A registered trademark since 1954, the “fit” brand has become synonymous with dishwashing liquid, particularly in eastern Germany. In the former East Germany (GDR), the product was used for any number of cleaning tasks: dishes, floors, windows, cars – fit cleaned it all.
A new investment every year
fit GmbH is one of Germany’s most successful producers of detergents, household cleaners, and personal care products. To ensure that remains the case, the company’s owner, Dr. Wolfgang Gross, follows a systematic investment strategy. And Krones has been by his side throughout. As a result, over the more than 17 years of working together, the companies’ business relationship has grown into a true partnership.
But the fall of the Berlin Wall nearly spelled the end of the tradition-steeped company, as competing with West German brands for space on supermarket shelves proved difficult. Lucky for the brand and the company as a whole, fit caught the attention of Dr. Wolfgang Gross in 1992. With a fresh new business model, Gross, who holds a PhD in chemistry, breathed new life and a spirit of exploration into the company. Today, fit GmbH employs a team of around 250 people and offers a portfolio that encompasses dishwashing liquid as well as a variety of household cleaners, laundry detergents, fabric softeners, and personal care products. Besides its eponymous brand, fit’s product range also includes items under the labels Rei, Sunil, GARD, fenjal, and Kuschelweich, all of which are popular in German-speaking countries.
fit’s powerful comeback was possible thanks not only to Dr. Wolfgang Gross’ visionary spirit but also to his willingness to invest heavily in the company: Over the course of nearly 30 years, some 200 million euros have gone into revamping and expanding the plant and its equipment. Today, fit GmbH boasts one of the most advanced production plants in its industry in Europe.
Krones as a constant
Krones has had the honor of being part of this success story almost from the beginning – if only indirectly at first. That’s because back in 1996, Dr. Wolfgang Gross had Kettner machines integrated into the dry end for the first time. Not long after that, Krones bought the Rosenheim-based machinery manufacturer and its packaging expertise.
In 2006, fit decided to add technology from the Krones Group in other areas of production. A filler and a labeler from Kosme and a first Krones blow molder marked the beginning of an ongoing collaboration that has involved investment in new machinery every (!) year since. Stretch blow molders, fillers, labelers, and palletizers – these days fit runs Krones systems for nearly every production step.
Three new palletizer blocks
The latest wave of investment focused on palletizing. In the past few years, Krones has installed three new palletizing systems, each consisting of a Pressant PalBloc 1AJ and a Robobox grouping station. Two of them were put in place in 2020, and their commissioning fell right in the middle of the first coronavirus lockdown in Germany. As if it weren’t hard enough to manage everyday work under the pandemic, the new machinery had to be commissioned during production. For everyone involved, that required clever strategizing and close cooperation to balance the day-to-day tasks with the exceptional circumstances.
Highly complex retrieval system
The new lines also offered a number of special technological features, including a complex retrieval system, which is essential since the three palletizer blocks are fed by seven different production lines. The word “lines” should, however, not be taken too literally here. The plant’s layout does not follow the traditional notion of the line that is so familiar within the beverage industry. Rather, on one side of the hall, seven fillers and seven labelers run fit’s entire brand portfolio. The filled and labeled containers are then transported to one of six packers at the other end of the hall.
Until now, fit GmbH’s personal care products have been palletized almost exclusively manually – with the help of forklifts. That not only required a great deal of time and personnel. It also entailed considerable planning and coordination as well as many miles of forklift travel between the warehouse and the palletizing area. So there were many reasons why fit decided to automate its palletizing operations going forward. That, too, required some clever planning as well as the programming of the entire production planning software. The team at Krones’ Rosenheim plant was happy to oblige.
Specifically, production batches are planned based on actual orders, filled and labeled on the seven production “lines”, packed, and then parked until the palletizer calls them up. Once a palletizer receives a specific order assignment, the conveyors, which have served as a buffer, deliver the right number of packs in just the right order – thus building customer-specific mixed pallets one layer at a time.
ProShape technology for fenjal bottles
Just like Krones, fit GmbH likes the single-source philosophy. In fit’s case, this means the plant in Zittau not only makes all of the products in its portfolio but also the requisite preforms and caps. In 2016, the company faced a new challenge: After acquiring the personal-care brand fenjal, fit had to perform the tricky balancing act of ensuring that consumers would find fenjal products in their familiar look on retailers’ shelves while at the same time integrating their production seamlessly into the company’s philosophy. The problem was that the oval fenjal bottles were made of HDPE while fit makes its preforms of PET since they are both less costly and more adaptable thanks to neck orientation.
A solution was quickly found within Krones’ portfolio: ProShape technology makes it possible to produce oval PET containers on the Contiform 3 Pro stretch blow molder. Because fit wanted to retain the iconic shape and color of the bottle as well as its feel-in-hand and upmarket appeal, a great deal of time was spent on development. The extreme stretch ratios and the fact that the preforms had to be in the distinctive turquoise color of the original fenjal bottle posed challenges for the stretch blow molding process, particularly with respect to even heating. Together, the teams from Krones and fit pushed the technology and the material to its limits – and ultimately prevailed.
Dr. Wolfgang Gross, fit’s owner, has words of praise for the decades-long partnership: “Over the 17 years we’ve been working together, Krones has become one of our most important partners. Together, we’ve always managed to solve even highly complex challenges in our production.”