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Agile Stainless - The People Who Fabricated Our Brewery Equipment

Interview with Jon Lien

Where is your business located?

Our fabrication shop is located at the Pickle Factory, which is a “Maker Space” in North Portland.

What do you do for Hammer & Stitch?

We collaboratively designed, built and installed a custom 15bbl brewhouse. We also supplied cellar tanks and ancillary equipment.

When was Agile Steel Started?

March 2017

What inspired you to start the business?  

I have been connected to the local brewing community since 2014 and I had begun to take notice of a need for services beyond manufacturing of vessels and systems, I observed that there was a lot of good competition nationwide amongst manufacturers and that imported equipment suppliers were popping up seemingly everywhere making it even more difficult to compete on just building tanks. I wanted to explore a service model that also provides custom fabrication and had considered going out on my own. One day when the tank shop I was working at went out of business, I decided to go for it. Some talented fabricators/welders colleagues and I got together and formed Agile Stainless in March of 2017.

How many people work for Agile?  

Pre-Covid we had 7 people on the team. Currently there are 4 of us and I am the sole owner. We have great local partners that we work with to outsource some aspects of our production so that we can stay lean and focused during these uncertain times. We have plans to expand our team soon.

Looking at your friends and collaborators, you guys have a lot of experience building brewery equipment/brewhouses! What is the best part of designing and assembling a brewery set up?

For me the best part is the collaborative process, it’s truly a team effort. I like to think my strengths are in planning and multi-tasking, so I enjoy the execution of the project from start to finish. I like seeing the client’s vision take shape. I’m personally not an avid brewer, but I understand the process and like to listen to the recommendations of the client and/or end user about how they would like the system to function, or how we could improve our designs. All of our systems are custom in this way, we don’t tell a person how to brew their beer, sure we have certain tried and true designs and recommendations relative to construction and cost, but if someone wants to get really creative, or educate us we’re open to it. It’s important to me to build transparency and trust so that everyone involved has clear expectations and a shared vision and outcome. We rely on each other to make the project a success.

What is the most challenging part?  

Timelines. Custom work and large projects always present challenges to maintaining a timeline, we also respond to emergency repairs and service calls, so we have to be very aware and responsible about our time and efforts. This is where establishing trust with our clients is very important.

How do you start the design process?

First and foremost, we start with a preliminary estimate and a meeting or phone call. It’s very important to me that we determine if both parties are a good fit, we don’t just take on any work or project, we vet our clients just like they do us. We need to feel a mutual respect and appreciation for each other. Once we establish a good rapport and budget then we complete a formal proposal detailing all of the high-level specifications, payment agreement, terms etc. At that point the design process officially kicks off with preliminary drawings. We work closely with the client on the design until they have given us a final approval so that we can begin production.

How many projects do you work on at a time?

I like to make sure we build a backlog and ideally are booked out several months, but because of our smaller size we only run one large and two or three small projects through production at any time. There are often multiple projects in the sales and design phases but we try to keep our production team focused on one project at a time, however if for some reason a project hits a hold point or a delay outside of our control then we try to be ready so that we can shift onto the next project in a moments notice.

What is your dream object to make, out of stainless steel, if you had no budget?

That’s a tough one. I have a handful of projects I would like to work on, in several different industries. But I think right now in this industry I’m really interested in CO2 recapture and waste management.

How would you like to see your business grow, in the future?

I’d like to try and keep the focus on a team of specialized and talented fabricators, but invest in more tools and equipment so that we can be more efficient. I’m also looking for a new engineer so that we can offer some advances in systems and vessels while staying competitive. Service is still a main focus of mine and I’m actively working on building that aspect of the business.

What is the most important tool in your shop?

I’d say people. I think it’s important to invest in the right people. People who have the professionalism, character and attention to detail that can execute and follow through on their deliverables. As a sole owner of a small business, I’ve put everything into this endeavor, and I want to invest and trust in the right people to help me achieve my goals while also helping them get to the next level.

Snow or sand?

Snow. I’m originally from Minnesota so the snow is literally in my blood. I’m ideally skiing or in the mountains most days in the winter (until I started working too much!) However, I spent a lot of time on the water growing up, whether it was frozen or not, and even enlisted in the US Coast Guard so I could pursue that passion more.

Jack Burton (Big Trouble Little China) or Frank Dux (Bloodsport) and why?

Jack. He was just an average guy, maybe a little wrapped up in his own world, but not looking for any notoriety or trouble. He found himself in a unique situation and stepped up to answer the call.

Rainbow trout or Chinook Salmon and why?

I love to fish, so this is tough, I’ve caught many rainbow trout in my life but still have failed to hook a Chinook, so I’d have to say Chinook for the thrill of it, but there’s nothing quite like finding a small secluded trout stream and just focusing 100% on that moment.

Ale or Lager?

I would have to say Ales. I like all the various styles that fall in the ale category as they can offer a really interesting drinking experience. But don’t get me wrong there is definitely no substitute for a very well-crafted and refreshing lager.


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