Albert Einstein once said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” Adaptability also is a key measure in the form/fill/seal supply chain arena. The convergence of several consumer trends is driving demand for more flexible filling systems.

“Whether it’s beer, water, juice, [carbonated soft drinks] (CSDs), hot-fill, cold-fill, carb, non-carb, their own label or co-packers, customers want more flexibility,” says Barry Fenske, head of filling technology at Krones Inc., Franklin, Wis. “And they want to go faster. And they want quicker changeovers. They want to run lighter PET bottles and caps. They want their filler to be ‘green,’ sustainable and less of a carbon footprint.

“We have addressed and continue to address these areas,” he continues. “We have fillers that use more electronics than the mechanical machines of the past. They are more flexible, allowing optimization of each product SKU. We have revamped the drivetrain where gears are replaced by servo motors. Change parts have been lightweighted and have locking systems that require less hands on in order to change out.”

Krones offer a variety of fillers ranging from equipment specific to one industry type, fillers that cater to more than one type, and fillers that handle multiple industry types, e.g., hot-fill, cold-fill, carbonated, non-carbonated, juice, water, beer — all on one machine,

Increased flexibility and digitalization are the most significant factors that have affected — and will keep affecting — the performance levels of filling lines in the beverage industry, notes Stefano Baini, filling and super combi product manager at Sidel, Octeville-Sur-Mer, France.

“Manufacturers need greater performance to match the overall rising demand, while guaranteeing absolute food safety, minimizing [total cost of ownership] (TCO) and preparing for future production needs,” Baini says. “A broader number of SKUs and numerous container sizes on the market call for higher flexibility, requiring swift changes between still and carbonated, as well as hot-, ambient- and cold-filled beverages.

“Enabling performance improvements over the lifetime of the equipment, while minimizing the TCO, is a fundamental topic that major players are required to cope with in a very dynamic and ever-changing beverage market,” he continues. “We help them achieve their goals also by offering modular solutions that are easily adaptable to market developments and future technology — solutions comprising world-class equipment, services and people that deliver product quality, flexibility, reliability, lower costs and brand impact.”


Innovations abound

To keep pace with the demand for speed, fast changeovers and “all-in-one” monobloc systems, equipment suppliers are releasing or reconfiguring their filling systems.

For instance, at this year’s Craft Brewing Conference, Imola, Italy-based SACMI showcased its integrated beer-making range that spans from capsule production to labeling and labeled bottle inspection. It also featured advanced SACMI solutions aimed at ensuring filling process quality and hygiene through the use of electronic flow meters. The range of equipment solutions for the craft beer segment accounts for 13 percent of the company’s U.S. market, it said in a statement.

“The electronic flow meters give brewers fully assured beer quality and solidity, reliability and easy use and maintenance,” the company said in a release. “Alongside the four-in-one monobloc, SACMI supplies a complete range of traditional beer and wine filling machines with both electronic and electro-pneumatic control, [which] are designed to handle different container types and styles with ease.”

Krones also has introduced new equipment that is filling a need in a changing beverage market with more SKUs, high-pressure processing (HPP) and the need to handle diverse beverages in diverse packaging formats while offering more sustainability.

“Some of our newest ErgoBloc turnkey installs (consisting of blow molding, labeling, filling and capping lines) contain a technology called LineXpress, which enables quick changeovers using a combination of equipment intelligence and mechanical technology,” Krones’ Fenske says. “This automated technology allows for rapid changeovers on the same line for beverage products (up to 10 minutes), blow molds of varying formats (up to 30 minutes), and packaging, with an output of up to 60,000 [cans per hour] (cph).”

The company also offers the Craftmate, a smaller can filler with the filling valve technology of the bigger machines, but with “far less of the bells and whistles to make it a perfect fit and price for the craft beverage guys,” Fenske says.

At Sidel, product quality and an advanced level of performance are important drivers for the company’s innovations, Baini says. Introduced in September 2018, the EvoFILL Can leverages the proven, modular Sidel Matrix range and meets the requirements of being sustainable, hygienic and versatile, getting producers ready for future challenges in canned drinks production, Baini says.

Beverage and format flexibility ranked high on Sidel engineers’ agenda when they designed the EvoFILL Can filler, he adds. “With 54 to 182 filling valves on its carousel, manufacturers are able to handle a wide range of speeds and can sizes from 150-ml up to 1-liter,” he says. “The new valve centering bell design eliminates the need for changeovers for all possible can-end types in the beverage industry — from 200 to 209 — for maximized uptime.”


Increased output, optimal savings

To further demonstrate its unprecedented flexibility, EvoFILL Can has the capacity to fill CSDs at ambient temperature and still drinks in hot-fill, thus accommodating a wide range of beverages via a single piece of equipment, Baini adds, noting that the company offers single and double can infeeds.

“EvoFiILL Can operates at high speeds of more than 130,000 cph, the double infeed also allows for the best can quality as containers suffer much less stress and no damages in the process,” Baini says. HEINEKEN Vietnam recently installed the new filler on its canning line and increased its output in an ergonomically safe architecture that also is easy to clean, he adds.

In addition to new fillers, Krones’ Fenske advises beverage operators to prepare themselves for an influx of cannabidiol (CBD) beverages and what type of equipment will be needed to properly fill them.

“CBD being added to beverages is huge now across North America,” he explains. “More and more filling requests are coming in for ‘rainbow’ filling — filling multiple products on one machine at the same time for end products like multi-flavored packs.”

Along with safely and hygienically filling beverages, Fenske notes that filling valves have evolved. “Some fillers monitor their filling valves standard deviations and notify operators when things go astray,” he explains. “Today’s guarding packages can’t be opened while the machine is running. Permanent exterior foaming/flushing systems (carwashes) along with a HEPA clean room cover create a clean environment.

“The beverage filling valves already established will remain key for the future,” he continues. “The way they are controlled is what is always evolving. New electronics and processors will push the boundaries on speed and reaction time. But technology is always advancing. [Research and development] plays a key role, you never know what can happen.”

Sidel’s Baini cautions that the increased flexibility of today’s filling equipment came at the cost of efficiency. “Today’s challenge is to reverse this need,” he says. “By combining high versatility with efficiency, we can help our customers met end users’ demands for greater product differentiation.” BI