The Romanian stock corporation Perla Harghitei just cannot seem to break the habit: over and over again, the mineral water bottlers invest in filling lines from Krones. 2017 saw the company commission what is already its seventh line in succession.
Demand in Romania for products and disparate container types is characterised by increasing differentiation and complexity: “Consumption of still water, in particular, exhibits overproportional growth here. This was why we decided to install another PET line – with a higher output and block technology to the latest state of the art,” explains Szilárd Dietrich. He has since 2010 been not only the assistant of General Director and proprietor Árpád Kurkó, but his son-in-law as well. Szilárd Dietrich proudly gives the team sent by the Krones magazine a tour of the plant set up by his father-in-law.
He starts by giving some insights into Perla Harghitei’s history: “The mineral water company was founded back in 1974 as an enterprise owned by the Romanian state. In 1994, i.e. five years after the fall of the Ceaușescu regime, Árpád Kurkó succeeded in taking over the firm in a management buy-out.
For the preceding eight years, he had himself been a managing director at the likewise state-owned water bottlers Borsec. At the time of his take-over, Perla Harghitei was operating four relatively small glass lines. From 1996 to 2003, the company was for the first time using a (pre-owned) PET line for filling carbonated mineral water in 0.5-litre and 1.5-litre containers. 2002 then saw the installation of the first Krones line, rated at 12,000 containers per hour.” The guided tour Szilárd Dietrich is giving us turns out to be something like an overview of how technology at Krones has evolved over the years. You see, what he was showing us included this very first PET line, still featuring air conveyors between the Contiform S blow-moulder (which back then was a prototype) and the filler. The palletiser in this line came from Kettner, a manufacturer of packaging machinery that Krones had taken over in 1998. This line also marks the beginning of a beautiful friendship, because as time went by it was followed by six more lines from Krones (see table).
|Seven complete lines from Krones|
|Year||Line from||Container type||Output (containers/hour)|
|2007||Krones||PET (2.0 and 2.5-litre)||12,000 and 10,500 respectively|
|2011||Krones and Kosme||PET (0.5 and 2.0-litre)||8,000 and 6,000 respectively|
“Installation of the most recent line for water filling went off like clockwork,” says Szilárd Dietrich. “First we completed the hall for it and laid the floor, then the machines were delivered and erected by our own staff in their correct places, after which the installation team from Krones arrived, linked up the individual machines to each other and commissioned the line.” Even today, the machines and the water-blue floor are still gleaming like new, although the line in its first year of operation had already filled over 25 million bottles with still or carbonated water.
Third PET water line from Krones
The new line fills 18,400 0.5-litre containers per hour and includes:
- A blow-moulder/filler Contiform Bloc comprising a Contiform 3 Pro blow-moulder and a Modulfill HRS counterpressure filler with Checkmat inspection system
- Contiroll labeller
- Variopac Pro FS-6 packer
- Modulpal 2A palletiser
The line handles three different container sizes and products of the Perla Harghitei brand:
- 5-,1.0- and 2.0-litre containers
- Still water, moderately and heavily carbonated mineral water, plus natural mineral water fortified with gas from the firm’s own spring
“We try to fill one product type for at least two shifts in succession without any change-over,” explains Szilárd Dietrich.
Two significant innovations
For Perla Harghitei, this line is something quite special in two respects, the first one being that the company has here premiered a block-synchronised layout.
“Krones persuaded us to give it a try – and we haven’t regretted it,” says Szilárd Dietrich.
“We were afraid of losing too many preforms in the event of a filler standstill. But our fears proved to be unfounded, thanks to the ingenious electronic link installed. The block offers us a better standard of hygiene and high efficiency levels. Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is running at more than 70 per cent – which in view of our greatly diversified product range is very good. Fierce competitive pressure from the large multinational companies means we have to invest in innovative technologies of this kind, offering as they do both low consumption figures for energy and water and an enhanced level of hygiene. Block technology from Krones meets these expectations to consummate perfection.”
