When it comes to case packing machinery, few bottling operations are more demanding than at Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc. (Deerfield, Ill., www.beamglobal.com). The owner of the 211-year-old bourbon brand Jim Beam has grown dramatically over the past few years. By expanding its product portfolio through corporate acquisitions and introducing new spirits and wine brands, it has moved from the seventh to the fourth-largest spirits company in the world. Its 2006 net sales came in at $1.75 billion.
With a steady stream of new brands, such as the DeKuyper Pucker line of schnapps, the Knob Creek ultra-premium bourbon, and Starbucks Coffee Liqueur, the company's case packing machinery must be able to handle glass bottles coming down the production line in a variety of shapes, sizes and textures. Such bottles are designed for effective marketing, but pose a challenge for handling by automated equipment.
The elegant shape of the Starbucks Coffee Liqueur bottle, which suggests a cocktail shaker, recently won an Overall Package Design award from the Glass Packaging Institute. However, the topheavy shape and relatively small base present a challenge as the bottles move through the case packing operation.
"With our large portfolio of premium products, we need case packing equipment that can adapt to a wide variety of bottles, and do so quickly and easily during our frequent changeovers," explains Robert Land, the Kentucky-based corporate packaging engineer. "The case packers need to be gentle on our premium packaging, and they must operate reliably at a high speed, because we have limited accumulation space upstream on the production line."
During the past decade, Beam Global Spirits & Wine has installed a number of Standard-Knapp (Portland, Conn., www.standard-knapp.com) case packing systems as it has expanded capacity and retired aging systems. Its first Standard-Knapp machine, a 939 Versatron case packer, was installed in 1995 at its plant in Clermont, Ky. The machine packs 36 cases per minute of bourbon in 1.75 liter bottles. "With the success of the Clermont system, we began purchasing Standard-Knapp equipment for the most demanding packing applications at our other facilities," Land says.
Beam Global Spirits & Wine now has three 939s Versatron case packers handling bottles of cordials at a plant in Cincinnati, running at 25 to 30 cases per minute. The 939 model features a servo system with a ‘soft catch' mechanism that reduces breakage. A two-axis servo system allows the Versatron to actually catch the product as it descends into the case. A lift table moves the case to the up position and waits for a full grid. When the grid is full, the riding strips shift to the side and initiate the bottle descent. The lift table simultaneously moves the case downward on a velocity curve that ultimately achieves the same speed at the point of contact.
"The soft catch capability is especially important for cordials, because they are very sticky and sugary, and bottle breakage can cause a huge mess that is difficult to clean," Land says. "Now we rarely experience bottle breakage; when we do, we can hose down the machine, because it is 100% stainless steel, and then we are up and running again in minutes. The stainless construction is a big advantage. We do not need to worry about rust and repainting."
Another advantage, according to Land, changeovers can be completed in less than 15 minutes without tools. The case packer adapts to different bottle sizes and shapes, as well as to different case sizes. A touch-screen operator interface, drop-in lane guide spacers, and a lightweight snapin grid make quick changeovers possible. One of the machines at the Cincinnati plant runs eight different packages, including rectangular and round bottles in three different sizes.
"We pride ourselves on installing major pieces of equipment in a carefully planned and deliberate manner," Land says. "We expect a 30-to 50-year useful life from our machinery." He is confident that its case packers "will help us to meet those expectations."
Beam Global Spirits & Wine uses a Standard Knapp 939 case packer to run Starbucks 750ml Cream Liquor at its Frankfort, Ky., bottling plant.