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    Twin project at Adelholzener – Not afraid to tackle challenges

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    High-bay warehouse, new bottling line for returnable glass: How Adelholzener Alpenquellen GmbH has been getting ready to meet the steadily rising demand.
    • Satisfied with how the project was handled (from the left): Jan Furk from the line-planning and optimisation team, Erwin Hächl (head of line planning and optimisation) and Alexander Schiroky (head of the high-bay-warehouse control centre).
    • The former monastery of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul is located right opposite the plant.

    Drinking for a good cause: with its St. Primus medicinal water, mineral water with different carbonation levels and soft drinks, Adelholzener Alpenquellen GmbH does something for charity. This is because the company is owned by the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, which operates hospitals and nursing homes, for example, and uses the revenues from beverage sales to finance its social projects.

    It is a place of contrasts: viewed from outside, the Adelholzener plant blends almost inconspicuously into the surrounding landscape. Against the imposing backdrop of the Bavarian Alps, its white-grey buildings seem like brightly polished, carefully positioned toy blocks. But as you take your first step into the bottling hall, this impression is abruptly changed: an intricate network of stainless steel extends over two levels. You can only guess where the beginning and end of the convoluted line construction might be. The path between the machines includes numerous flights of steps, crossovers and platforms. Quite obviously, all of this follows a sophisticated logic, well thought-out down to the tiniest detail. Any outsider trying to understand it will feel helplessly out of his depth – both at first and second glance. “Only he who knows his tracks knows where he comes from”: this sentence taken from Adelholzener’s current advertising spot can in this context also be applied quite literally. 

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    The new line extends over two levels.

    600 million fills a year

    People standing in wide-eyed wonder – that is a familiar sight for the approximately 580 employees working in the facility. Because the visitor centre, dubbed “Water World”, hosts about 15,000 people in a coronavirus-free year. Whether it’s school children, tourists or trade visitors: all of them are keenly interested. That’s hardly surprising since there is more than enough to discover in the Adelholzener plant. Far beyond its surrounding region, the company is renowned for its commitment to innovation – both in regard to its own products and the associated technology.

    The tight layout of the present-day lines is attributable to the facility’s rapid growth. When the plant was set up in the foothills of the Alps in 1972, nobody could possibly foresee that in a time to come approximately 600 million fills a year were to leave the premises. But this is exactly what happened almost forty years later. Since Adelholzener Alpenquellen GmbH has been purposefully expanding its product portfolio with a steady stream of innovations, its sales have continuously risen. The consequence: production capacities were hardly able to keep pace with the increase in demand. No sooner had a new line been commissioned than the next one was already being planned. The facility kept on growing until at long last the limits of what was possible in the space available had been reached. 

    Returnable-glass line from Krones

    Today, Adelholzener Alpenquellen GmbH operates a total of eight bottling lines, producing a portfolio of 190 different articles: three lines each for returnable glass and returnable PET, plus two more for non-returnable PET. With one exception, they were all supplied by Krones. Thanks to this large spectrum of container types, Adelholzener is largely impervious to fluctuations on the market, as Erwin Hächl, head of line planning and optimisation, explains: “In response to seasonal demand, we sometimes fill more of our products in returnable PET, and at other times more in returnable glass.” At present, the glass bottle is quite definitely out in front, with 280 million fills a year. Since Adelholzener launched its own customised returnable glass bottle in 2011, sales of this container type have just kept on rising – even though this market was for quite a long time considered to be in decline.

    The third and most recent glass line started operation in early 2020. Planning work on this line started way back in 2015 but since a returnable-PET line was more urgently needed Adelholzener abruptly decided to postpone the glass line’s implementation. With the project on hold, the team at Adelholzen spent the time thus gained to fundamentally revise the original line layout that had already been negotiated with Krones. “In the course of this revamp, we decided to take yet another step forward in terms of output and hygiene,” explains Erwin Hächl. “It was for this reason that we supplemented the layout with a rinser and additional buffering sections.” To make room for the line, now significantly bigger than in the original layout, a store for raw materials and supplies was cleared and a platform installed in the hall as a second level in 2019. “All in all, we had a surface of around 3,000 square metres at our disposal – and Krones lost no time in filling it up completely,” says Jan Furk from the line-planning and optimisation team, laughing. 

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    Due to Adelholzener's high hygiene standards, the new line was equipped with a rinser.

    Output targets exceeded

    By the end of 2019, the mechanical components of the line had been erected and most of the electric cables had been laid. “In our view, that was all completed at breakneck speed,” to quote Jan Furk. “After all, we’re talking more than 5,000 metres of piping and 110,000 metres of electric cables here, which had to be installed.” Right at the beginning of the new year, commissioning work proper started. Adelholzener set themselves and their supplier a very ambitious target: to obtain a ready-for-sale product from the new line in the very same month. And on 31 January 2020, the great day arrived: the first 31,000 bottles came off the conveyor belt. “That was a really brilliant performance by everyone involved,” says Jan Furk. “Neither did we have anything to complain about in regard to microbiology, nor had any other quality-related problems been encountered.”

    Mission accomplished! But this only fuelled Adelholzener’s ambitions even more. “After that, we stepped up everything once again and massively accelerated the timetable,” says Furk. “Thanks to purposeful optimisation work, we had in late April already reached the point where we could run the first acceptance tests for the 0.75-litre bottle – with results that were far better than what had been contractually agreed: in the acceptance test of three times eight hours, we achieved an efficiency of 98.5 per cent!” One month later, the acceptance test for the second container type was run, for the 0.5-litre bottle. “This time, we’d had a bit less time for optimisation because we’re running the half-litre container only every third week,” explains Furk. “But despite that, we likewise far exceeded the specified performance targets – though not quite with the astronomic figures we’d achieved with the 0.75-litre bottle.”

    Thanks to purposeful optimisation work, we had in late April already reached the point where we could run the first acceptance tests for the 0.75-litre bottle – with results that were far better than what had been contractually agreed. Erwin HächlJan FurkLine-planning and optimisation team

    Just in time for the coronavirus lockdown

    That the line was already operational when the first coronavirus lockdown started in Germany turned out to be an unforeseeable stroke of luck: “Because of the panic-buying attacks, in March 2020 glass bottle sales soared like never before,” explains Erwin Hächl. “Without our new line, it would have been downright impossible for us to meet demand.” And that the company had incorporated additional buffering sections in the new layout likewise turned out to be spot-on. “The line’s running significantly better now, with not so many interruptions, more smoothly than its predecessor which we had to build with little buffering capacities when space was at a premium,” explains the head of line planning and optimisation. 

    Because of the panic-buying attacks, in March 2020 glass bottle sales soared like never before. Without our new line, it would have been downright impossible for us to meet demand. Erwin HächlErwin HächlHead of line planning and optimisation

    Since the company sets great store not only by product safety for consumers but also by occupational safety for its staff, a safety platform each was installed in the dry end for the palletiser and depalletiser, for the packer and unpacker, and for the empty-crate magazine. “Krones displayed a great deal of flexibility here and meticulously translated our ideas into shop-floor reality,” says a gratified Erwin Hächl. This applies not only to the current project, but to numerous preceding jobs as well that Hächl had been a part of during his more than 30 years with the company. “Our long-standing loyalty to Krones is due not least to the fact that they’re giving us free rein in developing our innovative ideas,” he explains. “They do not just listen to them but if possible turn them into hands-on reality, too. Over all those years, we’ve built up a huge fund of expertise together and implemented a large number of new developments.”

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