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    Mineralbrunnen RhönSprudel sparkles with a new Krones filling line

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    10. November 2022
    6:30 min.

    "It was like a game of Tetris," says plant manager Michael Breidung, referring to the tricky work of fitting the new returnable-glass line into an existing hall, right next to a running non-returnable-PET line. Thanks to insightful project planning and a clever layout, it was successful despite the very tight quarters. The new Krones line, which is rated at 36,000 bottles per hour, has been up and running since March 2022 as the fourth line at RhönSprudel's plant in Ebersburg-Weyhers, Germany.

    The company's mineral springs were first tapped and enclosed in 1781. From 1911 onward, MineralBrunnen RhönSprudel was owned by the Schindel family, which took what was then a small bottling operation and created what we now know as the RhönSprudel Group. In July 2022, the French Alma Group – one of Europe's leading mineral water bottlers – took over the family-owned and operated company so as to further consolidate the group's position on the German market. Together, the two locations in Ebersburg-Weyhers and Bad Liebenwerda have nine filling lines with a combined annual capacity of around 500 million liters.

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    "It was like a game of Tetris," says plant manager Michael Breidung, referring to the tricky work of fitting the new returnable-glass line into an existing hall.

    Focus on returnables

    At the company's headquarters in Ebersburg-Weyhers near Fulda, there are four filling lines, two of which are for returnable glass and one each for returnable PET and non-returnable PET. Together, they fill as many as 145,000 bottles per hour. The focus is on returnables, which make up more than 80 percent of production – and some 50 percent of that is glass.

    RhönSprudel recognized the strong trend towards glass packaging early on and decided in 2019 to replace an existing returnable-PET line with a new glass line. Initially, RhönSprudel awarded Krones the contract for a palletizing system that could also be used for the existing glass line. Because the plant is situated on a slope, there are warehouses for filled and packaged products on two levels, which can be supplied from either level as logistics require. Thus, the existing line can use both palletizing systems – the new one on the upper level and the old one below.

    The company has since made something of a tradition of working with Krones: In 2015, RhönSprudel had Krones install a filler for the first time, and all of the labelers in the plant are made by Krones. "After our positive experience with the palletizing system, we wanted to invest in a turnkey concept – and decided to award the contract for the filling line to Krones as well. We expect that to yield synergies," explains plant manager Michael Breidung.

    After our positive experience with the palletizing system, we wanted to invest in a turnkey concept – and decided to award the contract for the filling line to Krones as well. We expect that to yield synergies. Erwin HächlMichael BreidungPlant manager at RhönSprudel

    Planning with many limitations

    The two project partners gave themselves an entire year to work through the planning phase, to make sure they came up with a concept that really made sense. Designing a suitable layout was not easy, for a variety of reasons. There were several limiting factors: For instance, since the opening in the ceiling for the depalletizer was to be located right next to the heavyweight bottle washer (180 tons in operation), the ceiling around the opening had to be able to withstand very high loads. Various platforms had to be erected in order to fit all of the machines – for example, the product filtration system and the crate washer – into the tight space. Moreover, the machines had to be brought into the hall in a specific order so that they could be placed in their intended locations. Not only that, but they all had to be lifted and lowered into the hall through three openings in the roof by way of a 500-ton truck-mounted crane because there was no access from the ground. "Krones has an excellent planning team that doesn't compromise on quality in certain points. And we really appreciated their highly responsive and consistent attitude," concludes Michael Breidung.

    Krones has an excellent planning team. Erwin HächlMichael BreidungPlant manager at RhönSprudel

    Palletizing system installed in advance

    Once the existing PET line was dismantled and shipped away (likewise through the roof), the assembly of the new line began in fall of 2021. And in March 2022, RhönSprudel was able to put the new 36,000-bph returnable-glass line into operation.

    The palletizing system, which had been commissioned in fall 2020, comprises a Pressant Duplex 2NT with two depalletizing stations plus two Modulpal Pro 3A palletizers, one for full crates from the current production run and one for empties to be placed in storage for a future run.

    Once unloaded, the pallets' contents make their way to the Linapac II unpacker, which features a gripper head magazine and automated changing system for quick and easy changeovers.

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    The Linapac II unpacker features a gripper head magazine and automated changing system for quick and easy changeovers.

