When it comes to case packing machinery, few bottling operations are more demanding than at Beam Global Spirits & Wine, Inc. The owner of the 211-year-old bourbon brand Jim Beam has grown dramatically over the past few years, from the seventh to the fourth-largest spirits company in the world, by expanding its product portfolio through corporate acquisitions and introducing innovative new spirits and wine brands.
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 case-packing machinery at Jim Beam plants must handle glass bottles coming down the production line in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and textures.
Creative Bottle Shapes
The case packers must be capable of adapting to anything from red rectangular frosted bottles containing cinnamon schnapps to the cylindrical Starbucks™ Coffee Liqueur bottles that taper down to a narrow base. These bottles are a good example of product packaging that is designed for effective marketing, yet pose a challenge for handling by automated equipment.
Winner of the prestigious Overall Package Design award of the Glass Packaging Institute, the elegant shape of the Starbucks™ Coffee Liqueur bottle suggests a cocktail shaker (Image 1). This design conveys “its multiple personalities as a straight sipper, a base for mixers and an ingredient in Mudslides and other complex drink concoctions so favored by the liqueurs-and-cordials crowd,” according to Package Design Magazine. However, the top-heavy shape and relatively small base can 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 for Jim Beam Brands Co. “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 case packing systems as it has expanded capacity and retired aging systems. Their first Standard-Knapp machine, a 939 Versatron™ Case Packer, was installed in 1995 at their Clermont, KY plant. The machine packs 36 cases per minute of Jim Beam Bourbon in 1.75-L bottles (Image 2).
“We were very pleased with the reliability, performance, and the ease of operation and maintenance, of the Standard-Knapp machine,” says Land. “With the success of the Clermont system, we began purchasing Standard-Knapp equipment for the most demanding packing applications at our other facilities.”
Stainless Steel Construction and “Soft Catch”
Beam Global Spirits & Wine now has three 939s Versatron Case packers handling bottles of cordials at a plant in Cincinnati, OH, running at 25–30 cases per minute. The 939s model features a servo system with a “Soft Catch" mechanism that dramatically reduces breakage. A two-axis servo system allows the Versatron to actually “catch” the product as it descends into the case. The 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,” according to Land. “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.”
Convenient and Rapid Changeover
Another advantage, according to Land, is the convenient changeover that can be completed in less than 15 minutes without tools. The Versatron easily adapts not only to different bottle sizes and shapes, but also to different case sizes. Quick changeover is made possible by a touch screen operator interface, drop-in lane guide spacers, and a patented lightweight "snap-in" grid. One of the Versatron machines at the Cincinnati plant runs eight different packages, including rectangular and round bottles in three different sizes.
The versatility of the Standard-Knapp case-packing machinery has been put to the test at the company’s Frankfort, KY plant. A single 939 Versatron packs Starbucks™ Coffee Liqueur in 375-mL, 750-mL and 1-L bottles of varied shapes.
“We pride ourselves on installing major pieces of equipment in a carefully planned and deliberate manner,” says Land. “We expect a 30- to 50-year useful life from our machinery, and we are confident that Standard-Knapp equipment will help us to meet those expectations.”
Discover more at standard-knapp.com.