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Woodbridge Winery bulks up production and takes up boxing

Woodbridge Winery bulks up production and takes up boxing
Woodbridge Winery depal

Woodbridge Winery depalUnlike wine, packaging lines generally do not improve over time by themselves. Along with regular maintenance, they need periodic upgrades to keep things on track. No one knows this better than the bottling managers at Woodbridge Winery in Acampo, CA, which is part of Constellation Brands, a wine, beer and spirits company with more than 100 brands in its portfolio, sales in approximately 100 countries, operations in about 40 facilities and approximately 6,000 employees. 

Located about 30 miles south of Sacramento, the winery's 50 acres of property include 350,000 square feet of bottling and warehousing surrounded by 200 acres of vineyards.

For 32 years, this has been an expansive work home for Larry Schneider, now director of bottling. He grew up a surfer amidst the iconic southern California beach scene during the 1960s and recently fulfilled a long-time ambition to parachute. That may imply Schneider is a risk taker. But when it comes to bottling decisions, he and Mike Battaglia, the director of bottling maintenance who has 25 years of packaging proficiency, are experienced, analytical and, above all, thorough in their machine selections. 

They have to be: The bottling lines operate at rates in excess of 600 750mL bottles per minute as in the case of Line 1. Across three lines, the plant produces an amazing 80,000 to 125,000 6-,12- and 24-count cases daily. 

Schneider and Battaglia do their homework in an environment that leaves little margin for any inefficiency and where every line boasts industry-leading brand name machinery associated with high throughput and quality and top-notch reliability, according to these managers. 

"Companies choose how they run their businesses," says Schneider. "The way we've chosen to run ours is speed."

The need for speed

That high-output, high-efficiency output mandate extended to the most recent plant upgrade when the operations converted from dedicated reshipper operations to handling glass in bulk. 

The reshippers were unloaded either manually or using a robotic system that required three support workers and could only handle a less common style of reshippers where the bottles were pointed upward rather than upside down. Over time, lines speeds were increased to the point that the semi-manual lines could not keep up.

The project-which also includes box erectors, partition inserters and case packers-began with depalletizers. That led them to look to glass suppliers for advice "because they have the most experience at handling bulk-packaged glass," observes Schneider. 

After months of research, he and Battaglia concluded that "Emmeti machinery came out on top for installation, longevity and service. We'd seen the machinery at tradeshows but, for most of that time, bulk operations weren't even on our radar."

The depalletizers would set the pace for the infeed process and therefore for the entire line. The decision was dictated by the need for speed and rapid changeovers.

"We selected models that could surge higher than our line demands," says Schneider. "We are also able to run a lot of different bottle shapes without having to make mechanical changeover on the Emmetis. That was huge because we bottle more than 17 different brands with multiple bottle shapes." These include Tapered, Hock, Claret and Burgundy styles in 187-, 750- and 1,500mL size bottles.

Three Emmeti Model MT 565 systems, one per line, were added starting in August 2011 when the first was installed on Line 1. A year later in August 2012, another Emmeti was installed on Line 2 along with an Emmeti MT 565 Octopus depalletizer on Line 4. The first two systems accept 750mL and 1.5L bottles received in bulk, the Octopus on Line 4 is capable of handling 187mL (airline size) bottles that arrive in reshippers and, in the future, that same size in bulk. 

Another major requirement was that the Emmeti systems offer low-level discharge at the required speeds.
"It was important to bring the bottles to floor-level conveyors without some type of lowerator or other mechanism," explains Battaglia. "We have a short distance into our filling processes and also use tapered bottles that are prone to tipping." 

"It makes for a faster transition from bottle unloading to our filler infeed conveyors," adds Schneider. "We did not have to make any alterations to our line-it was seamless into our process."

The incoming glass arrives on pallets unitized by various packaging materials that must be removed prior to entering the depalletizers; materials include shrink wraps, stretch wraps, bags and various patterns of plastic strapping. The incoming load varies by vendor and even by plant.

On Line 1, the removal or undressing of the pallet is done by a robotic unwrapper/unbagger system from FleetwoodGoldcoWyard that was installed in 2011 with the depalletizer. The robot is equipped with a heat gun to cut through films, and a cutter for strapping and bagged loads. The removed material is subsequently recycled as part of an on-going company-wide program for zero materials to landfill. 

Usually a truckload of pallet loads, which last for an entire shift, are unitized in one way or another. "The robot is programmed for that and away it goes," says Schneider. A changeover takes five to 10 minutes and is basically the flip of a switch, he adds.

The undressed pallets are conveyed into the Emmeti depalletizer where bottles are removed layer by layer. A bottle layer is clamped to maintain positive control before the top layer immediately above is swept off by a sweeping head onto a layer transfer plate that moves up or down to match the height of the layer receiving table onto which the bottles are pushed and released.