    An interesting solution for feeding in bulk glass

    The team crafted a fascinating solution for feeding in bulk glass, using a Pressant Universal 1A bulk glass sweep-off depalletizer spanning two stories. It is positioned in the warehouse hall for filled and packaged products below the bottling hall itself – "bricked into" a separate room for fire safety reasons – and transports the glass upwards seven meters to the ground floor, where the bulk glass is then swept off each pallet individually. "Normally, the line operators decide how much bulk glass is needed in the line. But here we have integrated a master control system that allows the line to monitor itself," explains Michael Breidung. Empties crates are filled with bulk glass, to which end the controls automatically send new bottles in. If there is no bulk glass available, the empty crates are moved to a crate magazine and, as appropriate, placed onto pallets by way of an older palletizer. A color detection unit is able to distinguish between green and brown crates. Depending on the product being filled, the crates in colors that are not currently needed are discharged to the older palletizer.

    The crates are run through the Linajet Plus crate washer, a new development from the Krones family that features brushes, immersion bath, and a jetting system to ensure the thorough cleaning of returnable crates. For space reasons, the crate washer is installed on a raised platform. The cleaned crates then pass through the color detection unit and after that on to either the crate magazine or to the older palletizer, which loads them onto pallets.

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    The Linajet Plus crate washer ensures the thorough cleaning of returnable crates.

    Redundant heating of the bottle washer

    A new feature on this line is a distribution system installed as part of the MultiCo pack conveyor downstream of the empties inspector. The unpacked bottles pass through an empty-bottle inspector and an additional, touchless gasoline detection unit and then on to the Lavatec E4 single-end bottle washer, which has several label removal units. "The earlier the labels are removed, the less label material can break down inside the machine," explains Michael Breidung. "That's especially important to us with respect to keeping microparticles out of bottles."

    The main heat source for the bottle washer is hot water generated by two of the company's own combined heat and power (CHP) plants. And because RhönSprudel has completely revamped its energy concept in recent years under the plant leadership of Michael Breidung, the two 1.5-megawatt CHP plants are complemented by a photovoltaic system on the building's roof, which delivers 1.9 megawatts of electricity, and a hot water storage unit that can keep thermal energy available in the form of 100,000 liters of hot water. In addition, RhönSprudel is of course also connected to the power grid. Smart software determines the best energy source depending on need. At the bottle washer, the company even took it a step further, having Krones install an additional gas-fired unit at the back for faster heating and as a redundant hot-water source alongside the CHP. In light of the current political and energy situation, the firing unit, which had been set up for natural gas, is now being retrofitted for propane/butane fuel.

    "It was our biggest project to date"

    The following machines take care of the remaining filling and packaging processes:

    • A Modulfill HES probe filler with foam cleaning in a cleanroom ensures secure filling.
    • The Ergomatic labeler, with a bottle orientation system and automatic magazine loading system (AMB), is equipped with two cold-glue labeling stations.
    • A Linapac II packer places the filled and labeled bottles into crates, which then travel into the dry end located in an adjacent hall. 
    • There, they are loaded onto pallets by a Modulpal Pro 3A palletizer.
    • For the process technology, Krones delivered a Contiflow mixer and
    • a UniPure filtration system with a 0.65-micrometer prefilter and a 0.2-micrometer main filter.

    A software solution for line management in collaboration with Krones, which should integrate all of the lines as far as possible, is in the works.

    The line fills 0.75- and 1.0-liter RhönSprudel glass bottles as well as a 0.7-liter German Wells Cooperative (GDB) standard contoured bottle and a 0.75-liter restaurant bottle. The mineral water bottler's product range consists primarily of still and carbonated mineral waters with four levels of carbonation as well as various natural fruit-juice spritzers ("Plus-Schorle", “Milde Schorle", "Glück im Glas" – which translates to “joy in a glass"), near-water beverages and light drinks (“Mineralwasser PLUS", "Leicht & fruchtig"), and various soft drinks ("Hollerblüte" – which translates to elderflower – and "ISO Sport"). The products are available for sale in northern Bavaria and the German states of Hesse, Thuringia, and Berlin.

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    The mineral water bottler's product range consists primarily of still and carbonated mineral waters. Image credits:

    MineralBrunnen RhönSprudel

    Michael Breidung's overall impression of this latest collaboration with Krones is positive: "Due to its complexity, this was our biggest project to date. All in all, we liked the project planning and the implementation. The decision to work with Krones was the right one. The project went off really well. RhönSprudel will continue along its path, with strong brands and high-quality products."

    The pleasure of pure nature from deep below the biosphere reserve

    MineralBrunnen RhönSprudel lies in one of Central Germany’s prettiest natural areas, the Rhön Biosphere Reserve. The area was designated for special protection by UNESCO in 1991 due to the wealth of rare plants and animals that can be found there. The water here bubbles forth from 18 different wells that run as deep as 370 meters. RhönSprudel is an active champion for protecting the region's natural treasures, not only through soil and water conservation but also by reducing its own carbon footprint. As of January 2021, both the company itself and its products are certified climate neutral.

    10. November 2022
    6:30 min.

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