They call them the salt of the Earth; the people who spend their lives learning a specific labor, directly benefitting the public with effective service. There are all kinds of skilled laborers, many of whom choose to work at The Jim Beam Company – makers of the best-selling bourbon in the world.
Meet Kevin Boone, Process Control Sr. Maintenance Supervisor at the Jim Beam distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. He works in one of the three principal Beam factories in the state, just twenty minutes outside Louisville.
The history of the Beam brand dates back to 1795, when the first generation of the Beam family began producing whiskey. In 1933, the brand was officially named after James B. Beam, who rebuilt the distillery in Clermont after prohibition ended. The Clermont location is the largest bottling plant, specializing in the manufacturing and storage of Bourbon, just a hop, skip, and jump away from the Booker Noe plant.
Boone has spent 16 years within the Jim Beam Company, starting out as a maintenance man at Booker Noe. The first eight years, he worked in the distillery, maintained equipment, and ensured the factory was running properly. Now he serves as the supervisor to a team of 14 skilled trade employees, retaining order and ensuring they are scheduled in the proper factory lines.
“I maintain all the VLC’s, HMI’s, PLC’s, and electrical equipment,” he explains. In laymen’s terms, Boone controls the electrical engineering, packaging equipment, Programmable Logic Controller inside the machinery, and Human Machine Interface used to operate machinery.
Boone only has an associates degree in mechanical engineering from Louisville Technical Institute, and 20 years of experience as a skilled laborer under his belt. Before he got to Beam, he trained under a co-op with Krauth Electric Company for two years. He also worked with Plastic Injection Molders while at D J Inc, creating dishwasher and vehicle parts out of plastic.
For the last three years, Boone has been pursuing a bachelors degree in business management from Sullivan University, while working full-time.
“I spend most of my free time doing school work, finding what little time I have here and there,” he said. With strong beliefs in the importance of a continuing education, Boone is the definition of a resourceful employee.
However, balancing school and family with his full-time position is one of the most difficult aspects for him. “Time management between going to work and school, it throws you a different challenge everyday,” he says. “There are no typical days.”
Boone works amongst 200 employees in a factory of guarded machinery, which run 300-350 bottles every minute. Following the fermentation process, the whiskey is aged in barrels in a rackhouse. After roughly four years (for our signature Jim Beam White Bourbon), the aged liquid is dumped from the barrels, bottled and shipped.
“Process control is everything and I go a lot more in-depth with the electrical side of it,” Boone said.
Even with the challenges, Boone is passionate about completing projects and examining the final product. “The most rewarding part is running a new package, new product, or new machinery,” he said. “Innovation is constant and it may mean installing a new piece of equipment or reconfiguring a new packaging line. We are just a small piece of the overall picture.”
With more than two decades of experience in his skilled trade, Boone can’t imagine leaving Beam.
“I am happy where I am,” he said. When asked what the best part of working for Jim Beam is, he said “besides being a great company to work for, job security is it.”
Boone also has some advice to future skilled laborers.
“Take advantage of all the training you get and stay with the current trends as far as technology goes, because it changes all the time.”