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New labeling, inspection gear at prize-winning water bottler

A switch to glue-applied roll-fed labeling and automatic fill-level inspection are the latest improvements at Mountain Valley Spring Co.
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For 13 years a West Virginia competition known as the Berkeley Springs Intl. Water Taste has picked the best bottled water in the world. This year the prize went to Mountain Valley Spring Co. of Hot Springs AR.

But water quality isn’t the only thing this prize-winning firm keeps an eye on. Recent upgrades in labeling and inspection operations have also occurred for this company which also supplies labeled bottles to other water companies.

The shift in labeling is especially impressive. Until a few years ago the Hot Springs AR firm relied on pressure-sensitive labelers that applied metallized paper labels to both glass and plastic bottles. Now the firm uses glue-applied roll-fed labels from several suppliers made of metallized biaxially oriented white polypropylene printed flexo in six colors and overlaminated with a 0.75-mil clear BOPP. With no loss in shelf impact Mountain Valley saves significantly in label costs.

“The switch away from pressure-sensitive labels generated a good 25 percent savings in label material costs” says purchasing agent Jesse Coffman. “And our marketing department was delighted with the upscale look. Not only was the new label material attractive but the labeling accuracy improved with better registration and placement.”

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Four labelers

Four roll-fed labelers all supplied by B&H Labeling Systems have been installed at the plant. Two are located in the firm’s blow molding building and the other two are across the street where bottles are filled.

In the blow molding area are a B&H Model 1600 which operates at 100 bottles/min and a Model 8000S that’s capable of 460 bottles/min. The Model 1600 labels PET bottles mostly 1- and 1.5-L sizes made on an SBO-6 Series 1 system from Sidel. The Model 8000S is used for smaller bottles the smallest being an 8-oz size made on a Sidel SBO-20 Series 2 system.

“We considered other blowmolding systems but there wasn’t much doubt about Sidel being the best solution for us” says Claude Whitehurst vice president of Mountain Valley’s Container Div. “We measure success in terms of both production efficiency and bottle quality. With Sidel and our operator experience we’re able to achieve both. The blow molders are sturdy reliable workhorses.”

Some of the PET bottles made in-house after they’ve been labeled and palletized are brought across the street where they’re depalletized and filled. But a significant percentage of the bottles blown are labeled and palletized and then shipped to other water bottling companies.

A third manufacturing option is to palletize unlabeled PET bottles and take them to the filling line across the street. That’s where the other two B&H labelers both Model 8000S machines are located. The filling line has two of these labelers so that labeling can keep pace with the filling speed which is in the range of 850 bottles/min.

A fourth and final manufacturing option involves 10-oz and 1-L glass bottles which are also filled on the filling line that has the two 8000S labelers.

Computer registration

All four B&H labelers have a Computer Registration System. According to Chris Ferree vice president of water operations at Mountain Valley this virtually eliminates labels that are cut out of register a problem common to mechanical systems.

After the registration system tells the machine where to cut the label the label is fed to a vaccuum drum. This drum rotates past a glue wheel. The drum is designed so that a narrow strip of material at the leading and trailing edges of the label is raised slightly. Consequently these two strips pick up glue as the vacuum drum rotates past the glue wheel. An instant later the leading edge comes in contact with a bottle causing the label to leave the vacuum drum and as the bottle rotates adhere to the bottle.

To speed changeover the labelers have a no-tools-required Rapid Change Over (RCO®) capability and color-coded change parts. Operators need only clamp the color-coded components in place and select the container description from memory on the control panel. At the push of a button the operator automatically sets the vacuum drum cutting drum and glue application system for positive label control. This ability to preprogram machine timing positions via the on-board computer reduces the skill level required to execute changeovers and ensures the labeler operates at optimum performance.

Unlike large commercial blowmolders that target customers purchasing 50 million bottles or more annually Mountain Valley caters to smaller beverage marketers. Some may purchase as few as 5 or 10 million bottles a year.

Currently Mountain Valley stocks 32 different labels from a variety of label suppliers to quickly satisfy the needs of its customers. This puts extra pressure on Mountain Valley’s labeling operation because it requires maximum production flexibility and short runs.

“A great deal of flexibility has been built into the B&H labelers to allow us to overcome issues with label material irregularity” says maintenance supervisor Steve Wilson.

Labeling wasn’t the only area where Mountain Valley improved its operation. Last summer the company installed a new fill-level inspection system from TapTone. The RayTrak online inspection system uses X-ray technology to detect underfills cocked caps and missing caps. Previously such inspections were done manually.

“It doesn’t miss” says Ferree. “We’ve been very happy with it.” —PR

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