Gerolsteiner: returnables with added value

Returnable glass is in line with the trend! Germany's number one among mineral water brands has reacted to the growing thirst for refreshing drinks out of appropriate individual and GDB (German Mineral Water Association) bottles – with a completely new filling line. Highly automated HEUFT equipment for inspecting empty and full containers ensures that Gerolsteiner mineral water is bottled safely and faultlessly there. A new type of labeller carries out the careful decoration of the glass containers for an attractive look at the point of sale: the HEUFT TORNADO II dynamic!

Installed in this way for the first time "the machine operating under the synonym 'prototype' was successfully commissioned", reports Markus Gorges, the Technical Planning Coordinator at the Gerolsteiner Brunnen GmbH & Co. KG. "It works reliably on a day to day basis just as the systems from HEUFT SYSTEMTECHNIK GMBH used up until now". The rejection rate of the downstream HEUFT FinalView label inspection already underlines its "reproducibly good working method".

The new generation semi-modular labeller, which has never been introduced in this configuration before, helps to fulfil one of the main objectives of the new Line 3 at the Gerolsteiner company effectively: to create more production capacity in order to meet the "increased demand for our individual one litre glass container in a six bottle crate" and to guarantee a "continuous delivery capability". According to Mr Gorges the demand for glass 0.7 litre and 0.75 litre GDB bottles in 12 bottle crates on a Euro pallet has also increased significantly. An old system for corresponding containers on the GDB pallet, "which generates increased manual effort on our premises", is therefore to be replaced in the future. "We can meet all requirements with the new filling line in which a comprehensive sorting system is integrated," says the Technical Planning Coordinator. "The new line has been certified for filling Gerolsteiner Heilwasser (healing water) in addition to the Gerolsteiner Naturell (natural), Gerolsteiner Medium and Gerolsteiner Sprudel (sparkling) brands."


Precise labelling and effective user guidance

The new labelling machine (with a line output of 23,000 individual bottles per hour) helps to meet the high demands which the mineral water company "not only places on the mineral water but also on the entire product which includes the bottle plus its presentation", says Mr Gorges. Product quality and food safety "are just as important here as the appearance of our products at the point of sale". The HEUFT TORNADO II dynamic mainly safeguards the latter using wet glue labelling technology which has "proven itself over many years". A total of four stations are integrated in the machine which has an open design and can be flexibly equipped and is based on the highly automated HEUFT SPECTRUM II in order to place body, collar and back labels, depending on the brand, onto the glass bottles which have been finely adjusted by servo-controlled platforms and to apply tamper evident strips for the closure cleanly and accurately in a combination of wet and hot glue processes.

All four labelling stations are equipped with an automatic magazine feed (AMF) so that the label supply does not run out too quickly and does not have to be constantly refilled manually. Brand changes and maintenance etc. can also be carried out by the machine users with little effort and effective support: the height and position of the labelling units adapt automatically to the changed bottle format and the integrated step-by-step assistance of the audiovisual HEUFT NaVi user guidance provides additional advantages in terms of efficiency and productivity. "Product changeovers can be carried out quickly and faults rectified swiftly," confirms Mr Gorges. This is helped by "accessibility to all the stations during filling, cleaning and maintenance" of the machine which is practically without a table. "The all-around visualisation and operating concept brings added value to everyday production".


Better overview and better responsiveness

After all the German market leader was also interested in "added value for all concerned" when deciding on a labelling machine with a new type of user guidance which provides the operator more overview, control and responsiveness in order to achieve the greatest possible operational reliability with corresponding production quality: "The Gerolsteiner mineral water company is constantly striving to improve its high quality standards," explains its Technical Planning Coordinator. "This is accompanied by a need for new technologies which will make this is possible. We have the patience and the will to integrate new technology into our production process based on partnership and cooperation. An all-around operating concept with an integrated voice control and a generous status visualisation were two incentives in this respect".

