New canning lines from KHS

Image: KHS Group

Patrick Redl took over the role as plant manager at Coca-Cola HBC in Edelstal in Austria four years ago, following in the footsteps of his father who worked for Römerquelle for 37 years. Römerquelle is a mineral water plant that was taken over by the world’s third-largest bottler of the Coca-Cola brand in 2003.

Idyllic location

Edelstal is close to the Slovakian border and an idyllic village that’s home to approximately 800 people in the north of the Burgenland province. At the entrance to the village stands Coca-Cola HBC Austria’s production and logistics centre.

Since Römerquelle’s beginnings in the 1940s and its transition to an industrial bottling plant in the 1960s, a lot has happened there. Following the takeover, the site was gradually expanded and modernised in the space of ten years until it ultimately replaced the former Coca-Cola production facility in Vienna and a factory in neighbouring Slovakia. Since 2013 almost all of the soft drinks for the Austrian market have been filled at and distributed nationwide from the state-of-the-art filling and logistics centre in Edelstal. There are currently eleven production lines in operation: three of these are for bottled mineral water on a classic PET line, a glass line and an ultraclean PET line for sensitive products. On the other seven lines – three are for PET, one for glass, one for bag-in-box and two for kegs – where soft drinks, energy drinks, juice and syrup are processed. The latest milestone in the history of the production site is its first-ever canning line, commissioned last year by KHS.

“Cans are a completely new category of primary packaging for us and metal is a material that we haven’t yet used to date,” Redl said. “When designing the line, we found it very important that the technology is future-proof in all respects and that it gives us the greatest possible flexibility with regard to future market trends and product innovations.” Even at the initial development stage of the new line layout, KHS had many constructive suggestions to make as to how this could be later extended with little effort – such as by adding a pasteuriser, an extra packaging machine or a half pallet processing option.

Ambitious timing

The first of many challenges was the tight schedule. “In October 2019 we were tasked with installing and commissioning a canning line by June 2020,” the plant manager recalls. “This was ambitious timing – not least because of the official approvals needed. Just three days after the go-ahead we presented the project to the local government so that the necessary resources could be blocked there.”

The project was extremely complex primarily because it affected the entire plant. The new line was to be set up in an area that had previously accommodated the raw materials warehouse. This was then to move to where the stretch blow molding machines had formerly stood. In turn, a palletizer had to be relocated to make room for the blow molders. “It was like a chain reaction and required some extremely careful planning,” Redl remembers. “We started the switch in November. The warehouse kept us busy until May because there was less space available at its new location. We therefore installed a moving shelf system of a type otherwise used to archive documents.”

Demanding schedule met despite Covid-19

Before KHS could deliver the machines for the new canning line, the old warehouse had to be revamped. This entailed laying a new floor, repiping and rewiring it and installing ventilation and lighting systems. “These were just a few of the countless preparations that had to be made before things could really get going. However, in the end it all went like clockwork.” This was despite the fact that another complication had cropped up in the meantime. “We felt we were well on track to meet the deadline in June. We of course had an eye on what had been going on in China since January but hoped that it would somehow pass us by. But then, as we all know, coronavirus hit Europe and reached Austria, putting us in a position that definitely didn’t help. Nevertheless, we didn’t doubt for a minute that we’d be able to keep to our schedule. And then we did actually manage to complete all of the preparations by the appointed date.”

A safe space was created where all those involved were able to fully concentrate on the installation of the line and there wasn’t a single case of Covid-19 in the team during the entire course of the project.

Ultimately, despite the adverse circumstances the deadline for the start of beverage production could be met, due to the efforts of the of personnel from both Coca-Cola HBC and KHS.

Strategic key supplier

Throughout 2020, Coca-Cola HBC had KHS installed and commissioned new canning lines in six countries. One reason for this investment was the increased demand for the aluminium containers. “Cans are becoming more and more popular, especially in Europe,” said Theodoros Kappatos, group engineering manager of Coca-Cola HBC. “As a beverage leader on many European markets, we of course need to respond to this trend. What’s more, our new canning line has also enabled us to develop a strategy with which we can supply flavoured Römerquelle water in aluminium cans.” Another was that the new procurements are part of the bottler’s supply chain strategy. One of its goals is to modernise its production lines, especially when it comes to replacing older systems with new, more efficient and more powerful technology with lower consumption values.

Coca-Cola HBC enjoys a long and trusting partnership with KHS. “We awarded KHS this contract because the company is a great partner to us,” said Kappatos. “This not only applies to this container format but to our entire system portfolio.”

Redl in Edelstal is pleased with the high speed of the line that fills up to 90,000 cans an hour, as well as how quickly the new line was brought up to capacity compared to all of the company’s older machines. He is particularly happy with the introduction of a new technology that enables can six-packs to be held together by the innovative KeelClip cardboard solution. Reducing the use of plastic in secondary packaging is one of Coca-Cola HBC’s World Without Waste commitments. KHS provided support here, contributing expertise when it came to integrating the machine into the line.

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