Anything but run of the mill

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Anastasios Veletakos is a genuine all-rounder. With Veta S.A., he’s made a name for himself primarily in the metal processing sector, but he’s also active in the beverage industry: under the name of Nera Kritis, he not only produces moulds, preforms and closures, but since 2000 has also been extracting and bottling his own water. The company has now already opened its third plant – and installed one of the first compact-size ErgoBloc LM wet-end blocks there.

The brand-new factory in the northern Greek region of Macedonia is ablaze with the national colours of blue and white. Following plants on Crete and near Corinth, Anastasios Veletakos has built here, around an hour’s travel to the north of Thessalonica, what is meanwhile his third facility for water production: “We’re one of the few bottlers whose natural mineral water comes directly from the spring and doesn’t have to be pumped out of the ground. The quality is superb – which is why we also opted for this additional facility here in Macedonia”, to quote Anastasios Veletakos. Logically enough, he markets his water extracted there under the name of “Nera Makedonias”, which means “Water from Macedonia”.

But irrespective of whether they come from Crete, the Peloponnese or Macedonia: the salient feature of all waters from Nera Kritis are PET bottles designed with artistic motifs. “We want our water to be an experience – and to stand out on the market,” explains Anastasios Veletakos. “That’s why we’ve specialised in unusual, striking bottle designs. These meanwhile account for around 70 per cent of our total sales.” So far, the company has already introduced more than 100 different designs, including bottles in a diamond look and featuring characters from Star Wars, the Justice League or Disney, for which Nera Kritis possesses an exclusive licence. The portfolio also includes private-label products: airlines, hotels or supermarkets have already ordered their personalised water in PET containers.

All of it created in-house

The proprietor himself draws up the rough sketches for new motifs, which the firm’s own design team then finalises. Thanks to its in-house mould production capability, Nera Kritis can put its ideas into practice immediately – and through this promptitude and flexibility secures a substantial advantage on the market.

Anastasios Veletakos operates not only in the beverage sector, but first and foremost in the metalworking industry with his parent company Veta S.A.; the firm possesses 17 ultra-modern laser cutting machines, for example. Its customers come from the retailing sector, industry or architecture.

So it’s no wonder that the Nera Makedonias brand also embraces symbolism – this time with a historical background, since four motifs represent the history of the region and the country: the Lion of Amphipolis is a tomb monument from the 4th century. The Star of Vergina comes from the same epoch, and was used back then as a royal emblem. The third design is the white tower, the symbol of Thessalonica, and every fourth bottle is decorated with an image depicting one of the most renowned conquerors in antiquity: Alexander the Great. “The feedback from Macedonia itself is unbelievable: even quite small shops or museums are meanwhile offering our water. They’re proud of their homeland – and are keen to demonstrate this in visual form.” But Nera Makedonias is on sale not only in Macedonia itself, but all over Greece and even abroad as well.

Clear ideas

Each of the four designs is available in the 0.5, 1.0 and 1.5-litre sizes. In the production operation, most beverage companies would probably bottle a small batch of each format – and then pack or palletise this together for a homogeneous product mix on the supermarket shelves. But not Nera Kritis: the company opted for what’s probably the most difficult task a bottling line has to master, namely to handle all four motifs in the same production cycle. For this purpose, Nera Kritis uses a complete line from Krones featuring an ErgoBloc LM. The client had already gained experience with this block technology at his plant on Crete, which since 2015 has been operating an ErgoBloc L, the big brother, so to speak, of the compact-size wet-end block.

“I had my first experience with Krones about eight years ago, when I invested in a stretch blow-moulding machine,” recalls Anastasios Veletakos. “I have also been producing blow-moulding machines myself since 1993, but only in the small output range with two cavities for large containers. That’s why I had very precise ideas about what a high-performance machine like this should be capable of – and Krones came up with the goods. The decision five years ago in favour of the ErgoBloc L was just the logical consequence, since in my opinion this technology is the best that’s currently available on the market.”

