Case-Study: Bottling With Care

Beverages featuring fruit chunks are regarded as important drivers of the growth of the fruit juice segment. However, the ‘delicate’ ingredients require care during bottling and pose a challenge that Coca-Cola HBC Eurasia must overcome to gain a foothold in this merging market. By Jürgen Kraatz, sales manager, Krones

Still beverages with a pulp content are finding progressively more adherents among consumers worldwide. The Coca-Cola brand Pulpy is broadening its appeal, particularly in newly industrialised countries. In 2010, the chunky fruit juice was on sale in 14 different nations. In 2011, the drink was being produced and sold on 25 national markets.

The growth rates in China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan and the Philippines have regularly exceeded expectations. Other test markets are being targeted. Beverages featuring fruit chunks are regarded as the paramount drivers for future global growth in the fruit juice segment.

For the premiere of bottling of the drink in Russia, the company chose its plant in Istra, north-west of Moscow. The beverage company is operating a total of 12 filling plants and 75 distribution warehouses in the country, from Moscow to Vladivostok. The process selected was inline blending with aseptic filling, with the process technology required integrated into an existing aseptic line.

Inline Blending

In the production process of the juice, it is vital to preserve the pulp from damage from the beginning of the process to the end and to integrate only essential monitoring and operator control elements into the system.

From the experience gained in other countries, the company had the following alternatives to choose from:

  • hot-filling in a single-flow process,
  • an aseptic process in single-flow mode,
  • aseptic inline blending with a twin-flow process and single-flow filling
  • a hot or cold twin-flow process both for product processing and for bottling on a dual filler.

Empirical feedback from actual operations had confirmed that aseptic inline blending offered good preservation of the pulp, excellent dosing accuracy and a high line output. Inline blending means that pulp and juice are aseptically prepared separately and then bottled together.

“The paramount goal was to make the operation as gentle on the product as possible and to minimise damage to the fruit cells”, the company’s country engineering manager, Natalia Polozova, emphasises. “We didn’t even consider the option of not filling the product aseptically.”

Preparation For Bottling

The pulp is delivered frozen in 180 kg drums. To enable it to be processed, it first has to be thawed for around 24 hours. This is done inside the hall at ambient temperature. The slurry is required to exhibit defined proportions of pulp and juice. There must be no ice in the mixture, the temperature should not be too low and the mixture has to be homogeneous.

Once the slurry meets these criteria, the product is released by the laboratory, heated up in the pasteuriser, and cooled down again. The pasteuriser’s output is approximately two cubic metres an hour, which can be individually set in each recipe.

Through cross-corrugated tubes, the slurry is then gently and dependably heated up in the shell-and-tube heat exchanger and delivered by screw-spindle pumps. Minimised distances, few changes of direction in the system and elimination of control valves in the product path ensure that the product is handled with maximised gentleness.

After the slurry has been heated up in the system and then cooled down again, it is passed to the sterile tank, with a usable capacity of 10 cubic metres, installed near the filler.

While this process is running, juice without any chunks or pulp is being heat-treated in the existing pasteuriser, and likewise, held ready in a sterile tank. The slurry sterile tank has been specially designed to meet product-friendliness criteria and to minimise product losses, with the process conceived correspondingly.

The tank, for example, incorporates an agitator that gently keeps the slurry homogeneous. This process, of course, runs under aseptic conditions. “We attached particular importance to the design of the agitators, so as to be as gentle as possible on the product but nonetheless prevent any sedimentation in the tank”, she explains.

Mixing Process

A special design of the vapour seal supply system employed in aseptic operations prevents the slurry from being baked onto the surfaces in the vapour seals of the aseptic double-seat valves. At a minimised distance from the tank’s outlet stands the aseptic blender, which mixes the slurry and the juice provided. The mixing ratio is approximately one part of slurry to nine parts of juice.

The finished beverage from the aseptic blender is supplied to the filler and here, particular attention has been paid to minimised distances and maximally gentle handling as well. Retrofitting the requisite filling valves and agitators in the ring bowl ensures optimum filling of the finished beverage under aseptic conditions.

The finished beverage in the bottles was able to meet the quality standards required by the company. According to the engineering manager, the drink “is something rather special. The fruit chunks create a freshness on the tongue as if you’re drinking freshly squeezed juice.”

The product has been on the market since June 2012, with demand proving very persuasive so far. At the moment, the company is using one line solely for bottling the bottling of the orange drink in 0.45 L container at a speed of 42,000 bph. Two more similar products are set to follow in 2013.