The second significant innovation was first-time use of a Contiroll wrap-around labeller. “We’re changing over step by step from paper to PE labels, mainly for reasons of cost. We’re sticking with paper only for exports because here it’s quite possible that legislators in the individual countries may change the specifications involved at short notice, and paper means we’re more flexible with smaller batches,” explains Szilárd Dietrich. This was also the reason why Perla Harghitei in early 2018 had the existing Canmatic replaced by a Contiroll in the second PET line as well.
Also appreciated abroad
Although exports, accounting for roughly two per cent, are rather marginal, they’re all the more exotic for mineral water. “The USA is in first place, followed by Hungary, Canada and China. The reason for this can be found in the extremely high emigration rate: an estimated 20 per cent of Romanians left the country in search of better working conditions. In the US and Canada, especially, there is a downright diaspora of Romanian emigrants, who prefer natural mineral water from their homeland to the ubiquitous local treated spring water. In Chinese bars and restaurants, too, our Perla Harghitei in the 0.33-litre glass bottle is a much appreciated, high-priced beverage,” to quote Szilárd Dietrich.
He also attaches major importance to pointing out his company’s sustainability-focused philosophy: “For us, sustainability means more than just placing the slogan ‘Perla Harghitei – love nature!’ on our labels, we actually do something to achieve sustainability: in 2014, we changed over to Shorty closures with some help from Krones, enabling us to now use preforms with a lower weight. What’s more, we’re still selling some of our products in returnable bottles, accounting for 20 per cent of our production capacities.”
Szilárd Dietrich was born in Romania, and symbolises the ethnic mix found in Transylvania: “My father is German, my mother is Hungarian, so I myself am a polyglot fluent in Romanian, English, Hungarian and German,” he tells people on the guided tour through the plant. An engineer for timber constructions by trade, he had for years headed Ikea furniture factories in Romania and Hungary. “Up until the financial crisis of 2008, all that companies were keen on was establishing new capacities as fast as possible,” he says, looking back. “Quite a few managers just love crisis management. I for my part prefer to see projects grow. It makes life more agreeable,” he admits. He is able to indulge this predilection to the full at Perla Harghitei. The mineral water bottlers can point to continuous growth, and thus to continuous investment as well.
“We have real affinities with Germany,”
says Szilárd Dietrich. This is reflected not only in close cooperation with Krones. When it comes to CSD production, too, Perla Harghitei is opting for German know-how. “We buy our basic ingredients from Döhler for the Allegria soft drinks with a fruit juice content. The fact that our waters
are highly mineralised means it isn’t all that easy to produce carbonated soft drinks. So we need the knowledge of experienced specialists,” he explains. The elderflower flavour, by the way, is at the moment the absolute runaway bestseller in the firm’s highly diversified portfolio.
Exclusive machinery supplier
In his assessment of Krones, he goes one step further: “Krones is our exclusive machinery supplier, and that’s something we shall definitely not be changing.
Over the past years, Krones staff have repeatedly demonstrated just how effectively they are able to support us. They have put in place a can-do, fast-response service team here in Romania. We absolutely need this local service support.”
And his boss and father-in-law Árpád Kurkó, who has meanwhile joined us, concurs: “We shall be sticking with German technology. I visit Krones in Neutraubling at least twice a year, and feel very much at home there,” says the 70-year-old, who despite his success has remained unassuming and down-to-earth. And things are going to stay that way in the future as well. Perla Harghitei is considering new pack variants and thinking about channelling further capital expenditure into its filling capacities. There are plans for installing another line for still water as early as in 2019 – this one, too, from Krones.
“The Contiform Bloc offers us a better standard of hygiene and high efficiency levels. Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is running at more than 70 per cent – which in view of our diversified product range can be rates as very good,” says Szilárd Dietrich.
The new PET water line is already Perla Harghitei’s seventh line from Krones in succession.
“Installation of the new line filling went off like clockwork,” says Szilárd Dietrich.
The line in its first year of operation had already filled over 25 million bottles with still or carbonated water.
“We’re changing over step by step from paper to PE labels, mainly for reasons of cost,” explains Szilárd Dietrich.