Is the whole issue of sustainable packaging approached from the same point of view at your company as it is at, say, a soft drinks producer?
Not really. Take caps, for instance. In our business, image is far more important than it is with soft drinks. If we went to a shortskirted cap like the ones now popular in water and soft drinks, the package might appear cheapened in the consumer’s mind. Or look at corrugated shippers. In many product categories they’re switching to trays and overwrap to reduce the amount of packaging materials that go into the waste stream. But with our products, certain regulatory issues make shrink-wrapped trays a bad option because it’s too easy for someone to reach through the bulls-eye on the end of the tray and remove a bottle. So full cases remain more or less a given. I will say, though, that a recent switch from glass to PET on three popular sizes we fill in our Frankfort, KY, plant lets us put more bottles on a truck and have fewer trucks coming to the plant.
What kind of trends in packaging machinery do you see? What are your needs?
We’re always looking for the newest, fastest, best equipment. But we also pride ourselves on long-term relationships with an existing base of suppliers in certain categories, like labelers, cappers, and palletizers. If something goes wrong, I get the service I need right away. No talk of downpayments or purchase orders or anything. Instead, it’s “Beam’s calling? Get a guy down there right away.”
Does that relationship building with your OEMs play any role in your fondness for refurbished equipment?
I guess you could say that it does. Keep in mind that the rebuilt equipment we go with here is not off the street. It’s equipment we’ve had here for some time. We have it refurbished for us by the OEM that built it in the first place. Sometimes the machines are so old they have relays rather than PLCs. The OEMs put in PLCs and we’re good to go.
Any advice you’d give to packaging machinery OEMs?
I think they do a pretty good job overall. Sometimes they jump on the latest fad little more than they ought to. Like robots. Lately it seemed like you could buy a stretch wrapper and it would be robotized. Even more recently it’s servos. They’re putting servos on everything, even when it’s not really all that necessary. Maintenance and mechanics people aren’t always available who understand servos. Servos have a place, like in our brand new case packer in the Frankfort plant where case format changes are frequent. It’s menu driven at the HMI screen. Select 200-mL 48 pack, make minimal mechanical changes on some lane guides and spacers, and that’s about it. But motions like tucking the flaps and moving the cases and where to start and stop, those are all driven by the servos, and in that application, the servos are