NK Engineering: Rough and Ready


As the wonk world “learned last week”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/2362/yuras-brew, the DPRK is the proud owner of the Ushers Brewery, formerly of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, England.

Mr. Peter Ward, the previous owner of said brewery, “recalled for the BBC”:http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/8115677.stm how the North Koreans went about taking receipt of their new purchase:

bq.. “They worked extremely hard and long hours. The didn’t go out and spent most of their time in their lightweight boiler suits,” Mr Ward remembers.

“Engineering-wise, you would be turning back the clock 50 years. From a mechanical point of view they were happy to take a blow torch to it rather than dismantle a piece of plant.

“They were going to rip it up without drawings, but we helped them taking it down and marked it all up for shipping to North Korea.”

p. The middleman who arranged the deal also shed some light on how long it took them to master this new technology:

bq.. Within 18 months of shipping the plant home, the North Koreans had the brewery up and running.

Uwe Oehms, the German agent who was asked by the North Koreans to find a brewery, remembers the deal as “one of the most interesting” of his life.

Though the North Koreans had limited experience of modern technology, he bought them a series of books on the latest brewing techniques.

“Despite their lack of English I was surprised that they were learning how to do this quite well,” he recalls. “The quality of the beer was quite good in the beginning but when they couldn’t buy good foreign ingredients the quality decreased.

p. So judging by this vignette, at least, North Korean engineers — and “zymurgists”:http://www.beertown.org/homebrewing/zymurgy_magazine/index.html — lack state-of-the-art training (and that’s putting it nicely), but they’re hard workers and quick studies. With some basically solid equipment and minimal instruction, they can produce surprisingly good results. But they’re quite limited in resources and must rely on whatever foreign components and materials they can get their hands on, with potential downsides for quality control.

These observations may shed some added light, albeit obliquely, on “questions Geoff Forden has recently raised about missile production”:http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/2370/missile-development-programs-an-alternative-view. I’ll have more to say about this subject before too long.

Update: This was really two posts, so I’ve “broken out the rest separately”:http://www.totalwonkerr.net/2061/tolkiens-dwarves-with-a-slide-projector.

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