Beverage innovators are creating a new generation of drinks that do more than just refresh. To grow with the number of products available, bottlers have had to adjust their production schedules and methods. Helping the transition are equipment manufacturers that have developed advanced solutions to incorporate functional ingredients, accommodate various formulas and allow for smaller batches.

“One of the trends we’re seeing in the industry is that companies want to get more product out the door faster,” says Rick Earley, beverage market manager for Admix, Greensboro, N.C.

The industry also is moving toward shorter production runs, says Derek Deubel, vice president of TechniBlend, Marietta, Ga.

“The days of running a single brand or flavor on a 20,000 case run are gone,” Deubel says. “Now you have to run 1,200 cases, and that run is usually dictated by sales and what the warehouse needs to fill a specific order.”

Functional solutions
The market has transitioned from traditional carbonated soft drinks to natural options, low-calorie formulations and functional beverages, Admix’s Earley says. Energy drinks, in particular, are increasing, he says, which provides challenges on the production side.

“Energy drinks require more powdered ingredients and sugars,” Earley says. “Those ingredients don’t need conventional mixing equipment — that’s not an effective format. Admix offers an in-line Fastfeed unit that adheres to our company motto of faster, better, cheaper and safer.”

The in-line Fastfeed unit is a skid-mounted powder induction and dispersion system that uses a specially designed powder suction pump and high-shear mixing technology for rapid incorporation and wetting of powdered ingredients. The Fastfeed unit is designed to allow for continuous powder suction as the viscosity and solids level increase. It also brings the addition of powdered ingredients to floor level, eliminating the need for operators to carry often heavy bags to the tank, Earley says.

Admix guarantees complete dispersion of powders when applications run through the Fastfeed and the DynaSheer in-line mixer. When full hydration of gums is required, the slurry can be recirculated through the Fastfeed to create a blend of fully functional ingredients in minutes, the company says. In addition, the Fastfeed model allows for consistency, Earley says.

“When a beverage manufacturer has to make 30,000 energy drinks, they’d have to do three to four batches in 200-gallon premix tanks and then pump the premix over,” Earley says. “Through continuous processing, we can streamline the process which provides for consistency batch-to-batch.”

To evaluate how it can help customers, Admix offers process audits in which a representative evaluates a plant’s “process pain points,” which are challenges or obstacles to its production. The company operates a pilot lab in Manchester, N.H., where it can run specific applications through the Fastfeed as well as its lineup of beverage blenders, tank agitators, mixers and more, Earley says. Admix keeps a database of testing for beverage ingredients and has tested approximately 80 percent of applications, but the company has the capabilities to test further, he says.

Solutions for the future
In the coming years, TechniBlend predicts increasing segmentation in the market, Deubel says.

“More and more flexibility is going to be required in plants,” he says. “That is going to be driven two-fold by the need for shorter product runs to match the needs of sales and of the warehouse and ever-continuing product flavor proliferation.”

TechniBlend, formed in the spring of 2008, spent a year and a half developing its own beverage blending technology. Its new blending system was designed to be an automated high-yield producer that could change over quickly and run in a more environmentally friendly way. The machine is a two-stream beverage blender with in-line carbonator, which combines syrup and water by measuring the actual finished, non-carbonated beverage density, or brix, in-line with a single Coriolis mass flowmeter. The real-time analysis is advantageous, Deubel says.

“The TechniBlend emulates on the production floor what customers are doing in the lab,” he says. “Beverage plants are measuring the brix of beverages in the can or bottle. Usually they don’t focus on A + B as long as C is correct. We are the first ones that allow them to measure C in real time as the beverage is being blended.”

In August of last year, the company installed its TechniBlend TB-208 in a major American bottler, Deubel explains. The bottler produces several varieties of regular, flavored, diet and non-carbonated soft drinks, often changing its product production several times a day. In the event of any start-up issues, TechniBlend’s system was installed alongside the bottler’s existing machinery to ensure the plant would not lose production time, he says.

“They never did run that system again,” Deubel says. “With our system they increased their yield, decreased changeover times and reduced their energy consumption. Similar systems run in the 90 amp range and ours runs at about 20 amps.”

While many plants currently have to run multiple categories of products, the merging of bottlers foreshadows the need for more flexibility in terms of product mix production, he says. The expansion of functional beverages also expands the production capabilities within the plant, he says.

“Ingredients continue to become more specific and more expensive,” Deubel says. “It’s not just syrup and water, now you’re putting in ginseng, vitamins, thiamine, ribose and more ­­â€” that all adds up. You need to get value and that yield element, or it’s going to be costing you more money to run your system over time.”

Solutions for the whole plant
In addition to solutions for parts of the process, Siemens Energy & Automation, Nashua, N.J., offers a whole set of automation solutions. Its Total Integrated Automation platform enables integration of all partial production steps as well as end-to-end flow of information from the field to the board levels. The solution includes various platforms that can be used individually or as a whole for a fully integrated system, says Walt Staehle, vice president of food and beverage.

If recipe changeovers are a particular concern, the company emphasizes its Simatic PCS 7 control system. It controls all primary processes as well as secondary and follow-up processes, such as refrigeration. The program contains several modules that can be combined into a custom application based on customer requirements, plant sizes and in anticipation of future requirements.

The program’s Simatic Batch element allows for precise definition of recipes that can be controlled across all process steps, Staehle says. The program works through the Batch Control Center interface that allows plant operators to overview the entire process. Simatic Batch also works through the same database as automation platforms, which integrates the interfaces of the process, Staehle says.

The platform also can control consistency across multiple plant locations with the MES solution Simatic IT. This program provides complete lab information management, Staehle says. In addition, the program provides the tools for tracking and tracing of the entire production process.

Optional customizations of the platform include the addition of Simatic Route Control, which is helpful for plants with a widely distributed network of pipes or large tanks, Staehle says. Siemens also offers packages specifically for breweries and add-ons for packaging lines. BI

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