International lockdowns have provided maintenance technician Mitch Gibson with the opportunity to launch his own business servicing packaging lines for local brewers.
Gibson specialises in M+F keg fillers, which usually require technicians to be flown over from Europe. He said that with global border closures he is the only Australia-based technician who can effectively service the machines.
“I got to go to Germany with this company that makes keg fillers, which wash and fill kegs. I went there to get trained on how to service their machines, as there wasn’t anyone in Australia who had done it,” he explained.
“Normally they fly out their technicians to all over the world, and there’s no one locally to fix that especially if there’s an emergency.
“Now I’m the only guy in Australia that knows how to do it, there’s a dozen companies in Australia that use these keg fillers, so I was contacted by the German company as they still need someone to service their Australian customers.”
It was too good an opportunity to resist and so he launched on his own. While specialising in M+F keg fillers, he has experience in all types of bottling lines, canners, labellers, cappers and case packers.
He said that the majority of his customers so far have been independent brewers, which face different challenges to the bigger players.
“Big companies like Asahi/CUB have their own maintenance departments – their technicians might not have a brewing background but they know how to fix and keep the machines running.
“Whereas a small business like a craft business, they might know how to brew but not fix a machine. So I get to work with guys who have smaller places and help them understand their equipment as well as doing servicing and maintenance.”
He has already worked with Two Birds Brewing, Little Creatures, Young Henrys and Deeds Brewing, and has said that COVID-19 has prompted breweries to think about their packaging options.
“People realise they need to be able to sell in different formats, not just kegs,” he said.
“If you can’t fill a keg for the pub then you will need another packaging option.”
Brewers turned to packaged beer to make up for the overnight loss of on-premise sales, which saw mobile canners like East Coast Canning rushed off their feet, as well as greater interest in canning and bottling lines.
Gibson explained that as independent brewers expand further into packaging, whether it is part of their business models or whether it is to diversify their range a a result of COVID-19, it’s important to develop a good understanding of your packaging equipment.
“Understanding their equipment is the main thing. A lot of people expect to plug it in and have it work forever.
“The more you know about your equipment the better, the more control you have over it and the more you know if something’s wrong…and if you don’t know then ask!”
Gibson said he used to work in hospitality before taking on a trade starting out at Splatt Engineering in 2016, before moving onto wider food and beverage packaging last year.
“I wasn’t even planning on getting into food and beverage specifically, but I did my apprenticeship and basically all their customers were breweries,” Gibson said.
He worked in the installation, fabrication and maintenance of bottle and can fillers, keg fillers and labellers amongst other things before expanding into other food and beverage packaging in 2019.
“It was completely new to me and I instantly loved it. It was a good challenge and I was trained on all different types of machines on the packaging end,” Gibson explained.
“I found you could know everything about beer until you need to get it into a bottle or can, and spent a lot of time training and working with brewers.”
More details: Mitch Gibson – Brewery Technician