Fill the bill

7 December 2018

Beverage Packaging Innovation examines the recent improvements in machinery for craft brewing and wine production, with a look at recent updates to plants and equipment. Eli Gershkovitch, CEO of Steamworks Brewery, and Manny Moreno, director of packaging operations at McManis Family Vineyard, share some insight.

Steamworks Brewery, founded in 1995 in Vancouver, British Columbia, had outgrown its space by 2013, so work began on a new brewery in the nearby town of Burnaby.

Right from the beginning of the development of the new factory, KHS was a key partner, as CEO Eli Gershkovitch puts it, “We partnered fully with KHS from the word go.”

Compared with other fillers, KHS’s C-series gives us the speed we need despite its smaller size. For ourselves, and I believe for most craft brewers, it’s probably the optimum solution on the market. It’s the best complete package.
– Eli Gershkovitch

So, when it came time to install a new can filler, KHS were front of mind for Gershkovitch, who opted for the Innofill Can C, a machine designed specifically for small and medium-sized breweries. It made its debut at Drinktec 2017, and Steamworks was the first customer to put it into commercial production. Since the filler, seamer, valve manifold, cladding and control cabinet on the Innofill Can C form an enclosed, readyto- produce machine unit, all that had to be done during installation early this year was to connect up the electricity, piping and conveyors.

It took only 14 days from delivery to get the system up and running, working at nominal capacity from the first day of production. According to Steamworks, it fills about 15,000 cans an hour in its standard 355ml can format, with a lower rate for 473 and 500ml cans.

Gershkovitch is pleased with his new can filler. “I like the KHS approach to design,” he notes. “In my experience, things with a logical array work best. This applies to all of our KHS machines.” He’s also impressed with the machine’s compact footprint, especially in a place like Vancouver, where real estate is about as pricy as it gets.

“We have to plan well in advance and put every square centimetre to effective use,” says Gershkovitch. “Compared with other fillers, the compact C-series gives us the speed we need despite its smaller size. For ourselves, and I believe for most craft brewers, it’s probably the optimum solution on the market. It’s the best complete package.”

Clean machine

In addition to the compactness and fast installation, Gershkovitch also appreciates his new acquisition’s hygienic design. In particular, this includes a gapless bell guide with PTFE expansion joints, and bells that are lifted and positioned electropneumatically to seal the cans with no mechanical action from cams or rollers. This does away with the need for water lubrication, helps to simplify the cleaning process and promises a long service life.

KHS also uses PTFE materials in the filling valve, to seal the valve piston, and in the gas membranes. Flavour carryover when changing the product to be filled is thus as good as eliminated. In combination with a fast format changeover, this option is of special interest to breweries such as Steamworks that produce many different beers – from Pumpkin Ale to Kanadische Kolsh, for example.

Besides the speed, precision, compact design and reliability of the machine components – especially the valves – Gershkovitch likes KHS’s general approach to things. “Communication is direct and attentive,” he observes. “The focus is on the technology and the design.”

From hops to grapes, where McManis Family Vineyards has rapidly grown over the past five years, and as a result has had a seismic set of changes, updates and improvements to bring the entire production to the most current and efficient modern-day standards. This all started with an upgrade in automation, including automated inspection.

With the installation of a filling system from MBF, in 2014, the winery has quadrupled in size. This rapid growth has meant that machinery upstream and downstream has had to be automated to keep pace. Key to this upgrade has been the installation of inspection technology.

As currently configured, the line begins with a low-level depalletiser from Emmeti that sweeps bulk glass layer by layer, and single files the bottles so that they can pass through an inspection system from FT System. The actual camera technology in this system comes from Cognex, but FT System integrates it into its solution and also takes care of the software programming, bottle handling framework and reject table.

“I like the way they’ve incorporated Cognex into their system,” says director of packaging operations Manny Moreno. “It lets us check for chipped finishes, chipped shoulders, cracks and foreign objects. It’s really thorough.”

Downstream is another inspection station from FT System. “We want to make sure, among other things, that the operator didn’t put the wrong label on or that the roll of pressure-sensitive labels coming from the supplier has a missing or damaged label on it,” says Moreno.

Two more FT System units perform inspection on the line, including one located directly after the case packer. The corrugated cases pass over a checkweigher from FT System, which is a final opportunity to make sure everything is okay with the case. If an insert is missing, for example, or a bottle leaking, that case will be rejected.

The fourth FT System inspection station in the line looks at the accuracy and legibility of the corner wrap label on the wrapped pallets.

Case forming brings benefits

Case forming, as opposed to case erecting, plays a key role in the secondary packaging operation at a new bottling line at McManis Family Vineyards.

The winery in Ripon, California, receives empty bottles in two different formats. When the company is contract filling for a customer, typically it is corrugated reshippers in which the glass bottles arrive; and when filling a McManis brand, it is palletised bulk glass.

