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No slippage for spring water bottling plant

12 January 2011

When palletising bottled drinks, it's been traditional to use intermediate sheets made of corrugated cardboard. A pilot project shows that significant improvements in production can be gained by switching to an alternative solution.

According to Aqua d'or, this solution is unique within the food and drink industry.

Right in the middle of the moors of Jutland in Denmark, you will find one of Europe's most modern plants for the bottling of natural mineral water. The company is called Aqua d'or mineral water a/s, and with a market share of over 80%, is the market leader in Denmark, with an output of 800,000 bottles of water on a typical day.

Established in 2000, the factory handles the whole process, from the environmentally friendly production of the plastic bottles from so-called 'preforms' to palletisation, with pallets delivered just-in-time to the customers.

A competitive foundation for success has been created, thanks to efficient production and the continuous review and streamlining of critical processes.

Most recently, a pilot project in conjunction with PAL-Cut A/S has increased productivity on the automatic palletisation lines by up to 8%, which equates to 50,000-100,000 more bottles each day. The environment, too, is a major beneficiary here, as paper use is cut by between 22% and 66%. As an additional bonus, the number of pallet spaces required is reduced by almost 150.

Cardboard was the bottleneck: On the production line, water is drawn off into 0.33, 0.5, 0.75, 1.5 and 2 litre bottles. A packing robot stacks the bottles of mineral water on pallets containing 4-7 layers. A piece of corrugated cardboard has traditionally been used as an intermediate sheet to protect the bottles and stabilise the pallet.

The problem is just that corrugated cardboard takes up a lot of space and requires the palletising lines to be stopped frequently, because pallets containing corrugated cardboard have to be replaced manually. The problem is even greater when there is a change of pallet size, the readjustment typically taking half an hour each time. As palletisation is integrated with the bottling lines, this creates a bottleneck to increased productivity.

"We had to have 150 pallets of corrugated cardboard of various dimensions for quarter, half and full pallets taking up room at our warehouse," explains Bruno Jensen, Production Manager at the factory in Fasterholt. He continues: "Twice an hour, one of the staff had to fetch a pallet from stores and place it by truck next to the packing robot. For safety reasons, the packaging line stops automatically each time, which means a loss of productivity."

It is for this reason that Aqua d'or, in conjunction with PAL-Cut A/S, has just conducted a pilot project on a sheet dispenser for the automatic cutting and feeding of intermediate sheets. The result has been significant improvements in productivity, stock tie-up and paper use.

Significantly higher productivity: PAL-Cut sheet dispensers have now been installed on three of the company's palletising lines. These automatically cut the intermediate sheets, which are collected by the packing robots. The pallets are built up with alternating bottles and intermediate sheets, typically in 4-7 layers. The sheets are cut from a roll of approximately 4,000 metres of Antim65 anti-slip paper.

One roll approximates to 24 hours' production, whereas previously a new pallet of corrugated cardboard was being collected every half an hour. When the pallet size was changed, fresh corrugated cardboard had to be fetched and production would stop for half an hour. Using PAL-Cut, the sheet format is changed automatically when packaging switches from full pallets to one-quarter or one-half pallets.

"The PAL-Cut solution has seen productivity improve by 50,000-100,000 bottles a day, which is an improvement in percentage terms of 4-8%. PAL-Cut is simply a brilliant idea," explains Bruno Jensen.

140 fewer pallet spaces: The need for pallet spaces has been significantly reduced. It used to be the case that the pallets of corrugated cardboard sheets took up 150 spaces. The rolls of PAL-Cut's Antim65 anti-slip paper take up just 10 pallet spaces. Antim65 takes up far less space than the corrugated paper and it is a case of 'one size fits all', with only two paper thicknesses required.

This has led to much more efficient internal logistics, as it provides more space for ready-packaged pallets. Before, we used to have the hassle of running from remote storage because space was limited. The company works on a just-in-time basis, so 140 additional pallet spaces means a lot. Depending on the season, between 300 and 1,800 pallets are dispatched each day.

Stabilised internal logistics: Some of the pallets containing filled bottles are transported by truck for foil wrapping. The structure using Antim65 intermediate layers makes the pallets much more stable, because the paper has an anti-slip coating on which the bottles do not slide. This contrasts with the corrugated cardboard's flat surface and has significantly reduced the incidence of pallets collapsing.

Splits in the foil used to be a problem when the sharp edges of the corrugated cardboard protruded from the pallet, as this led to splits developing during the foil wrapping process. The much softer Antim65 paper has solved this.

Reduced carbon footprint: Aqua d'or takes the environmental impact of its work very seriously and is making a determined effort to reduce its 'carbon water footprint'. The company has estimated that the production of 1 kg of cheese generates 56 times more CO2 emissions than the production of 1 litre of natural mineral water. One reason for this is that they use exclusively green electricity from wind power. Analyses show that the packaging aspect accounts for 69% of CO2 emissions.

By using recycled plastic, minimising their use of plastic and now by using less paper, they are able to reduce this level and keep it down. Using Antim65 paper reduces the use of paper pulp for intermediate sheets by 22-66%, depending on whether the Antim65 being used is 150 or 350 gram quality. By way of comparison, the corrugated cardboard used previously weighed 450 grams.

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