No wonder. The self-explanatory HEUFT NaVi user interface is not only displayed on the main terminal of the compact machine but also on four large flat screens positioned around the top of the machine. No matter where he happens to be along the line: the user can therefore always keep an eye on the actual status of the HEUFT TORNADO II dynamic. In addition a hands-free voice control will soon be possible so that the labeller can provide the user with audio information and he can operate the machine with his voice alone and without manual intervention.


Continuous process control for full marketability

High-performance detection modules are also connected to the machine or directly integrated in order to maintain the high labelling and marking quality at all times. Mr Gorges explains: "We not only check the presence but also the correct position and alignment of the applied labels after the labelling machine" with the HEUFT FinalView solution. And a sensor camera in the labeller checks the best before date which has been freshly lasered on. "The plausibility of the character string is also evaluated in this connection. The same procedure is also used for the barcode which is on the label."

After all, in addition to the delivery capability already mentioned, "the very high quality of our products is one of the guarantee promises of the Gerolsteiner mineral water company", he emphasises. Therefore modular systems based on the modern HEUFT SPECTRUM II also carry out the complete inspection. "They ensure the marketability of the goods from the empty and cleaned to the filled bottle". To this end, they carry out "legal checks" such as compliance with the nominal filling quantity as well as safety checks "after the relevant production steps in order to ensure continuous process monitoring". Namely in accordance with criteria which are "specified by our Quality Assurance Department and closely monitored and checked on a regular basis".


New generation empty and full container inspection

Trust was placed in the leading manufacturer of QA equipment in this case too because "the system solutions from HEUFT have already proved their worth at Gerolsteiner in the past", says Mr Gorges. And the "the requirements on the detection systems which have increased over time and developed further could be implemented" with the new device generation. Thus the HEUFT InLine II IXS empty bottle inspector detects "the smallest damage in the sidewall, on the base or in the thread" as well as residual lye from the washing machine with the directly integrated HEUFT fluid. The camera-based inspection covers all the surfaces of each individual container including the inside of the finish. Foreign objects in the bottle are also reliably identified in combination with the HEUFT reflexx² real-time image processing system.


"We are always open to innovations and optimisations regarding our control systems and attempt to extend the boundaries of detection technologies", reveals Mr Gorges. A HEUFT eXaminer II XOS full container inspector for a reliable glass in glass detection at the other end of the line was also chosen above all "in order to detect glass splinters which have entered the bottle during the production process despite all precautionary measures due to glass breakage" using pulsed X-ray technology in addition to the optical identification of, for instance, "transparent film which floats in the area of the fill level". The "fully integrated bottle burst function" in the HEUFT SPECTRUM II VX which detects burst bottles during the filling process and also consistently rejects adjacent, possibly contaminated containers already provides effective protection. However an end-of-line full container inspection with high performance cameras and exclusive X-ray strobes is nevertheless required for full protection not only against dangerous glass splinter contamination. "Checking the fill height and the closing process" is already carried out beforehand by the "reliably working HEUFT SPECTRUM II VX system". And the connected HEUFT FinalView II CAP module achieves a detailed screw closure inspection which, among other things, even "detects incompletely formed thread turns or canted closures".

"All the detections are validated at least three times a day using prepared test bottles as part of Gerolsteiner's internal quality assurance in order to check the detection performance", according to Mr Gorges. Repeated failure of these automated and audiovisually assisted self test programs "leads to a stop in further production until the cause has been found". However this is rarely necessary. The technology expert at the renowned mineral water company confirms that the new generation of easy to maintain checking and inspection systems are highly reliable in daily operation just like the first labeller based on the HEUFT SPECTRUM II – a clear result of the constructive cooperation between the two companies from the German Volcanic Eifel: "The project planning, implementation and support by the HEUFT company was based on partnership and an extremely goal-oriented manner. All the machines and units were accompanied with a high level of commitment until successful acceptance." They now generate real added value along the new returnable glass line in Gerolstein.