The system picks and places the top wood frames and tier sheets to their respective dunnage magazines using a set of pinching metal grippers for the former and suction cups for the latter. Those materials will also be reused or recycled.

One operator is capable of operating any of the three Emmeti systems.

Schneider is impressed by how much the machines can compensate for load shifting during transportation from glass vendors in the western U.S. and Mexico. He feels that the Emmeti's engineering and the way it captures, handles and moves the pallets and bottles is "awesome-there's very little room for anything to fall out or fall down. And it does that over and over, all day long."

Schneider appreciates that, as simple as it sounds, that the machine does exactly what Emmeti said it would do. "It's repetitive and consistent all day long," he says. "They have been durable machines."

But he says the best feature of the machinery is that it saves wear and tear on employees. "It speeds production and will for any operation with enough buffering conveyors," he states. 

In addition to the cost savings in going to bulk, another major benefit has been a reduction in inventory and warehouse space.

One of Battaglia's roles was to specify the controls package, which centered on Allen-Bradley brand human-machine-interface displays and components including variable frequency drives and A-B Kinetic 600 drives, all from Rockwell Automation. Battaglia likes that the HMIs are intuitive, that moving parts are color coded and that safety is secured using pins, locks, guarding and fencing. "When we run their machine, we know it's safe," he notes.

Woodbridge added extra grippers and photoelectric sensors as well as HMI machine start/stop areas where operators can undress the pallets, fix shifted loads and make final checks before the loads are released to the depalletizer. That was about the only aspects of the depalletizers, which were shipped from Italy, that were "customized" from an off-the-shelf system.

Smooth installation

The start-ups were as smooth as the company's wines. "The systems are huge, bigger than what we originally thought," Battaglia says. "Emmeti worked with our mechanical contractors and the systems went in smoothly.

Emmeti's technical coordinator [Luis] probably conducted one of the most in-depth and comprehensive training sessions with my mechanical mechanics I've seen. He went into in-depth electronic training with encoders, explained how to set and reposition settings, everything. The start-up support was excellent. I'm also fortunate to have a highly skilled group of staff here including three PLC technicians. We rarely need outside help."

Schneider says the experience with Emmeti was great from the get go: "They were one of the best groups we'd ever worked with on installing equipment."

The managers also give a great deal of credit to the Barry Wehmiller Design Group, which supplied all project management for the entire upgrade-as it has done for several plant upgrades over the years-from mechanical and electrical integration to programming to installation services to commissioning and training. 

Making a case for DIY

The other half of the conversion to bulk handling was the installation of box-making and partition-inserting equipment, five machines of each type.

The cases-to-be arrive as blanks that are flat, not folded, thereby taking up minimal space; Woodbridge receives 750 case blanks on a pallet provided by about a half dozen different suppliers. 

The day of our visit to the plant, Woodbridge was producing boxes for several brands, including Rex-Goliath, one of the company's most popular brands.

The blanks supply five box formers from DS Smith. Battaglia believes they may be the only operation in the United States to have this type of box-making capability. He feels that these machines, which operate with 16 servos, are probably the highest-tech box makers around. "And they are very reliable," he reports. 

The machines produce at high speeds an RSC case, though it is formed by wrapping the blank around a metal mandrel. Versus opening a knocked-down (KD) case, this process assures that the blank conforms precisely around the mandrel to yield a perfectly squared-up case.

A bad case causes double the trouble downstream because the packers fill two cases at once.

"We had a lot of experience with bad cases before, so we knew what we wanted out of a case and we knew that we wanted to manufacture it ourselves," explains Battaglia. "With KD cases you're still driven by what the manufacturer of the case has done." 

Battaglia points out that the servo-driven, solid metal-frame mandrel permits them to quickly switch out the end plates and program in the XY axes adjustments for a box changeover. 

Case weight and costs cut

The company also realized corrugated savings in converting from a 26 pound EC case to a 23 EC case due to the in-house ability to tightly control case manufacturing. "It's easier and cheaper for vendors to produce a flat and not a glued KD case," says Schneider. They also cut out the middle man, the distributor, to further shave costs, he adds.

Erected cases are conveyed to one of five partition inserters from Wayne Automation. These high-tech machines are servo driven, which means quick changeovers. That allows Woodbridge, directed by customer requirements, to use virtually any size of partition. Those range from 7- to 9-inch-high partitions that also have to be glued into cases when destined for Canadian markets. As with the DS Smith box formers and case packers downstream, Mondavi relies on Nordson hot-melt adhesive applicators.

Like the box-makers, the servo-driven partition inserters can changeover with a simple adjustment, says Schneider. 

All told, the plant produces 19 different cases for 27 different brands. 

While Schneider cannot disclose specifics, he acknowledges that the savings in going to bulk handling have been "astronomical," which is about as high as it gets and underscores the fundamental reason they went in this direction.

