WHO’S THE MAN BEHIND THE PROCESS?
Stuart Richter is the Africa Zone Packaging Manager at AB InBev. He has devoted 29 years to the supply chain industry with extensive experience in the liquid packaging field. Over this time Stuart has devoted his time to implementing, developing and furthering a number of the company's initiatives. One of them being the packaging integration when SAB was acquired by AB InBev. In addition to his career accomplishments, he graduated from Brunel University with a master's degree in Packaging Technology
HOW DOES IT (BEER) ALL GO DOWN?
1st: The depalletising. What this means is that there is an automatic way of stacking cases of bottles, cans and crates into a filing line. In the case of crates, it must depalletise and orientate crates correctly for the next down-stream machine, and discharge pallets automatically to a pallet accumulator.
2nd: Unpacking. The automated unpacker removes all the bottles out of the crates and places them on a conveyor which conveys then to the next process.
Container inspection: The all surface empty bottle inspector individually inspects each bottle for a number of defects, ensuring that only good bottles are then transported to the filling and sealing process.
Filling. Possibly the most important, of the processes, for you!
The main objective of all filling operations is to transfer beer from bulk holding tanks, known as Bright Beer Tanks (BBT), to individual small volume containers. This transfer must be done hygienically, without any drop in beer quality.
3rd: Sealing . Otherwise known as crowning. The primary purpose of the crowner is to apply the crown (bottle cap) onto the bottle so that there are no leaks. After crowning there should be no air ingress or loss of CO2 from the bottle. The bottle must be able to remain airtight even during the pasteurisation process and beyond.
Labelling. Labels contain the necessary information for the beer that you are drinking. The labelling machine must apply the relevant paper labels, pressure sensitive labels, wrap around and foil labels accurately, reliably and efficiently in accordance with the required specifications. The process applies labels and foil to bottles at the required speed, and to the required bottle-dress specifications. The labelling machine is highly automated with minimal manual operator intervention. Label and adhesive loading are performed by an operator. The machine modulates its speed automatically in conjunction with line conditions, upstream and downstream of the machine.
It may sound like a simple process but when you’re bottling 750 bottles per minute, everything has to have to be synchronised and work perfectly.
Packing & Palletising. After the containers are labelled and inspected, using camera technology, for any label defects and leaks they are packed back into the crates and then palletised ready for distribution.
Over the last few years our packaging counterparts, Zitec, have done a lot of work on packaging light-weighting, particularly on glass, cans, board and shrink film. As Stuart says, "We continue to look at opportunities year on year. In Africa approximately 85% of our products are in returnable glass bottles, which are 100% recyclable. Due to the multiple trips each bottle is able to make, we are able to divert a significant amount of glass away from disposal as compared to one-way glass bottles. Further to this we drive our losses down year on year, this alone has had a positive impact on our water and energy usages as well as carbon footprint. When doing tenders for new machinery, we leverage the energy and fluid use and ensure that the OEMs (original equipment managers) achieve what they committed to us. We have developed procedures to ensure we optimise certain equipment for low water and energy usage and thereby beating industry norms."
As you can see it takes time and a lot of determination to deliver beer to you, our consumer, in the most sustainable way possible. We are lucky that we are in an ever-changing world of technology that helps us achieve this.
So, now that you know all about the beer bottling process, go share your knowledge with a friend over a beer!