Kaizen in the Garrison Brothers Bourbon Bottle Dipping Process


I'm excited that our sold-out “Symposium on Learning Organizations” group will be visiting Toyota's San Antonio plant on Wednesday. Later that day, we'll be touring the Garrison Brothers Distillery and, on Thursday, we are using their “barrel barn” as a venue for “Open Space” discussions, the Red Bead Experiment, and more. We have a group of 40 from many industries attending and we might run a similar event in a different location in the future.

I've blogged about Garrison Brothers and my stint as a bottling line volunteer before:

The Time I Volunteered at a Distillery and Couldn't Help Doing Kaizen

In that post, I shared pictures of me working to dip bottles of bourbon into a sealing wax. I was wearing a winter coat because it was February in Texas and there was a bit of snow and ice that week.

When I was back there recently, I saw some additional improvements that seem like “Kaizen” to me.

In one photo from my earlier post, you can see me dipping a bottle:

And here's that shows the tool we use to press a star into the top of the bottle:

I've been visiting or volunteering at Garrison Brothers for more than five years. Garrison Brothers has released new and innovative bourbons over time, but the bottling process remained pretty unchanged.

In that earlier blog post, I wrote about how I applied some personal “kaizen” or an improvement that made my work easier and improved quality.

When I was there a few weeks ago, I noticed that they had made some further improvements in the bottle dipping area. I always love to see improvement!

Here is somebody else dipping a bottle (and I was able to use this improved process too):

What's changed? Other than the fact they are dipping half bottles into black wax that day?

Their Improvements

1) There's a red template over the wax dipping pot. The template is big enough to dip the bottle in, but it now helps prevent things from being dropped in there. You don't want to drop your phone or that star stamper into the wax. And, you don't want to reflexively start to reach in there if you've dropped something, so it reduces some risk and improves safety.

2) The dippers now have to wear glasses, to help prevent wax from splashing up in somebody's eye if they drop something. When I was there a few weeks ago, one volunteer is a retired safety professional and he thought that the glasses might be overkill since they've now added the template. And, he pointed out that safety glasses are meant to protect against impact. Goggles are what you use to protect against splashes.

3) Dippers also wear protective arm guards, which were a bit uncomfortable and, again, the retired safety professional asked if that was also overkill since the risk of splashing is much lower now.

4) Dippers now also wear gloves, which I found to really help improve my grip on the bottle, which is probably good from an ergonomics perspective since you might not need to grip the bottle with as much squeezing force. And I bet you're less likely to drop a bottle.

5) The star stampers are now hung on a cable above the bottling line. This helps prevent them from, you guessed it, being dropped on the wax (or the floor). You can reach up and pull one down from its retractable cord. You can also tug on it so it stays closer to the height you need, reducing the need to reach up all the way each time.

See this annotated photo:

Now, we're not visiting Garrison Brothers because they are a “Lean distillery” by any means. But it's fun to look at a process and to talk to people who are both innovating and improving.

“Kaizen Upon Kaizen”

I had one additional Kaizen suggestion for the hanging stampers. In the practice of Kaizen, we sometimes make one improve and then, in the initial testing, find another way to make the improvement even more improved. In our book Healthcare KaizenJoe Swartz and I wrote about how his health system says “kaizen upon kaizen.”

Since the stampers for both sides of the table were all hanging from a central cable that was centered over the bottling line, those hanging stampers sometimes got in the way of the flow of bottles on the rollers, as I've tried to illustrate below:

I talked to the bottling area manager and he thought my suggestion of having TWO cables — one for each side of the bottling line — made sense and would be relatively easy and inexpensive to implement.

I think these are great illustrations of “kaizen” improvements and potential kaizens.

Kaizen is meant to:

  • Be done by the people who are doing the work
  • Make your work safer and easier
  • Improve quality
  • Make it harder to make mistakes

I think Garrison Brothers is doing all of that.

One downside of the the red covers (I forgot to draw them in my mockup… because I am still getting used to that change) is that it would be harder for me to do my “silver wax stirring kaizen” that helps smooth out the wax to prevent bubbles or drips, as I show in this video:

I'll have to take a closer look at that while we're there. I'll certainly blog about the discussions and people's experiences at Toyota and Garrison Brothers. Maybe you can join us next time.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.



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