ErgoBloc LM in the smallest size

For precisely this reason, at the new plant in Macedonia Nera Kritis opted once again for this block solution from Krones – this time in the compact LM variant. With a rating of 25,000 containers per hour, it ranks among the smallest sizes. Only four operators are needed for handling the entire production operation, including the supply of input material and to the warehouse.

The wet-end block incorporates a Contiform 3 Pro stretch blow-moulding machine, a Contiroll wrap-around labeller, and a Hydrofill filler. Since Nera Kritis manufactures its own moulds, the two companies work closely together to ensure that the moulds and the system are perfectly matched. The bottle handling parts, too, have been precisely designed to suit the different moulds produced in parallel.

The line includes not only the ErgoBloc LM, but also a Checkmat, which uses infrared rays to monitor the fill level and a camera to inspect the label and closure placement. For this, in particular, the four containers being produced simultaneously pose a certain challenge, “since depending on the shape of the bottle involved the optical fill levels will vary as well,” explains Giannis Kampouridis, Production Manager in the Nera Makedonias plant. “But the specialists from Krones did a great job, and programmed the Checkmat so accurately that it detects the different container shapes even if they are not passed through the unit in a defined sequence.”

The bottles are packed by a Variopac Pro with an integrated handle applicator, after which a Modulpal 2AC then palletises the shrink-packs, whereupon a PalCo pallet conveyor takes the pallets via an elevator to the store on the first floor.

A specialist for still water

The ErgoBloc LM has been specifically designed for bottling still water. Numerous technical features, like the fully electronic PFR valve or a selective labelling station, have been adopted from the concept of the ErgoBloc L. But the compact version also contributes some features of its own: instead of block-synchronised individual machines, the entire system has been conceived as a holistic block, and essential functions like control, drives and operator interface are grouped together in a central unit. This reduces the footprint, for example, by up to 30 per cent, but also cuts the amount of capital investment involved.

In order to minimise costs and nonetheless to offer bottlers a maximised diversity of variants, special features and upgrades can be very simply added or subtracted in predefined option packages – and the ErgoBloc LM can thus be precisely tailored to the particular wishes and requirements involved.

Olympic gold

The line went into operation in June 2019 – and although Nera Kritis first has to gain a foothold in the market with the new brand, Anastasios Veletakos is extremely confident: “If things progress the way they’re looking at the moment, then one line isn’t going to be enough.”

Although the entrepreneur with his two internationally operating companies is an extremely busy man, in all his activities he attaches paramount importance to personal contact. “I’ve been working together with Krones for about eight years now – and since then our collaboration has evolved into what it is today: a business relationship based on mutual trust. Krones has accompanied us on our way to the top and always delivered on its promises,” is Anastasios Veletakos’ verdict. “I don’t often hand out compliments, but I would award an Olympic gold medal to Krones.”

And because he would like to intensify the mutually supportive collaboration still further, he has already ordered a second ErgoBloc LM from Krones. He’s also planning to gradually modernise the existing lines on Crete, which feature machines from different manufacturers – and here he’ll likewise be opting solely for Krones’ kit. “Water is an attractive, promising line of business with an auspicious future. In particular, our exports to 28 different countries are an important source of revenue for us,” says Anastasios Veletakos. “This year, for the first time we’ve been running the production operation round the clock in three shifts – and our capacities are at full stretch. The Krones kit was a major factor here in enabling us to achieve these quantities. But the future knows no limits, and that’s why we have to invest in additional lines, so as to meet the high level of demand.”

“I don’t often hand out compliments, but I would award an Olympic gold medal to Krones.”

Anastasios Veletakos

Unique in Greece

In Greece, Krones is represented by Solutions Greece. From Katerini in the north of the country, a 22-strong team handles sales and service support for Krones’ machines and lines on an exclusive basis. With 13 service employees, no other Greek company in the sector is as well-staffed for after-sales support as Solutions Greece. The service technicians receive their basic and advanced training directly from the Krones Academy, and support not only Krones’ clients in Greece, but all over the world as well