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Roll-fed labelers satisfy Coke bottler with 'the Real Thing'

Coca-Cola is facing an increasingly competitive environment in Mexico as aggressive new beverage companies with discount products enter the market. And Coke bottlers are successfully guarding their position by launching new packages that offer consumers more choices.

As a leading supplier of blow-molded polyethylene terephthalate bottles in Mexico, Zapata Envases continually invests in its world-class operations to satisfy all of its customers' changing demands, including those of its biggest customer, Coca-Cola. To help achieve the industry's highest production standards, Zapata Envases relies on in-line, roll-fed labelers from B&H Labeling Systems to maximize production flexibility, maximize efficiencies and reduce costs while producing the highest-quality PET bottles.

"Before two big South American beverage companies, Big Cola and El Gallo, appeared in Mexico last year with a two-point-five-liter bottle, the largest volume offered by Coke and Pepsi was a two-liter bottle," explains Segio Alardin, director, Commercial Division, PET, at Zapata Envases. "Suddenly, Coke asked us to add a two-point-five-liter and a three-liter bottle and several other sizes in an attempt to fully cover the range. We went from molding thirty different PET bottles to fifty-five different PET bottles."

This environment has put enormous pressure on Zapata Envases to retool its operation as quickly as possible. The company has handled the challenge with ease, relying on suppliers Sidel and B&H for support. At its plant in Mexico City, Zapata Envases operates eight Sidel blow molders that are integrated with eight B&H roll-fed labelers.

"The service we've gotten from B&H has been impressive," Alardin notes. "Compared to other manufacturers, their response time in providing us with parts and tooling for new bottles is quite short."

The BH8000S labelers in use at Zapata Envases are designed to handle containers from 220 mL to 3 L with a rapid changeover routine that minimizes downtime. With few changeparts and few mechanical adjustments, the operators need only clamp the components in place and select the container description from memory on the control panel. At the push of a button, the vacuum drum, cutting drum, glue application system and positive label control are all automatically set. The ability to preprogram machine timing positions via the onboard computer reduces the skill level required to achieve changeovers and ensures the labeler operates at optimum performance.

"We operate twenty-four hours a day with two twelve-hour shifts, seven days a week," Alardin notes. "Changeovers have a direct impact on productivity. We try to run a line at least a week without a changeover, but when our customers, most operating with just-in-time inventory, call us with an urgent need, we deliver. Sometimes we change a line over after only twenty-four hours of production." At its three PET plants, Zapata Envases produces approximately 300 million preforms and 250 million PET bottles a month to meet demand from carbonated soft drink bottlers and water bottlers. The market has been growing at a rate of 15 percent to 18 percent a year, and this growth is expected to continue, putting added pressure on productivity, especially during the peak seasons when demand typically jumps 20 percent.

B&H designs its labelers for heavy-duty, continuous use with a low-maintenance gear arrangement, accurate cutting systems and a precise glue-application system.

"When you're running at capacity, it's very difficult to schedule operator training. It's critical to have equipment that's easy to learn and easy to use," Alardin explains. "We've had very good experiences with B&H. The Model 8000 is an easy machine to operate and it achieves good efficiencies; we don't have a lot of problems with the technology. Plus it's got a long life of ten to thirty years."

Over the years, Alardin has had experiences with a range of labelers, including sleeve-labeling and roll-fed systems from other suppliers. "We found that the B&H labelers are more reliable than sleeve-labeling equipment and more versatile, too. We've had fewer problems with the B&H labelers, and this results in more uptime.

"Quality standards are fixed by Coke; they're the highest standards in the industry. Approximately sixty percent of our bottles go to Coke, but all of our bottles match these high quality standards," Alardin says. "We need to produce good bottles. We need quality label material. And we need the labeling operation to perform well with accurate registration and label placement."

Each of the B&H labelers features a patented computer registration system that virtually eliminates the out-of-register labels common to mechanical systems, producing the highest-quality labeled containers while offering simple operation. An onboard computer coordinates the advanced electromechanical system to offer infinite eye mark change possibilities. Sensors detect variances within the label parameters, and the necessary adjustments are made automatically, without slowing or stopping the line.

The labelers handle a wide range of label film materials with variable machinability. Developed in response to the emergence of an assortment of label materials such as PE, polypropylene, polyvinyl chloride and clear polystyrene, the B&H labelers widen the window of machine operation. Downtime attributable to label control can be cut in half.

While Zapata Envases currently produces 55 different PET bottles at its plant in Mexico City, it is applying more than 200 different labels to these bottles. "Label material irregularity can be a problem. It's important that our labelers can accommodate this variability," he says. The proven reliability of B&H roll-fed labelers made them a natural choice for installation in Zapata Envases. The result is a beautifully labeled container that gives Coke the attractive shelf presence it requires.

Unlike some blow molders that strive to be the lowest-cost producer, Zapata Envases focuses on cost reduction while investing to remain responsive to huge customers in a gigantic market with great seasonal fluctuations and changing demands. Mexico is now Coca-Cola's largest market in the world in per capita consumption, and with 58 percent of the carbonated soft drink market in Mexico now being packaged in nonreturnable PET bottles, Zapata Envases is experiencing tremendous market opportunities.

"Over the years, the market has become more sophisticated and efficient. Our customers require more from us, both in terms of quality and responsiveness," Alardin concludes. "In fact, in an effort to reduce freight, we're increasingly looking at operating blow-molding lines inside our clients' factories." It's this dedication to investing in technology and service that gives Zapata Envases the competitive edge in this dynamic industry.

More information is available:

Roll-fed labelers: B&H Labeling Systems, 209/537-5785.www.bhlabeling.com. Circle No. 214.

Blow-molding machines: Sidel, 770/449-8058.www.usa.sidel.com. Circle No. 215.

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