybe that's why it hadn't wiped out humanity yet: not a lack of ambition, but insufficient processing capabilities, that couldn't take it beyond occasionally frightening people.

Still, at heart, I like to do things the easy way if at all possible, so I gave Shane the green light to go ahead with his operation and he didn't disappoint. A series of ever more complicated and incomprehensible technical drawings came winging to our Corporate Headquarters during the design phase, until the point where I gave up trying to decipher them and was happy to go with the nod and smile approach. I limited my input to reminding him that although the Fahrenheit scale is indeed silly, just be mindful of not airing that view within the brewery itself, and especially not near the evil-minded chiller.

The Trouble Fermention Control Nerve Centre
So the "go live" date, as those in the computer nerd business say, is just upon us, so if this is the last blog post ever then you'll know what has happened: we have over-specced the equipment, our evil chiller has seized control of the spare processing capacity and is now waging a war against mankind. And has no doubt, ruined the beer in the process.

On the upside, if the chiller is merely playful rather than some sort of genocidal maniac, which we all hope, it'll make us a little more environmentally friendly and gives Stephen a chance to go and have dinner and a sleep.

I have a feeling though that Shane won't merely be content to stop with upgrading the fermentation process, and other automation processes will soon be envisaged. Before that happens, I really ought to give him a small token to say thanks for his good work, I think a selection of some classic sci-fi movies would be appropriate: The Terminator, The Matrix and Robocop seem like a good start.