In the past few months I've been contemplating and working on a wee software solution to a problem that I've seen at many small craft breweries that I've visited:
A lot of breweries I've been to have scheduling methods that work for them just fine... but usually involve a pencil and some paper. Maybe and excel spreadsheet if they're lucky. Existing production management software can be too expensive for a small business, and there is no guarantee that the investment will pay itself off. These software packages are bloated with more features than are needed for a brewery, since they are for "any" production environment. As well, they often require the software be installed on a Windows computer... ONE Windows computer per license.
What I'm working on is a schedule helper for the small brewery. The schedule is to run off a webserver, with a database back end. This has the advantage in that no additional software needs to be installed by the client, and it doesn't matter weather the client is on Mac, Windows, Linux, etc. In theory, the software could be accessed from anywhere in the world (of course, significant security measures would have to be employed!)
This also means that schedule information can be viewed and modified on, say, an iPhone :).
I have broken it down into several separate modules:
1. Scheduler - Books batches of beer on resources (fermenters, conditioning tanks, humans, etc). Displays output in a graphical format, so that the schedule can be visualized for any conflicts or problems. An example schedule ought to look something like this (click for larger view):
The basic scheduler has no data for recipe, volumes, etc etc. I'd also like to have it possible to enter a matrix of dependencies, and provide an "auto schedule" algorithm. But thats way off in the future.
2. Recipe data - As a separate module that can be added in if needed. Basically, this module can handle what goes into each batch of beer, as well as record volumes throughout the process. I've designed it is such a way that the client can add almost an infinite number of ingredients.
3. Consumables management - of course, if you have ingredients, you ought to be able to manage them. This should be able to keep track of ingredients and help plan when to order more supply. This isn't limited to ingredients, this can include bottles... cleaning supplies... boxes... etc.
4. Quality control - This is very important to the brewer. This module can handle data from quality control checks, as defined by the client.
5. Sales & Customer Database - I've not programmed or planned anything around this section. However, it would definitely be useful if this software is ever to be a complete solution for the small brewer (for now its just a helper!).
Timeline: when do I see this being produced? Since I'm working a full time job, I'll be doing it on my own time, don't expect anything public for quite some time! In theory, I'll using it to help with my job at a small craft brewery (more on that news later)... it could be years before I feel comfortable releasing it.
Of course, for now I should be finishing my MSc thesis...