A distance downstream and after bottle filling, the winery installed Standard-Knapp Versatron case packers. Schneider compares the high-speed packing of the bottles into cases to "dropping a bag of cement," but the Versatron's "Soft Catch" technology makes the process a break-free cinch. 

A two-axis servo system allows the Versatron servo case packer to "catch" the product while it descends into the case. The lift table moves the case to the "up" position and waits for a full grid of bottles. When the grid is full, the riding strips shift to the side and initiate the bottle descent. The lift table moves the case downward on a velocity curve to match the conveyor speed of the cases.

The two-case pace is mandatory because speeds for 750mL bottles can reach 65 cases a minute and at times surge to 100 cases a minute, explains Battaglia. He believes that packing two cases at a time is uncommon for wines simply because few operations are running at these speeds. 

"With this technology, you don't break bottles," Schneider says. "There's a reason you pick Standard-Knapp."

Best-in-class selection

It's the same reason the operation selects any equipment for its lines: best in class machinery.

"All of the equipment that we selected represents the top brands," says Schneider. "There's nothing here that's cheap. So we did our homework and chose equipment that shares the traits of high speed as well as performance, quality, reliability and service. We considered many vendors at the start."

Their selection also extended to what the vendors offer in spare parts, adds Battaglia. "All parts should be non-proprietary, off-the-shelf parts, and that includes bearings, shafts, proximity sensors, drives...all these things and more." 

Schneider says they don't just purchase machinery from vendors, they partner with them. A prime example he points to is their Krones fillers-one for each of the three lines-and labelers. "They make awesome equipment that runs for years," he states.

It isn't a case that they only use proven equipment, just proven vendors. In one example, the plant installed on Line 1 more than 10 years ago the first four-tier Dynac vertical accumulation system from Hartness that remains a reliable workhorse. "We have built a lot of accumulation into our lines," says Battaglia.

Not all of its improvements involve major pieces of machinery-sometimes it is for a small, but critical component. In one example, that can come down to having an efficient way to turn a case using an Intralox conveyor section installed on Line 4 just downstream of the Emmeti depalletizer. Using a laser to detect cases that need turning, the compact system reorients cases at a 90-degree conveyor section with the narrow edge leading ahead of a case inverting conveyor section that leads to an A-B-C Packaging uncaser. 

Another key aspect of the "all out" production throughput is to keep the filler running, and that means speeds into and out of the filler. In essence, the entire operation from bottle unloading through palletizing must remain at high efficiency.

The attention to machine selection has paid off. According to Schneider, their failure rate is very low and their Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is high, as measured using TrakSYS software from Parsec they have used since 2007. The OEE for all three production lines remains in the 90+ percent range.

Woodbridge monitors Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) on all equipment on all three lines and records stoppage lengths and causes. KPIs are reported by machine, shift, operator and more, allowing line-to-line and even bottle-to-bottle comparisons. The interface also permits operators to input comments and notes.

"It's a great, Big Picture tool for upper management because most of our sites have this and we compare metrics site-to-site," notes Schneider. 

It also serves the bottling managers in their procurement processes. "It helps validate our justification for capital expenditures," he explains. "We can quantify our return-on-investment by showing what the current machine is costing versus a brand new machine."

The managers expect to upgrade from OEE software based at operator workstations to a networked web-based version sometime in 2014.

The high speeds also compel an atypical mindset. As Schneider explains, "There are different problems at high speeds that aren't seen at 100 bottles per minute, including bottle weight and balance. We're constantly redesigning packaging and bottles because while they may work for 99 percent of companies, they may not work for us."

Schneider is also willing to share one trick of the trade they implemented first in 2008, which was the first installation of the Robo-Cylinder Bottle Guide System provided by Barry Wehmiller Design Group, and subsequently six more. The Robo-Cylinder evenly splits bottle positioning when dividing mass flow and directs flow to one machine if another in parallel is slowed or stopped.

Battaglia describes it as "an electrical-pneumatic-mechanical positioning rod that allows us to control our populations and our mass within the conveyors. It's not rocket science, but it works."

It helps enable them to run tapered bottles perhaps faster than anyone, as Schneider states. 

As my Dad used to say, "If it's a fact, then it ain't boasting." There is much to boast about here, where the savvy bottling managers and their decisions made across the years have yielded the production of many hundreds of thousands of cases of wine, packaged quickly and with high efficiently.

To watch a video of the Woodbridge operations, see www.packagingdigest/woodbridge.

A-B-C Packaging Machine Corp.,

Barry Wehmiller Design Group

DS Smith Packaging Systems
+33 (0)1 49 01 48 48

Emmeti USA

FleetwoodGoldcoWyard, a Barry Wehmiller Co.

Hartness Intl., part of ITW





Nordson Corp.




Rockwell Automation



Wayne Automation



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