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Coca-Cola Enterprises is one of the world’s leading bottlers, marketers and distributors of non-alcoholic beverages such as Dr Pepper. It distributes about 4.4 billion unit cases of products in bottles, cans and fountain containers a year, operates 55,000 vehicles and has facilities thoughout the US and Canada as well as in parts of Europe, including the UK.

The drinks company took on the task of achieving greater efficiencies and productivity by streamlining its bulk filling activities, which operate 24/7. The company called in Astec Conveyors which has completed the integration of two major liquid filling and packaging lines at Coca-Cola Enterprises.

Working in association with the main machinery supplier, DS Smith Packaging Systems, Astec was involved in the design, manufacture and integration of all handling systems – linking together complete filling and packaging lines for ‘bag in box’ and ‘MegaBox’ bulk syrup carriers.

Stephen Parry, manager at DS Smith Packaging Systems, comments: “Apart from providing a competitive quotation, Astec was selected because they demonstrated their experience and handling capability, and could supply all the different conveyors for both filling systems within the given time frame to fully satisfy Coca-Cola Enterprises’ requirements.”

Parry continues: “Astec also provided a full project management service on behalf of DS Smith Packaging Systems, ensuring all third-party suppliers were aware of their responsibilities to ensure the project was delivered on time and to specification.”

Astec Conveyors’ handling solution was acknowledged as being both innovative and unique, providing custom-built equipment in the form of a ‘Symmetric Merge’ unit and ‘Pack Twister’ to provide accurate tracking, optimum speed flow and accurate orientation of product throughout the system. Its proposal to manufacture to the highest food quality standard using all stainless steel construction, coupled with the unique system design features and competitive tender, went a long way to assist Astec securing the prestigious contract with Coca-Cola Enterprises.

Previous operations were undertaken on two separate filling lines according to the packaging size; ten-litre packs on auto line and 20-litre capacity on a semi-auto operation at three boxes per minute. Due to an increase in demand for 20-litre packs, Coca-Cola Enterprises decided to introduce a new auto filling and packaging system that would handle both sizes of ‘bag in box’.

From a DSSP (OTOR) case erector two different sized carton packs (ten / 20-litre) could be dispensed to order, feeding in single file onto a modular mat-top side flexing belt conveyor supplied by Astec and operating at line speeds of 25/20cpmin respectively. A specially designed ‘one-to-two’ lane divider transported empty cartons – bottom sealed, top flaps open, to feed two online ‘bag-in-box’ (RAPAK – a division of DS Smith Plastics) filling machines.

Accurate tracking

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola Enterprises acknowledges the complexity of the system saying: “Based on our own experience of running ten/20-litre ‘bag in box’ packs, we required the finished package to be orientated in certain directions to allow for specific coding requirements from different customers, but this was not to impact on line speed. Astec’s design solution to these complex issues was unique and very effective.”

Once accurately filled with the required volume of syrup, the carton is discharged on a chain-driven clutched roller accumulating conveyor and through Astec’s ‘Symetric Merge’ unit, which is a specially designed roller ‘Y’ merge. This unit eliminates the need for guide rails by centralising the cartons on to a mat-top modular belt conveyor to accurately track around a 90° bend, precisely presenting for ink-jet coding and feeding onto a Mettler Toledo check weigher. Any over / under weight cartons are automatically rejected on exiting the check weigher.

Complete filled cartons are transported through a case closing and sealing machine (DSSP – OTOR), and controls monitor for open flap detection on discharge, prior to entering the Astec ‘Pack Twister’. This unique twister unit was specially designed by Astec Conveyors for handling the ‘bag-in-box’ packaging, changing the pack orientation from a vertical to horizontal and presenting the finished product in the ideal plane for automatic shrink wrapping and palletising.

Astec Conveyors not only provided the mechanical hardware in terms of handling equipment, but project managed the installation and interface of the system with full controls. Accumulation zones are strategically positioned within the system at key stages of packaging to provide controlled build-back of cartons. Product is monitored from the filler discharge and tracked throughout the symmetric merge and on the check weigher, so that over / under weight cartons can be identified and traced back to the originating filler machine for any necessary rectification.

Coca-Cola Enterprises reported: “The new all stainless steel filling system is very flexible and has certainly speeded up the process, reduced manual handling and product waste, and increased accuracy of fill and packaging operations. The current line use is approximately 70% but steadily rising in line with demand.

Change over in pack size from ten-litre to 20-litre is very quick, as there are no guide rails to adjust and handling system controls are not affected by change in product size.

Astec Conveyors had to provide a system to handle the specially designed MegaBox – a tamper-proof, bulk handling returnable syrup packaging system produced by Arca Systems for Coca-Cola Enterprises. In order to convey these containers, which can carry the equivalent to 12.5 x 20-litre bag-in-boxes (250-litre), Astec designed a heavy-duty, special stainless steel twin chain pallet conveyor.

From store, the collapsible space saving MegaBox is manually erected to form a bulk liquid container and positioned onto the pallet conveyor. From this infeed position, MegaBox containers are transported and precisely indexed for two filling stations to complete the process in an agreed controlled sequence. The system has been designed to provide maximum flexibility and each fitting station can be operated independently.

Lids and labels are manually placed on to the filled MegaBoxes and a right angle chain/roller unit transfers the two containers off the main conveyor line, positioning them side by side for a forklift truck to simply offload and transfer the goods to the warehouse for storage and despatch.

Astec Conveyors also acted as project manager, liaising with all parties, which was vital as there was a very tight ‘time window’ for stripping out old equipment, installing and commissioning the new system. This was completed within two weeks, on time and within budget. Andrew Baxter, projects team leader at Coca-Cola Enterprises, states: “From the off, Astec Conveyors demonstrated their willingness to deliver workable solutions to resolve our handling requirements and meet our challenging timescales. The system is very impressive and successfully meeting our project criteria.”

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