Investing in People and Technology

New renovation expands capabilities at PepsiAmericas’ Austin, Ind., plant
The three most important things in real estate are often touted as “location, location, location”, but as far as PepsiAmericas’ Austin, Ind., production facility is concerned, it’s location, location and people. The company recently completed a $10-million renovation on its plant in southern Indiana that gave it more square footage, expanded its capabilities and incorporated a number of systems developed internally by its employees.
Located just a half mile from a major expressway, PepsiAmericas’ Austin facility is centrally located within the company’s territory and easily serves several of the bottler’s most important metropolitan areas, including Louisville, Cincinnati and Indianapolis. The plant sits on 33 acres of land, which gave it ample space for the recent expansion that added Aquafina bottled water to the production line-up as well as new carbonated soft drink capacity and more warehouse space.
The creation of the Aquafina system allowed the company to update its entire water treatment operation. The company implemented a “smart R-O”, or reverse-osmosis, system capable of handling 32,000 gallons of water per hour. The “smart” system is computer monitored, constantly keeping track of which valves are open and closed and how much water is in each tank.
In addition to purifying water for Aquafina, the plant’s water treatment system pretreats all of the water used for carbonated soft drinks and its other products. All water used in the plant is carbon-filtered in one of two carbon tanks, and then Aquafina goes through the extra step of ozonation.
Doing Double Duty
Flexibility has been built into the operations in Austin. The plant produces 26 million cases of product each year on only two can lines and one bottle line. The lines are changed over to accommodate numerous products, both carbonated and non-carbonated, and plant operators are often able to control several processes from a single location.
“We had one can line, now we have two,” explains Plant Manager Scott DeVries. “We had six people who ran one line, and now we have six people who run two lines. We’ve positioned everything so an operator can run two at the same time.”
Bottles and cans enter the plant through a fully automated receiving area. Twenty-two pallets per load are pulled off the trucks and onto depalletizers that feed the filling lines. Cans are air conveyed to the fill room where they are “warm filled” and the lids are sealed on. DeVries explains that the warm fill, which is done at a temperature slightly higher than traditional cold-fill, reduces the energy needed to cool the product. Along with the addition of tipless valves, the process has allowed the fillers to speed up to 1,250 per minute.
After filling, the cans are packaged on one of three multipackers into a number of configurations, including six-, 12-, 15-, 18- and 24-packs. Although it’s just on the heels of the last major renovation, the plant is preparing for its next addition, which will be the FridgeMate multipack.
Bottle Line Innovations
Because they are taller, lighter and often carry static electricity, bottles are more difficult than cans to depalletize and get in a single file line for filling. The plant implemented a pressureless combiner that consists of several conveyor belts that each move at a different speed to slide the bottles into a neat line. The seemingly simple solution solved a number of headaches, according to DeVries who says, “This is the best thing they’ve ever come up with on a bottling line.”
The bottles are conveyed by the neck and rinsed before they are filled. The plant’s one bottle line is capable of filling eight PET package sizes of both carbonated and non-carbonated product as well as Aquafina bottled water. A “parts cart” stands nearby, holding all of the changeover parts needed to adapt the filler from one product to another. The close proximity of those maintenance parts is another example of the plant’s built-in flexibility. Maintenance pods are located in several parts of the plant, allowing operators to keep materials close at hand rather than run to another part of the plant to find the necessary tools.
In the filling room, non-carbonated products receive a dash of liquid nitrogen to keep the bottles rigid, an extra step that is not required by the carbonated products because of their CO2.
Once filled, some of the bottles are shrinkwrapped into multipacks of six, 12 or 24 and are cased for shipping. “Cans were always the [package] people took home from the grocery store,” says DeVries, explaining the gradual movement to PET multipacks in the bottler’s territory. Depending on the retail destination, the plant might use special overwrap for spec-ific stores such as Wal-Mart or Kroger.
The packages are then date-coded with the specific time of the production run, the location and other information.
