By John Peter Koss
The current beverage marketplace has focused on supply chain management, new product introductions, packaging innovations, consumer attitudes/demands, automated handling systems, distribution method strategies and more. On the front end, supply chain departments may address raw and package material scheduling, inventories, security and usage. On the back end, supply chain managers may address pre-distribution automation, distribution methods, vehicle type/capabilities and delivery schedules. Where is this leading? To the supply chain core, the beverage production line, and specifically the filler.
To emphasize the point, accept the facts that all necessary raw/packaging material inputs, ancillary equipment and supporting systems in a production line are geared to filler capabilities, capacities and flexibilities. Without the filler creating packaged beverages in a myriad of containers for the consumer, the supply chain wouldn’t exist.
Although the basic rotary filling concept has not departed from its original intended design, almost every beverage filler manufacturer has experienced the transition process of making improved and functional design modifications on fillers and component parts. The technological transition has generated re-designed filler structures and component parts that will accommodate products with variable characteristics, packaging requirements and operating speeds.
Many factors have prompted the design transition to improve filler capabilities: 1) liquid flow control and filling integrity; 2) ancillary treatment for still products; 3) cleaning and sanitation procedures and regulations; 4) variable product characteristics; 5) container sizes, shapes and material; 6) closure/crown/lid sizes and material; 7) higher speed production lines and 8) maintenance accessibility and repair. Each factor has had its peculiar impact on existing filler overhauls, new fillers and component part design.
Filler Structure: Bases are now stainless steel, center posts are being replaced with an “open frame design” and bowls/tanks are being modified to handle a variety of products.
Size and Speed: Filler size has progressed from 40 to 180 valves and higher. Increasing valves created larger physical size, higher speeds and presented practical operating problems. What is the maximum physical size that can fit into the plant? Apart from size, speed raises the question, “How fast can fillers operate?” Laws of physics provide that answer. Ultimate size and speed are gradually being determined by containers and products.
Container Handling: New generation rotary bottle and can fillers now feed containers with air chain conveying systems, deposit them on stainless steel lift cylinder supports and use holding devices compatible with container design. In addition, new fillers can run variable size containers without major change over and lost time.
Liquid Control: Counter pressure filling is giving way to the volumetric method of directing liquid flow into containers. New design filler and snifter valves, along with level and pressure controls, are resolving chronic fill height and yield problems. Some new valves can run various products, receive required flush outs and enhance the cleaning process.
Cleaning/Sanitation/Lubrication: New filler designs, capable of running various products and containers, have made required sanitation and cleaning procedures easier with the flexibility of using hot and/or cold CIP systems. With more products, C/S/L execution is vital.
From more than 50 years of observations, beverage fillers have gone through a commendable transition. It will continue because conditions will demand change.
John Peter Koss, a beverage operations advisor, is a licensed registered professional engineer and has 50-plus years of beverage business experience. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org