When bulk glass on pallets is in production, two key pieces of packaging equipment come into play: a corrugated case former from DS Smith and a partition inserter from Wayne Automation.

“If you look across the industry you’ll find most people are comfortable with a case erector,” says Moreno. “But the DS Smith equipment is not an erector. It’s a former, as it forms a case from a flat blank of double-wall corrugated that has no manufacturer’s joint. It’s actuated by 16 servo motors, so there is little manual change of tooling required when going from one bottle shape to another. We only do 12-count cases, and all bottles are 750ml. But we have four different bottle moulds or shapes, including a reverse taper, a Bordeaux and a claret. You choose the shape from a menu on the touchscreen, and nearly everything that needs to be adjusted, like the case-forming mandrel, for example, is automatically adjusted.”

Moreno says another key advantage is that case forming brings savings in packaging material cost compared with case erecting. “You’re not paying the supplier to form a manufacturer’s joint,” says Moreno. “It’s also nice that more case blanks fit on a pallet.”

Off to a flyer

On the subject of case forming, a further development at the company is the ‘flying opener’ being used instead of reshippers that don’t have the crisp memory normally found on new corrugated cases.

According to Moreno, “A flying opener is basically a servo-driven flap conditioner. Unlike the flaps on the cases formed by the DS Smith system, the flaps on the reshippers aren’t crisp. They’ve already lost their memory. So what happens on the flex loader is that after the major flaps are ploughed open by fixed rails, the flying opener comes in and opens up the minors. Then a sensor, which is there partly to make sure each case has a partition in it, also checks to make sure all the flaps are open. If a partition is not there or if a flap is out of position, that case is automatically rejected and never makes it to the bottle-loading station.”

Exiting the Delkor case packer, the corrugated cases pass over the checkweigher from FT System. Then comes a case sealer from Combi Packaging that uses hotmelt adhesive to close the top flaps. Like the upstream system from DS Smith, it uses an adhesive application system from Nordson. Next is a print-and-apply labeller from ID Technology coupled with a thermal-transfer printer from Sato, which puts a corner wrap barcode label on each case. “We think the thermaltransfer printing is perfect every time, and by putting on a corner wrap, the case can be scanned from two different sides,” says Moreno.

Then comes the fourth FT System inspection station in the line. This one is looking at the accuracy and legibility of the corner wrap label. Finally, palletising is done by a Columbia machine and stretch wrapping by a system from Phoenix. Another thermal-transfer print-and-apply labeller from ID Technology and Sato gives each wrapped pallet a barcode label identifying the varietal, the bornon date and the pallet number.

Looking at the way in which the endof- line automation went into production, assistant winemaker Justin McManis says, “Any time you start-up multiple pieces of new machinery there are challenges involved. I think the biggest thing in this case was getting all the machines to talk to one another. But we had the right computer programmers in here making sure everything went smoothly.”

Before moving into the loader, formed cases pause at a partition inserter. “It’s a dual-head machine, so it operates pretty fast,” notes Moreno.

As for the flex loader, Moreno says it was selected partly because supplier Delkor showed a willingness to customise certain aspects of the machine based on preferences McManis had.

“For one thing, nobody else seemed willing to make a case packer completely out of stainless steel, which we wanted for washdown purposes,” says Moreno. “Also supplied on a custom basis is the tempered-glass guarding, as opposed to the Lexan or plexiglass typically used. The glass is so much cleaner, and it doesn’t get scratched by washing procedures. Delkor even provided dual touchscreen panels so that the operator doesn’t have to jump over a conveyor to get access to a touchscreen control.”

A further machinery development at the company occurred with the installation of a Superbloc filling system from MBF. First introduced around 2007, the Superbloc is a compact, comprehensive and customisable system that integrates rinser, filler, corker and capper, capsuler and labeller in a single machine. The absence of conveyors and buffers helps reduce the space required for the overall operation.

We have four different bottle moulds or shapes, including a reverse taper, a Bordeaux and a claret. You choose the shape from a menu on the touchscreen, and nearly everything that needs to be adjusted, like the case-forming mandrel, for example, is automatically adjusted.
– Manny Moreno

Since the 2014 installation of the Superbloc, the winery has quadrupled in size. So packaging machinery upstream and downstream of the Superbloc had to be automated, beginning with a palletiser in 2015. The following year brought vision inspection equipment not only for empty and full bottles but also for filled cases. Then last year came a depalletiser, an accumulation table, a case former, some laser date-coding equipment and a case packer. Moreno sums it up nicely when he says, “We’re fully automated.”

Bottles now enter the Superbloc, which first makes use of a 20-head station that rinses each bottle with a blast of nitrogen. Filling by way of a 30-nozzle rotary station comes next, but just before the fill-valves open another blast of nitrogen is dosed into the bottle. The nitrogen dosing minimises residual oxygen – an enemy to wine quality.

McManis Family Vineyards’ FT System.
Part of the automated systems at Steamworks Brewery in British Columbia.

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