Case-Study: Diversity Through Flexibility Production Lines

Saturday, September 16th, 2017

As one of the major soft drink businesses in Australia, Schweppes Australia requires machines that can cater to flexibility in filling volume as well as beverage type. By Kurt Hofmann, MD, KHS Pacific, and Frank Hollmann, Executive VP Market Zone Asia Pacific, KHS

Schweppes Australia’s portfolio is extremely varied, with more than 40 product groups in the range from carbonated soft drinks and fruit juices to mineral water and spring water. Besides its own brands, the company also manufactures a number of licensed products, including the Pepsi brand range for Australia.

According to Wayne Angus, GM manufacturing of the company, “The water market is growing particularly fast in Australia at the moment. The still, carbonated and flavoured water segments are all seeing a clear upswing. As a very consumer-oriented company, we are of course showing a strong presence here.”

The company’s product range includes a host of brand names, such as the Schweppes range, SOLO, Spring Valley, the Real Iced Tea Co, Cool Ridge, Frantelle and Cottee’s Cordial.

The company also manufactures Pepsi, Gatorade and Sunkist under license and distributes Monster Energy in Australia. The company’s beverages can be found in supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, cafés, milk bars and gas stations—just about everywhere, in fact. They are very much a feature of everyday life in Australia.

Sales Realised In Cans

In order to best serve its presence nationwide, the company has production sites strategically placed across the country. The three largest plants are in Tullamarine, Huntingwood and Welshpool, for which a total of four can fillers have been ordered over the last few years.

With 124 filling stations and a filling capacity of up to 1,500 cans per minute, the company’s first investment in Huntingwood is the can filler with the highest performance.

The two filling systems for Tullamarine and the system in Welshpool each have 108 filling valves and process up to 1,200 cans per minute. Various products are filled in a number of can sizes. The 0.375L variant is especially popular in Australia and the majority of the company’s cans are also filled in this size. The company sells about 40 percent of its beverages in cans, with a further 45 percent marketed in PET bottles and 15 percent in one-way glass bottle.

As far as the processing of different can formats is concerned, the can filler is flexible and can be quickly adjusted to meet new requirements. The filler is prepared for lightweight cans, for example, as the pressing pressure can be perfectly configured for the scheduled can at the press of a button.

The filler could also, for example, easily process sleek or slim cans, which are much more slender than the classic can, to mention just two different possibilities. To this end, the company would need to invest in special format parts and guides which could be changed over in a short space of time.

The can filler is also flexible when it comes to the type of beverage to be filled. It can master the filling of both carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks and as well as alcohol products, beer through wine, sparkling wine and spirits to mixed alcoholic beverages.

Volumetric Filling

Australian packaging regulations are based on the minimum principle. Here, the can must contain at least the declared amount (such as 500 ml). The filling accuracy of a system therefore inevitably results in the average value being greater than the declared amount—the container is overfilled.

The can filler operates according to the principle of volumetric filling using electromagnetic induction flow metering. This filling system has a standard deviation of s = 1 ml. On mechanical filling systems, standard deviations of 2 ml are common. This means that the average overfill is only half that of a mechanical filling system.

This is a definite advantage over classic fill level filling, where overfilling of cans is necessary in order to ensure the declared filling quantity. This overfilling is necessary because cans supplied by different manufacturers can vary slightly in volume.

Variations in size are no longer of significance for the volumetric filling process using magnetic inductive flow metering. If 0.375L is programmed, the can contains this amount after the filling process.

If a new can size is scheduled for filling, an entry on the operator terminal is all that is needed to make the necessary change to the filling quantity. To this end, the machine operator simply calls up the relevant pre-programmed settings.

When the filler cans carbonated beverages under pressure, the air contained in the can is purged with carbon dioxide after the can has been sealed. In the next step in the process, the return gas path is closed while the gas supply remains open; the can is pressurised to a filling pressure which is adapted to suit the specific carbon dioxide content of the product.

Once the required pressure has been reached, the liquid valve opens. The product then gently flows down the walls of the can at a constant rate and into the receptacle. The filling valve closes automatically and low-foam snifting takes place when the electromagnetic inductive flow meter registers the target fill level.

Still beverages are filled at normal pressure. If sensitive beverages are being processed, the machine can purge the can with carbon dioxide or nitrogen prior to filling.

All passages are smooth-surfaced throughout the filler from the ring bowl to the filling valves. Aseptic membrane and sealing technology is used in all filling valves and in all other channels and routes exposed to the product.

Emphasis On Sustainability

Each filler is blocked with a can seamer. Upstream of each of the systems is a can rinser, with a heater inserted after each filler which operates during the summer months as required to prevent condensation forming on the cans before packaging.

“As we fill our soft drinks at a temperature of 18 to 20 deg C, we very rarely need the heater,” Mr Angus says. “This means we save energy—in full keeping with our concept of sustainability.”

The company also ordered blending technology to go with its four can fillers. “It was clear to us from the beginning that the filling and process equipment had to come from a single source,” Mr Angus elaborates. “This means that we avoid any interfacing problems in such a sensitive spot right from the start.”

The three-component dosing and blending system continuously produces both still and carbonated beverages. The single, compact unit deaerates mixes and carbonates.

The first step involves deaerating water using the two-stage vacuum spraying principle. The sophisticated process takes place in a horizontal deaeration tank and yields a residual oxygen content in the water of less than 0.3 mg per litre.

The deaerated water is passed to the mixing pump where it is mixed with syrup. Precision flow metering of both the product’s mass and Brix value takes place in the syrup pipe train upstream of the mixing pump.

This means that diluted primary syrup feeds are also detected and do not have to be discarded. It also enables extremely fast product changeovers and ensures that the mixing ratio of water and syrup always complies exactly with specifications.

After blending the syrup and water, the machine carbonates the product. The special carbonation nozzle ensures that the carbon dioxide is optimally distributed and bonded in the product.

The investments in 2010 and 2011 for Huntingwood and Tullamarine concerned the aforementioned components only, which were integrated into existing lines.

In Tullamarine in 2012, however, a depalletiser also had to be replaced. The company decided to procure a depalletiser which lifts pallets loaded with empty cans in a three-sided enclosed pit to the pushoff position.

A four-sided enclosed pusher system ensures a gentle depalletising process by centring each individual layer during depalletising. All the surfaces of the depalletiser that come into contact with the cans are covered with plastic sheeting to prevent damage to the cans.

An automatic pallet liner remover picks up the cover frames and pallet liners with vacuum grippers and places them in separate dispensers provided for this purpose.

Mr Angus explains, “Gentle depalletising is very important for our very light cans which is why we also opted for this system for our recent investment in Welshpool.”

Here, cartons of packed cans pass an inline robot grouping before being palletised. Two four-axis robots precisely position the containers, gripping, turning and moving them with mm accuracy.

The gripper elements on both packers are coated with plastic for gentle container handling. All necessary pushing motions are perfectly adjusted to match the speed of the conveyors. The positioned packs are driven against a stop for the formations to be centred.

A column robot with a roller carpet head picks up each individual layer and places it onto the pallet with precision