Wines from Württemberg and Austria
In parallel to these operations, Georg Fr. Raum GmbH in Hersbruck continued to expand its wine trading activities, and in the 1960s began to develop and bottle its own mulled-wine and punch specialities. The present proprietor Thomas Raum is the fifth generation of his family to head the company. The winery supplies front-ranking German discounters and food retailing chains with its own and dealer’s brands for the price entry-level segment. Raum is a well-known company in the wine sector for trading with its own mulled wines, punch specialities and quality wines from Macedonia, plus its contract bottling work. It also handles contract bottling work in large quantities for a customer in Southern Europe, and is continually developing diversified specialities like blueberry mulled wine, cherry mulled wine, caipirinha punch, cappuccino punch or amaretto punch. In recent years, moreover, it has successfully established another line of products, in the shape of quality wines from Württemberg, where next to Baden-Württemberg’s cooperatives Raum is meanwhile a major bottler of the region’s wines. In addition, the product portfolio is rounded off by Austrian wines like Grüner Veltliner or Zweigelt. The firm’s range of mulled wines, however, blended in-house to the firm’s own recipes from Spanish and Italian base wines, is the principal product category, accounting for about 60 per cent of total sales, followed by the Macedonian wines and their contract-bottled counterparts. “We’ve specialised in the price-entry-level segment, we cover only a tightly defined assortment, and in the categories we work in we can offer very attractive prices. We’re also very flexible when it comes tight deadlines for contract bottling jobs”, is how proprietor Thomas Raum describes his business model.
Warm, hot, sterile and cloudy
Until recently, this was all handled by a Krones/Kettner line dating back to 1991 and rated at 10,000 bottles an hour. But after eighteen years of faithful service, rising repair costs and lengthier downtimes could no longer be ignored. Thomas Raum and Authorised Signatory Bernhard Schwarz, a graduate engineer majoring in viticulture and oenology, concurred that a new line was definitely needed. The relevant planning work had already been progressed over recent years, and in April 2009 Raum took the plunge and placed the order with Krones through the latter’s cooperation partner Deutsche Leasing AG. “Our advantage from this lengthy period of planning was that we knew precisely what we wanted”, explains Bernhard Schwarz. “The stipulation was that it had to be possible to bottle all our articles in hot, warm, sterile non-carbonated or sterile carbonated, or even cloudy mode on a single filler rated at 10,000 containers an hour. We aim to achieve very high levels of hygienic safety in our bottling operation, because many of our products contain sugar and are therefore susceptible to microbiological contamination. We insisted that changing over to different bottle sizes had to be quick and easy, since our product portfolio is very extensive, and the batches are correspondingly small. We also attached great importance to maximised flexibility, less in terms of bottle dress but rather for the end-of-the-line packaging.”
Single-source vendor preferred
And Thomas Raum adds: “Since we had been very satisfied with the old line from Krones, not just the machine availability levels, but also fast and reliable delivery of spares, and since, as well, our two facilities are not far away from each other, the obvious choice was to opt for Krones again. Quite simply, it’s really important for us to know that if anything goes wrong, the line isn’t going to be down for more than a day, since after all we have to meet our delivery obligations. It was clear, too, that we were going to give preference to a single-source vendor. We see the dilemma involved with some of our competitors, you know, who opted to put a line together with individual machines from different manufacturers. When they want to introduce a new bottle, they have to confer with five different vendors to make sure that everything fits. We simply give the new bottle shape to Krones, and they look after the rest.”
