Much-in-demand water from the Alps

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The way to ultra-flexible production

It was only just over 20 years ago that Alberto Bertone laid the foundations for the Fonti di Vinadio mineral water company, whose mineral water brand Sant’Anna is today leading the Italian market, with a share of more than twelve per cent.

When Alberto Bertone, descended from a family of builders, set up Fonti di Vinadio in 1996, there were more than 350 mineral water bottlers operating in Italy. To survive and prosper on his chosen market, the graduate political scientist, 29 years old back then, opted for a marketing tool that had up till then been largely ignored: comparative advertising. In a publicity campaign, Alberto Bertone emphasised that his water from the Stura valley is substantially softer, and contains less minerals and sodium than that sold by many well-known competitors, whom he listed by name. Therefore, the ads continued, the water is particularly suitable for preparing baby food. Following a lean period of a few years, this bold initiative actually bore fruit: when Sant’Anna is ideal for small children, then it’s doubtless very good for adults, too, was probably what a lot of consumers thought – and so the output kept on growing.

Today, the plant in Vinadio produces 1.3 billion fills a year. As on the overall Italian market, still water accounts for around 70 per cent of the water sales at Fonti di Vinadio, and carbonated water for the remaining 30 per cent. Since 2013, the company’s portfolio has also included ice teas of the Sant’Anna SanThè brand, and since 2017 Sant’Anna Karma soft drinks. In the meantime, both these beverage categories together achieve about a tenth of total sales.

The company extracts its mineral water from a variety of springs located in the Maritime Alps in the north-west of Italy and transports it through a pipeline network, more than 600 kilometres long, to the filling plant near the French border. At 6,400 feet up in the mountains, it is one of Europe’s highest-elevation springs.

Today the plant in Vinadio  produces 1.3 billion fills a year.

Maximised automation

In the years 2017/2018 alone, demand for Fonti di Vinadio’s products rose by around 30 per cent. And that in a market with overcapacities, in which the five largest mineral water brands account for roughly four-fifths of the total. That is why Alberto Bertone, the company’s President and CEO, is continually investing in his production operation, and as far as technology is concerned is opting for maximised efficiency and the highest possible degree of automation. This is

reflected, for example, in how the lines are supplied with preforms and other processing materials, and in how the pallets of fulls are discharged. You see, these tasks are performed by 40 automated guided vehicles whizzing through the halls powered by lithium batteries.“But our paramount goal is to ensure that our lines, too, are run with a maximised degree of automation,” says Alberto Bertone. To achieve this, he has over the past two years had five new bottling lines from Krones installed.

  • Three of these replaced relatively old lines with machines from various manufacturers, and have increased the output from what used to be 20,000 each to what is now 54,000 bottles an hour.
  • The other two were additionally installed in order to upsize capacities still further, and to upgrade efficiency levels as well.

The lines’ tasks are clear: three of them fill exclusively still water in square 1.5-litre containers. This bottle type accounts for more than 70 per cent of total sales, and, thanks to its shape, does not take up as much storage space as its cylindrical counterparts. Another 54,000-bph line handles just these cylindrical bottles, in sizes of 0.5, 1.0 and 1.5 litres, filling them with still and carbonated water. The fifth new line, the last of them, commissioned in August 2018, fills 0.5-litre bottles at a speed of 81,000 containers an hour. “These dedicated lines, as they are called, hardly need any change-over times any more, and thus upsize the achievable output,” explains Marco Bilbiano, Chief Information Officer and Research & Development Manager.

This 0.5-litre bottle is a lightweight champion weighing a mere 7.2 grams (previous bottle 12 grams). For developing it, Krones pulled out all the stops. From the sketchpad containing a large bandwidth of possible shapes, they joined forces to progress the development work and to shortlist a smaller number of design variants, for which sample bottles were then produced. Simultaneously, the preform design was developed and validated, so as to assure technical feasibility. The result is persuasive, eco-friendly, cost-efficient, and scores highly in terms of an appropriately appealing design.

Block technology of the ErgoBloc L

Each of the 54,000-bph lines comprises:

  • ErgoBloc L with
    • Contiform 3 Pro blow-moulder, including a Contifeed preform roller sorter and a Prejet preform rinser
    • Topmodul labeller with two Contiroll stations and two Multireel C magazines for label reels
    • Modulfill VFJ filler with a foam-cleaning system in a cleanroom
  • Variopac Pro FS non-returnables packer
  • SynCo container conveyor and MultiCo pack conveyor
  • Just one operator per line
  • Each of the five new lines operates with an ErgoBloc L. Their basic layout is identical, with the 81,000-bph line obviously using higher-output machines. “The block systems are fantastic,” says Alberto Bertone. “Their footprint is small, their machines work efficiently, and we can actually handle bottling, labelling and packaging with just one operator per line. For this purpose, the Multireel C magazines are absolutely essential in my eyes, as they save a lot of the operator’s time.”
  • Some of the lines lead into a separate palletising centre featuring robots. From here, the pallets of fulls are then passed into a relatively small block-type warehouse, with space for “only” 2,000 pallets, because, you see, about 85 per cent of the daily output during the peak season, which totals 12,000 to 13,000 pallets, is loaded directly onto the trucks waiting at a total of 32 loading gates – just-in-time collection. This sophisticated logistical concept enables the mineral water bottler to keep the plant, despite the high output level, relatively compact in size with only a single storey, so that it fits harmoniously into the mountain valley’s landscape.

Blaue Säule, Maschinenbeschriftung