At a time when many beverage opeartions are faced with manpower challenges, technology vendors are stepping up to the plate with robotics solutions that are evolving in terms of speed, precision—and, importantly, more affordable prices.
“The operators of large distribution centers have been experiencing difficulties in getting manpower. They have high turnover ratios. And quite frankly they’ve had a difficult time in finding people that want to do those jobs,” points out Earl Wohlrab, product manager, palletizing and robotic systems, Intelligrated. “So that’s where we have done quite a bit of work over the course of the last couple of years—in the receiving type functions inside the distribution center. And we have made considerable headway in applying robotics technology to the variety pack issue. They can run these multipacks inside of the manufacturing facility and have tighter, more dynamic control over what’s in these packages.” Advances in vision technology, on both the software and the hardware side, have helped foster these advanced applications of robotics in DCs.
Wohlrab, who has a decade of experience in robotics and 18 years in material handling, adds, “When I first got into this, the idea of having a robotic palletizer was practically black magic inside of our sector. So now, roll forward ten years, and we’re speaking of it as if it’s a commodity. What’s exciting is how we’re applying it. So I think there’s going to be some fairly significant robotic-based applications that come down the pipe in the next few years based on the technology that supports that: vision technology, other sensor technologies, the miniaturization of certain actuator products so that they can be applied through robotic tooling. Those kinds of things are what’s going to be the exciting part of what we do.”
Intelligrated recently debuted new case packing/unpacking solutions that singulate bottles in preparation for fill lines, and load product back in to cases in preparation for end-of-line palletizing.
Overall, Intelligrated’s robotic solutions include: Case packing and unpacking; Palletizing; Depalletizing; Mixed-load and mixed-case fulfillment; Bin picking; Tote handling; 950 hybrid palletizer; 950F floor-level hybrid palletizer and 750 hybrid palletizer.
The Techs that Bind
One key area that companies have been targeting to enhance their sustainability cred has been shrink wrap for multipacks. Two of the largest equipment manufacturers demo’d solutions at drinktec 2013 that eliminates shrink wrap entirely, binding beverage containers together through two different novel approaches. Krones’ EvoLite Bloc features a pack strapping machine that binds containers together with a thin plastic strap, resulting in, Krones says, up to 74 percent savings in packaging material and energy. KHS, meanwhile, unveiled its Nature Multi-Pack (NMP) system that actually connects the containers together with a proprietary adhesive that’s sturdy enough to bind bottles or cans together with no need for external shrink wrap, rings or bindings. And it’s simple enough to pull apart and leaves no residual tack on the consumers’ fingers.
Point of No Return
Manufacturers have been pretty busy when it comes one-way keg solutions. Micro Matic and Krones collaborated on the BevKeg (pictured), a one-way 10-liter PET keg that doesn’t require any secondary packaging. When it’s emptied, the container rolls itself up inwards, helping to eliminate tapping losses. Meanwhile the 30 Slimline from KeyKeg is a cylindrical 30-liter keg fitted with two walls that allows the keg to withstand higher internal pressures and resist external damage. And U.S.-based Rehrig Pacific continues to find success with its popular sixth-barrel PubKeg, which has been a sustainable solution for small brewers with lower-volume offerings, such as seasonals.
Fixing Bud’s Bowtie
Last Spring, Budweiser turned heads with the introduction of its innovative bow-tie shaped can that mirrored the brand’s iconic bowtie logo. The innovation was actually made possible through machinery from the Belvac Company. Called the Belvac Shaper, it can be used to shape the sidewall of the container. To make the new can possible, Anheuser-Busch engineers needed to solve a number of technical challenges, and major equipment investments were required at Budweiser’s can-making facility in Newburgh, N.Y. Significant capital investments also were required to upgrade packaging lines at the Budweiser breweries in Los Angeles and Williamsburg, Va., the first breweries with capability to package this unique can innovation. The Budweiser bowtie can is a natural progression from the new packaging introduced in 2011 that emphasized the iconic bowtie, a symbol that first appeared in a national advertising campaign for Budweiser in 1956.