Five different bottles
At the end of August 2009, the new line was already up and running. Precisely as Raum had envisaged. “We were determined to be ready to run with the new line in early September for the start of the mulled-wine season”, says Thomas Raum. For this purpose, Raum renovated the existing bottling hall and installed the new line in the same place as the old one, which has meanwhile been successfully sold to Eastern Europe as pre-owned kit. The line receives its bottle material from a Pressant sweep-off depalletiser for bulk glass. It handles five different bottles, a one-litre mulled-wine bottle, a one-litre Schlegel bottle, a one-litre Bordeaux bottle, a 0.75-litre Bordeaux bottle and the 0.375-litre Bordeaux bottle. “These are currently the most widely encountered bottles on the market. There’s no longer much demand in our part of the market for Burgundy bottles and many special bottle shapes”, comments Thomas Raum. The heart of the line, of course, is the Mecafill VKPV-CF, a counter-pressure filler featuring fill level correction. Whereas wine is usually bottled in sterile mode, the temperature used for bottling mulled wine is 60 degrees Celsius and for soft drinks like children’s punch as high as 79 degrees Celsius. All of this on one and the same filler. The warm-filled and hot-filled products are heated up in an existing plate heat exchanger, which has been digitally linked for purposes of data interchange and documentation, and are then left to cool down in the warehouse. The filler is monobloc-synchronised with a twin-channel Variojet rinser using ozonised water and sterile water, plus a screw-capper, which can handle 28-millimetre MCA closures, 28x45-millimetre and 30x60-millimetre (longcap) closures. All three units are accommodated in an enclosed cleanroom fitted with the necessary air filters. “The requirements posed by the food retailers are becoming progressively more stringent, which is why we regarded the cleanroom as indispensable. We aim to offer our customers maximised safety. This also, by the way, is highly beneficial for certification under IFS (International Food Standard)”, comments Bernhard Schwarz.
Filler with automatic interior and exterior cleaning
“We also had the filler equipped with automatic interior and exterior cleaning, so as to further enhance our operational safety.” For this purpose, Raum was the first bottler to install the prototype of the Krones VarioDos foam cleaning system. “We’re very pleased with it so far”, emphasises the Authorised Signatory and Technical Director. Interior cleaning is run every day, exterior cleaning every three days. Each cleaning cycle takes about 40 minutes. “This gives us some added reassurance in regard to microbiology. And secondly, it reduces the operators’ workload quite significantly, so that they have time to clean other things, like the floor”, emphasises Bernhard Schwarz. A Checkmat downstream of the cleanroom inspects the bottles for the correct fill level. A special machine then provides an option for applying shrink-on capsules to the screw-cap, predominantly used for the more upmarket wines. The bottles are dressed by a Universella labeller featuring cold-glue technology. Once again, they are then inspected by a Checkmat, this time for correct label positioning and accurate dating and coding. “Also a very important point for us”, says Bernhard Schwarz.
Flexibility and versatility for packaging
Versatility was a key stipulation for the packaging kit too. Raum is able to pack six-bottle and 24-bottle cartons for the 0.375-litre bottles, plus displays with 33-bottle large-size trays for the 1.0-litre size, and 44-bottle large trays for the 0.75-litre size. Special feature: up to three different varieties in a single bottle size can be accommodated in one tray. The cartons and trays can then be loaded onto quarter-pallets, onto Düsseldorfer or Chep half-pallets, and onto europallets as well. For this purpose, the packaging zone features the following machines: a Variocart carton erector, a Smartpac packer with quick-change heads for the various tasks involved, and a large-tray erector, plus a Modulpal palletiser with upstream carton orientation, and finally a downstream film-wrapper that is able to “marry” already-wrapped half-pallets on a carrier europallet to form a single unit. The line handles a total of about 350 different articles - – in some cases these involve the same product supplied in a multitude of different dress variants. This is why the batch sizes are correspondingly variable, ranging from 6,000 to 120,000 bottles. “So flexibility is particularly important to us. And this is what the new line offers”, says a gratified Bernhard Schwarz. “When new products are being launched, retailers often want a display pallet, and then change over to cartons later on. We have to be able give them what they want.”
Life-cycle costs a major consideration
In all, Raum employs 20 people. The line itself is run by a mere three operators per shift. “For certain dress and packaging variants, we used to have up to seven staff working on the line, because the display packaging and pallet strapping were still being performed by hand”, explains Bernhard Schwarz. “Thanks to the new line, we’ve been able to automate this, which reduces the workload involved quite a bit.” From September to December, the line runs for two shifts a day, and the rest of the year in single shifts. “It may be true that the Krones line appears somewhat more expensive at first glance than if we had bought one from a competitor or had put together a line ourselves from disparate machines”, says Bernhard Schwarz. “But you have to consider the life-cycle costs. And from this point of view the line is without a doubt more affordable. So we didn’t have to think twice.” “It also pays off in purely commercial terms”, emphasises Thomas Raum, “because with this Krones line we have an improved cost structure, we’ve been able to offer our products at more attractive prices, which even in the first few months has enabled us to gain a new account with an order for four million bottles of mulled wine and peripheral products.” That’s the way it should be. Compliments of the season.