Decontamination Line

In 2011, the company had for the first time embarked on a paradigm shift. After three aseptic lines with separate blow-moulders and fillers connected by air conveyors, the company decided to buy its first blow-moulder/filler monobloc, where the preforms are decontaminated within a few seconds in a treatment chamber located between the oven and the blow-moulder using gaseous hydrogen peroxide.

The optimal H2O2 concentration in conjunction with the hot preforms ensures a high decontamination rate for both the inside and outside of the preforms. The risk of the preforms or bottles being recontaminated after decontamination is reduced to a minimum, since treatment is provided directly downstream of the oven and the bottles are blow-moulded with filtered air.

Treating the preforms themselves significantly reduces energy and media consumption levels compared to treating the finished containers. In the system’s module, the preforms are placed in a half-shell, a handling part that can be replaced rapidly for handling different preform sizes using quick-change features.

The module is operated at the touch-screen shared with the blow-moulding machine. The preform decontamination system substantially improves the hygiene level of blow-moulded PET containers.

This was just what the company has wanted as the plant uses this line primarily for bottling the sensitive Bonaqua Viva flavoured water in 0.5 and one L bottles, as well as Coca-Cola in two L bottles, with normal bottle closures for one and two L bottles and sportscaps for 0.5-litre bottles.

Ms Polozova said that the system offered them a series of advantages. “Firstly, we can do without the air conveyor, which means reduced bottle losses and complete elimination of air conveyor maintenance, plus enhanced microbiological quality of the product without the risk of recontamination. Secondly, we save on space, reduce our energy consumption in terms of compressed air for the conveyors and of steam for the filling function, and we can handle container production and filling with one operator instead of two.”

At the moment, the company is bottling orange drinks in 0.45 L containers at a speed of 42,000 BPH.

Filling Concept

The organised facility had only begun operation early in 2007 on a greenfield site in the Moscow conurbation. In the initial phase, the company started off with an aseptic line, an enhanced hygienic filling (EHF) line and a line for large-size containers.

In late summer of 2007, these were joined by a second aseptic line. The project ranked among the ten biggest investment jobs in Russia during that year and created one of the largest, and indubitably one of the most sophisticated plants in the country’s beverage industry.

For the first three bottling lines, four blow-moulding machines and the associated preform hopper loading and feed systems are installed together in a single room. From the blow-moulding room, the bottles are passed to each of the three aseptic lines via the approximately 200 m long aseptic air conveyor, ending up in the filler rooms.

Each line has its own filler room, into which the empty bottles are passed through a ‘hole in the wall’, and from which, the full bottles then leave through a small opening as well. The operators can enter the generously dimensioned room through an airlock. Each of the aseptic lines features a volumetric PET filler, which is coupled to an isolator, a rinser and an aseptic capper in a small cleanroom, and receives the closures from a closure steriliser.

The filled containers then arrive in the third separate hall, where first of all a holding area provides some buffering time if required. The bottle flow is then divided into two tracks, each of which leads to a labeller with a shrink-tunnel.

The flows of labelled bottles are then merged again and blown off. An inspection system checks the bottles for label placement and fills level before another holding area creates some buffering time in order to assure the smooth functioning of the downstream machine, where 12-bottle shrink-packs are created.

Filling and packaging has now been completed. The packs are conveyed to the block-type warehouse, at the beginning of which they are palletised and a pallet wrapper secures the stack.

EHF Line

The design of the EHF line is very similar, with just the following differences: the rinser-filler monobloc is not aseptic, but it is separated from the surrounding air by a cleanroom. The sole labeller used here produces wrap-around dress. In addition, a handle applicator has been integrated, and the palletiser operates in the single and not the duplex version.

The line is used to bottle carbonated beverages like fizzy Bonaqua water and the coke range, as well as weakly carbonated products like the energy drinks Burn and Burn Tropical, with a juice content of 21 percent.

In comparison to the first one, the second aseptic line installed offers even more options: the possible range of format variants is greater. In addition, it can bottle both still beverages aseptically and carbonated products non-aseptically.

The last line produces and fills, in a separate part of the building, five L PET containers with still water at a speed of 2,000 containers an hour. It consists of a large-mould blow-moulding machine, a compactly dimensioned rinser-filler-closer monobloc in a separate room, a handle applicator and a labeller.

The level and label placements are also inspected. After which, a packing machine erects the cartons, packs them with bottles and seals them. A palletiser then loads the pallets and wraps them.

By modifying its aseptic line to operate with inline blending, the company has successfully upgraded its Istra facility, and strengthened its position on the important Moscow market for all ‘new’ sensitive beverages. As Ms Polozova described, this is “a crucial step forward.”

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