In addition to bottles and cans, the plant produces 6.5 million gallons of product for foodservice in 3- and 5-gallon bag-in-box, 5-gallon premix and 1-gallon jugs.
Use and Reuse
From the strapping used to hold together pallets of empty bottles to stretch-film, plastic and corrugated boxes, just about everything in the Austin plant is recycled. “You name it, we recycle it,” says DeVries.
The Austin team carried that philosophy over to the construction of its new quality control lab where it made use of existing cabinetry that was refurbished and given new life.
The lab, which is staffed by a team of 12, runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even when the lines are not running. In addition to monitoring quality of finished product and product on the line, QA/QC personnel are responsible for receiving concentrate and other raw materials, overseeing sanitation and preparing for start up after sanitation.
For quality monitoring purposes, samples of both raw materials and finished product from every production run are held in a walk-in cooler and in dry storage for at least the shelf life of the product.
Customized Shipping
The Austin plant’s new warehouse ships between 45 and 100 truckloads per day, and in keeping with the demands of its customers, more and more of the shipments are custom-picked.
“We’ve got large facilities that get 20 loads a day and others that get one load a week,” says DeVries. “With the new warehouse addition, we’ve got a ‘pick, stage and load’ [area].”
As opposed to simply shipping entire pallets, operators pick loads of mixed product based on customer orders. The warehouse holds soft drinks and water produced in Austin as well as new age products such as Starbucks Frappuccino and DoubleShot, Lipton teas and SoBe that are produced elsewhere and distributed from the Indiana plant.
“In the past, the customer had to take a pallet,” says DeVries. “But we’ve become more customer-focused and if they want a case, we’ll give them a case, even if it’s going to a warehouse.
“People might say ‘you’re double handling’, but our experience has been there’s no more time added to this,” he says. “We have very few errors with stage and load.”
PepsiAmericas’ Austin plant handles further production and shipping complexity that is inherent in the geographic differences of its territory. Because it covers a diverse geography with a number of universities and metropolitan areas, it often has several packages and promotions running at the same time.
“We service three sales divisions,” explains DeVries. “We could have three promos going on at once. For example, we’ll have a Kentucky Derby can, a Vincennes University can and a Cincinnati Reds can all at the same time. So we’ve got three Pepsis because we have such a large area.”
All product areas in the warehouse are labeled and numbered, and eventually the product will be barcoded for placement within the warehouse.
Product ships from the plant from seven loading docks, and the facility features new high-speed doors to save on heating costs and repairs. The tear-away doors open automatically for trucks and “repair themselves” if they are knocked out of their runners by snapping back into place.
A Sense of Ownership
PepsiAmericas has made employee participation and ownership one of its missions, and the Austin plant is full of examples of employee input. From management of the maintenance areas to the plant’s safety committee, an effort is made to turn responsibility over to employees on the plant floor.
Through the use of local educational opportunities such as the Scott County Lifelong Learning Center, many of the plant’s employees also have been encouraged to further their knowledge outside the plant through accelerated logistics courses or electrical and mechanical courses.
“It’s part of our succession planning,” says Bruce Honniball, warehouse transportation manager. “Now when we give them a concept, they understand why we’re doing it that way. We can’t all be here for the rest of our lives, so we’re going to train them to be our backup.”
“I’ve got 13 people in the Lifelong Learning Center in Scott County,” says Engineering Manager Brad Chastain of his team’s participation in the courses. “[The opportunity] was presented to us, and we jumped on it. I have 100 percent enrollment… and some of them are going beyond this to get their Associates degrees.”
In addition to outside educational courses, the plant uses cross-functional teams to allow employees to learn more aspects of the operation and take advantage of opportunities for advancement.
“Everyone has a rotation,” says Honniball. “Every three months, each individual in the warehouse takes a role being a bottle-line driver, a loader, a can-line driver… They’re cross-trained in every aspect of warehouse material handling.”
DeVries says the participation not only contributes to employee satisfaction, but as plant personnel are encouraged to develop innovative solutions to problems, many of their ideas are turned into reality and it benefits the company’s bottom line.