A 10-fold increase in wine production at Edna Valley Vineyard over the past six years has had a dramatic impact on the bottling line. Yearly the winery bottles 180 cases of estate-produced wine and another 320 cases from contract bottling accounts. That growth has resulted in a trio of production upgrades at this plant nestled in the hills near San Luis Obispo CA.
The first of these upgrades is an Infinity™ accumulation table from Garvey Corp. installed in October 2001. It was the very first Infinity installed anywhere. In the last two years Garvey reports that it has since made 60 installations of the patented accumulators.
“This was the first accumulation we’ve ever had on the line” says bottling manager Scott Childers “and it’s been fantastic.”
Since the addition of the Infinity table production efficiency has averaged in the low 90% range on a regular basis Childers reports. That’s about a 20% improvement from the previous efficiency.
Small footprint big results
The 5’ x 6’ oval Infinity conveyor positioned between a newer capsule applicator and an existing capsule spinner smoothes out bottle flow so that these two pieces of equipment along with other upstream and downstream machinery continue running at highest efficiency. Acknowledging the accumulator’s small size Childers points out that the table did permit the winery to increase production rates by 10% to 120 bottles/min. It operates totally mechanically without devices such as photoeyes.
The Infinity system is an alternative to other accumulation tables that cannot handle the reverse-tapered bottles (RTBs) that are a crucial part of EVV’s package mix. Although use of tapered bottles has tapered off the past two years the Infinity continues to boost efficiency for all of EVV’s bottle formats. It was also by far the least noisy of the alternatives according to Childers. It paid for itself in six months. “We hit a home run with it” Childers says. “Now the labeler operator has all the time he needs to change a label roll. He can do a better job and that reduces reworked product.”
After the installation EVV modified the table to accept bottles introduced to the line at that point such as filled unlabeled bottles. That was important for EVV a contract bottler and packager.
A 'lifetime' of accumulation
“Operations we compete against include mobile lines on truck trailers which offer no accumulation at all” Childers points out. “If there’s a labeler problem the line stops in 10 seconds. We can demonstrate to potential customers that we have five minutes of accumulation which is a lifetime on our line. Before we had just 45 seconds of accumulation.”
The line operates five days/week on one shift and runs 750-mL bottles 90% or more of the time at rates to 120 bottles/min. During Packaging World’s visit the plant was running 750-mL “fat-neck burgundy” style bottles of Chardonnay EVV’s flagship product. Childers estimates that 30% of their output is this format of Chardonnay though they have run a total of 32 different packaging variations. The accumulator’s ability to handle a variety of bottle formats helped justify its cost Childers says.
After they are manually unpacked from reshippers bottles are conveyed through a gas-flush (nitrogen) air cleaner before entering a filler-corker. The monobloc system comprises a 28-head gravity-flow filler that Childers says is accurate to within 5 mL. That’s followed by a six-head corker and capsule applicator.
Trio of new equipment
The accumulator is one of three pieces of new equipment added to the line since 2001. Just upstream of the accumulator is the first of those recent additions a Robino & Galandrino Model 1600 six-head automatic capsule applicator supplied by ColloPack Solutions.
Childers says the unit “performs very well but it’s one of the toughest machines for us to set up and run since it requires a lot of adjustments during start-up.” Built in Italy this model is a popular fixture in wineries he adds.
Bottles continue onto the third of the new systems a Cavagnino & Gatti combination pressure-sensitive and glue-applied labeler. It is also supplied by ColloPack formerly known as ProPack Systems and before that as fp packaging. The unit has three p-s stations and two glue stations. Childers says p-s label placement accuracy is within 1 mm edge to edge and within 0.25 mm vertically.
High accuracy labeling
Glue labeling is even more accurate he says: “There is almost no variation. Honestly most of the variation we experience is due to the label rolls themselves. We apply labels from about six different suppliers and they can have problems that contribute to application accuracy.”
The combo unit replaced a p-s-only labeler which Childers says was a “very good machine.” The justification for the upgrade came about when a major customer wanted go back to glue for cost savings. “It had been promised that p-s label prices would drop but they never did. We looked at an in-line glue labeler to complement the p-s system but we didn’t like the setup.
“The p-s application is more consistent and easier to setup than the previous labeler” says Childers. “We can offer a prospective client both glue and p-s labeling. The glue capability secured a 40-case-per-year contract for one customer for three years. It was well worth it.” He says about 65% of its business is for glue labeling the balance is p-s.
The two-plus years’ depression in the premium wine market has made that move all the better Childers adds. To top things off EVV sold the previous p-s labeler to a sister winery.
The 180-bpm label application speed is well in excess of the line’s 120-bpm operating rate which allows EVV to run the equipment downstream of the accumulator faster in order to empty it out when it is full.
The bottles are manually packed into ¾-height reshipper trays with dividers that represents a custom design launched earlier this year for Costco club stores (see sidebar page 42).
Was there much risk involved in installing a first-of-its kind piece of equipment with the Garvey accumulator? “Not really “ answers Childers. “We felt it would work with our bottles. Another vendor was pushing its technology at a much lower price but we really believed in the Garvey table and technology especially to handle the problematic RTBs. And [Garvey president] Mark Garvey guaranteed that it would work for us. If we did not like it he told us the company would install a bi-flow accumulator at no extra cost.
“Garvey made a lot of promises about how the machine would perform and it has kept them all—we are extremely happy with it” continues Childers. “As a small player in a big packaging world we’ve been pleased by the attention to detail and service we’ve received from Garvey.”