Every year, Niehoffs-Vahinger bottles around 570,000 hectolitres of beverages: the lion’s share of them on a new Krones glass line.
Marketing Manager Sven Frisch and Plant Manager Dr. Rainer Kressmann (from the left) are jointly committed to sustainable husbandry of resources.
Niehoffs-Vaihinger Fruchtsaft GmbH remains unperturbed by the ongoing plastics debate: the company fills more than 80 per cent of its production volume in returnable glass bottles – this is a matter of principle, as Plant Manager Dr. Rainer Kressmann emphasises: “Deep down in our hearts, we’re a returnables company.” His colleague, Marketing Manager Sven Frisch, even goes one step further, by vigorously affirming: “We want nothing to do with plastic!”
In all, the company’s product range comprises around 600 different articles, which in their turn are divided into five strategic and several complementary brands. The basic business or “our battleship”, as Sven Frisch explains with a wink, features the juice brand Niehoffs-Vaihinger, which is produced exclusively for hotels and catering establishments. Its more than 30 different varieties include not only classic fruit juices, but also innovative products like Innergy, “the first healthy energy drink on the market,” as Sven Frisch relates with visible pride. The products’ high quality is underlined by distinctive containers developed in-house. For designing the juice bottles with their twist-off closure, plus a particularly large and thus pouring-friendly mouth, the company tapped into the specific expertise of professional barkeepers. “After all, our juices are to be found precisely where cocktails are mixed, directly at the bar,” explains Sven Frisch.
Committed to the returnable glass bottle
For all the differentiation between the company’s individual brands – what they all have in common is the returnable glass bottle as packaging. When the firm took the decision to replace the existing line by a new one, it was accordingly unthinkable to opt for anything other than a returnable-glass line. “We’re confident that we made the right decision at the right time,” opines Plant Manager Rainer Kressmann. “Due to the heated debate on plastics, glass is back in fashion, together with the old virtue of hot-filling.”
The main reason for the new investment was that the existing line no longer met contemporary expectations for quality: it had already been running for many years in three-shift operation, and had thus come up against its quality limitations. For the new line, Niehoffs-Vaihinger was determined right from the start to opt for a single-sourced turnkey solution. “We chose Krones, because we were persuaded by the technical concept and the reliability,” explains Rainer Kressmann.
“We didn’t want an off-the-peg line”
When it came to the technical requirements, the issue of flexibility topped the list. The new line had to be able to run both hot and cold-filling, and also cope with the huge range of different formats in Niehoffs-Vaihinger’s portfolio: from the individual containers in disparate shapes and sizes, then the one-litre standard bottles all the way through to the small 0.2-litre twist-off bottles – in each case combined with different label variants and closure types. Like the machines, the conveyors, too, had to be flexibly conceived, and prepared to handle extremely disparate tasks. Top priority was attached to a high capacity in the sorting section, so as to handle the various types of mixed empties. But the client also stipulated a bypass route, enabling the cold-filled bottles to skip the recooler, plus sufficient buffering sections enabling a label change-over to be performed, for example, without the filler having to be halted. “All in all, definitely not an off-the-peg line,” emphasises Rainer Kressmann.
It was accommodated in a new 2,000-square-metre hall. The green light was given for the construction work in May 2017. Four months later, the first of 80 trucks in all arrived bringing line components. The first machines were erected and commissioned in next to no time. “The filler ran smoothly from the very first day,” says Rainer Kressmann. “Though some other things took longer than we’d anticipated.” The fact that the (literally, too!) hot phase of the project happened to coincide with the months of the 2018 record-breaking summer entailed plenty of challenges for the plant management and its staff, who performed heroically throughout – and now and again put the relationship with the vendor to the test. “Since this is not an off-the-peg line, you always have to allow for unexpected problems,” says Rainer Kressmann and adds: “In the end, though, they were all successfully mastered.” Thanks not least to Krones’ service team, who despite setbacks and delays on site were never blown off course. “There were times which proved a bit nerve-wracking,” recalls the Plant Manager. “At the same time, I was confident that Krones possesses the ambition and the aspiration to complete every project with meticulous success – and that’s precisely what happened.”
A Lavatec E4 is used to clean the returnable glass bottles.
The Modulfill HEL fills hot and cold and is directly blocked with a Variojet rinser.
The Topmodul labeller dresses glass bottles with cold-glue labels.
Onto the pallet and off to the warehouse: the customised pack design highlights the products’ qualitative excellence.
Carefully familiarised with the new technology
In order to avoid bottlenecks in the warehouse, the old line was also kept ready for operation during the relocation. But Niehoffs-Vaihinger Fruchtsaft GmbH didn’t have to activate this option – thanks to its careful preparations. Because in order to render the very challenging transition from the old line to the latest state of the art as easy as possible for its staff, it ordered a comprehensive training package in addition to the machinery involved. “Looking back, I have to say it was totally worthwhile that we brought our staff on board right from the start,” says Rainer Kressmann. “At the Krones Academy in Neutraubling, they were able to familiarise themselves in advance with the new machines. This meant they had a clear idea of what was in store for them later.” The last of the trepidation entailed by exposure to the new technology had already vanished during the commissioning phase, when the staff were trained directly at the machines. “A line like this is a living entity, you see, you get to know it a little bit better every day,” says Rainer Kressmann. “Meanwhile, working with it has long since become routine for us. What’s more, the new technology significantly reduces our workload.”
Production has been running continuously on the Krones glass line since May 2018. In three-shift operation, it fills 20,000 1.0-litre bottles or 30,000 0.2-litre bottles an hour. This investment was the right decision, concur Rainer Kressmann and Sven Frisch: “We don’t only pay lip service to sustainability, we also now have a state-of-the-art production line as proof,” says a gratified Marketing Manager.