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    Craft Beer
    The best time for beer
    The best time for beer

      It’s one of the most classic stories of America’s young craft beer scene.

      Not from a dish-washer to a millionaire, as in the early days of the land of unlimited opportunities, but from a home-brewing hobbyist to one of the 20 largest craft breweries in the USA – and that within two short decades: the Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Delaware, last year produced almost 300,000 hectolitres of beer, and for further expansion has now created capacities for twice this amount. For its bottling operations, the brewery has installed a turnkey line from Krones rated at 39,000 bottles per hour, whose dry end is equipped with a highly flexible Varioline packaging system.

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      The investment in a new Krones line was part of a master plan that took shape in 2011. Up till then, Dogfish Head was selling 210,000 hectolitres, most of it in the 12-ounce glass bottle. The business plan provided for upsizing the capacity to 587,000 hectolitres, focusing mainly on filling the 12-ounce bottles. “The closer we came to the limits of our capacity, the more we realized: something had to happen,” to quote Chief Executive Officer Nick Benz. Within two years, the brewery had invested a total of more than 50 million US-dollars in upgrading the entire brewery.

      Under time pressure

      Dogfish Head had decided right from the start to award the bottling line to a turnkey vendor. There were several reasons behind the choice of Krones: “Krones was very interested and responded with appropriate commitment, the line’s design details had been meticulously finalized, and above all, Krones offered us the best time schedule. This was very important for us, because we were under a lot of pressure in terms of our installed capacity,” explains Nick. “Krones is the standard choice in the industry, and we’d already been favourably impressed by a Krones labeller in our small line,” concurs Mike Frank, Senior Project Manager. The installation work began in April 2013, and the line was up and running by October of the same year, “like clockwork” adds Mike Frank. It also sailed smoothly through the subsequent ramp-up phase. Dogfish Head had invested in an on-site training package from the Krones Academy. “This training directly on the line itself proved very beneficial,” says Matt Eisenmann, Engineering and Maintenance Group Manager.

      Efficient line documentation system

      A Pressant Universal 1A bulk-glass sweep-off depalletiser feeds the non-returnable bottles into the line. In the high-level discharge, the glass bottles are pushed onto a mass conveyor, spaced out, and passed down to the filling level via an inclined conveyor. Their first port of call is the Linatronic empty-bottle inspector. “The electronic Linatronic has changed our view of things,” says Matt Eisenmann. “We’ve been able to make our glass packages safer, and thus better for the consumers.” The empty bottles are then passed to the rinser-filler block, comprising a Moduljet rinser and a Modulfill HRS counterpressure filler. “We bottle around 35 very different beers every year: with different densities, beers that react differently to high-pressure fobbing – and this filler copes admirably with all this diversity. Oxygen pick-up is very constant and low. What’s more, the fill level accuracy has improved – and we can monitor and evaluate all this with the downstream Checkmat. This means we get better rejection of the defective bottles as well,” comments Matt Eisenmann.

      A higher-order line documentation system (LDS) has been installed. “With the LDS, all data is continuously available, the alarm functions have been very well embedded, the operators can incorporate their own knowledge in the software, and inform their colleagues appropriately. We’re currently working together with Krones on installing the software successor to LDS, SitePilot Line Diagnostics, as a pilot project. This, too, underlines our good working relationship with Krones. What’s more, the fact that Krones can integrate the LDS in our kegging line, which is from another vendor, speaks volumes as far as I’m concerned,” says a gratified Matt Eisenmann. Downstream of the Checkmat, the bottles are passed through a LinaTherm warmer, in order to avoid water condensing on the bottles cold-filled at a temperature of one to two degrees Celsius. Even before the line had been installed, Dogfish Head had redesigned the glass bottles and given them an embossing on the neck. This also influenced the choice of labeller: since now only a shoulder label had to be applied, a Topmatic with a cold-glue station sufficed.

      Highly flexible Varioline

      Downstream of the labeller, the bottles are passed to the end-of-the-line packaging zone. In the shape of the Varioline, Dogfish Head has put in place a highly flexible packaging machine. The system permits different combination options for multipacks and end-of-the-line packaging variants, and will adjust itself fully automatically at the touch of a button to the preprogrammed type of packaging desired. Packaging processes involving two stages can thus be run on a single machine, which combines the filled primary packages with secondary and tertiary packages.

      Optimally prepared for the future

      Dogfish Head uses the Varioline for packing the twelve-ounce glass bottles in four- and six-bottle open carriers, which are then inserted in folding cartons without partitions. Two concatenated cartoning modules erect the blanks of the open carriers, the third module inserts the bottles, the fourth erects the 24-size cartons, while the fifth puts the open carriers in the dispatch cartons, and the sixth module, finally, seals the cartons. The system’s particular charm lies in its exceptional future-compatibility: if the market is demanding new pack forms, the Varioline will cope with these new packaging trends. No specific new variants have been planned yet, but Dogfish Head is thus optimally prepared to meet and master the challenges of the future: a change-over from four- to six-packs and vice versa only takes about 30 minutes, explains Mike Frank: “The Varioline offers us high flexibility on an extremely small footprint. After all, it handles the functions of five machines, and this without any intermediate conveyors.”

      For both Mike Frank and Matt Eisenmann, the Krones line is a technologically ultra-sophisticated piece of kit, which harvests plenty of compliments from all sides. For after-sales service Dogfish Head uses what Mike Frank calls the “very helpful” Krones Hotlines in the USA or in Germany, where the Krones staff have direct access to the line via VPN.

      “There’s no better time than the present”

      Dogfish Head is fond of producing extreme, experimental beers. The internationally renowned beer journalist Michael Jackson once described Dogfish Head as “America’s most interesting and adventurous small brewery” – and it’s always stayed true to this reputation under its founder and president Sam Calagione.

      “You know, the best days are when I am brewing some small batches of beer or taking part in the tastings of some experimental beers created by our brewmaster,” says Sam Calagione. But he also knows his limitations: “I’m not a good engineer; we have other people at Dogfish Head who are much better at that sort of thing. But I’m very pleased that we bought the new bottling line from Krones.” The quantum leap from what was once America’s smallest brewpub to the present-day size still seems like a protracted, crazy trip to him. “We can now afford the world’s best technologies and every time I look at it I’m proud to see our Krones line running. Beer is and remains the life-blood of our company and for me Krones functions as a major artery that transports it.”

      Selected machines and solutions