Centuries-old wine company embraces automation

Despite having a history that dates back to 1637, Folsom, CA’s Gekkeikan Sake (USA) embraces automated technology to ensure future growth, explains Bill Piper, Gekkeikan’s vice president of production.

Pw 4853 Bill Piper

Packaging World: What is Gekkeikan Sake’s attitude toward automating the packaging processes?

Bill Piper: Our attitude toward automation is such that we have always embraced new technologies. The home office has continually pioneered advances in packaging and production processes.

Given that the company has such a long history with a traditional product, is it hard to embrace new technology?
The product is indeed traditional, however the goal is always to improve; and emerging technologies help to make that goal possible.

When you incorporate automation into your processes, what goals are you trying to achieve?
Increased speed, repeatability, and reduced human workload.

How does this affect existing employees?
They understand our motivations and ultimate operational game plan and are ready, willing, and able to incorporate the new equipment into their repertoire of experience. The equipment we purchase is to enhance the quality and quantity of their work and is not used as a replacement for any employee.

What are some of the greatest challenges to adding automation?
Cost is always a monkey on your back. The other major factor is integration. We use equipment from Japan, Italy, and Germany, as well as from the U.S. Not all of the standards are compatible, so it’s imperative to perform your due diligence in order to not have surprises upon install.

Are employees resistant to automation, perceiving it to be too complex, endangering their jobs, etc.? Our employees understand that they ultimately benefit from our myriad upgrades and modifications and look forward to them with anticipation.

What lessons have you learned from your experiences with automation?
Without trying to sound pretentious or politically trendy, the only constant is change...we should make the most of it.

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