Abbey Well was one of the first brands of bottled water to be sold in the UK, but you will not find it in supermarkets. It is sold only to the premium sector and as it continues to expand its market presence, it has chosen premium-rate equipment for its new filling line.
“We travelled the world looking for the right equipment”, said David Charlesworth, the technical & quality manager at Walters & Robson the producers of Abbey Well. “We visited manufacturers and fillers, sometimes several times. In the end we chose one of the more expensive machines: And that,” he said waving his arms into an empty space beneath the filling stations, “is one of the main things that we paid extra for. Nothing!”
The space beneath the filler is an interesting one. Most manufacturers use it as a convenient area to place the drive motors and gearing, but on the Metalnova Rinser-Filler-Capper Baseless VMAG Monoblock there is a gaping space. Enterprise Tondelli who supplied the machine and Abbey Well who now use it are all convinced that leaving this area empty is a far better approach.
“If you get a spillage,” says Charlesworth, “there is nowhere for it to go except down, and because there is no machinery to cause an obstruction, cleaning beneath the machine is easy. On all other fillers that I have seen, the spillage goes onto and under the drive equipment and into places that may not be easily accessible. That not only makes it difficult to clear up, but means that you have to carry out maintenance in a wet and sometimes sticky environment.”
Releasing the motors from the confines of the lower cabinet and placing them on top of the filler has other advantages. The gear boxes and drive shafts can be eliminated and replaced by larger gear wheels which Enterprise Tondelli says causes less wear and tear. This inevitably reduces maintenance and downtime which in turn lowers costs.
The filling zone is worthy of special attention. There is no in-feed wormscrew, instead a starwheel pitches the bottles by their necks with a clean and positive movement. If there should be any reason to remove a bottle, there is a simple release mechanism which makes the task childs-play; and, of course, there is ample space inside the cabinet to work should the need arise.
Once positioned beneath the filling head, the bottles are lined-up with the nozzles, but physically separated from them in a design which prevents any contact between the nozzles and the necks of the bottles. Integrity of the product is maintained by the usual method of sterile air filtration. Every valve on the filling head has its own magnetic flow meter which calculates the passage of the product passing through it. This is automatically recalibrated on each fill to +/- 0.2 percent, offering one of the most accurate fill-levels in the industry. The monitoring system checks each head as it performs every fill cycle and downloads the data to a computer, allowing irregularities to be easily detected and providing the operator with advanced warning of potential wear. Similarly, the rinse nozzles are each controlled by individual solenoid valves guaranteeing a consistent rinse time.
A lot of thought has been given to routine maintenance, easy access and cost reduction. Some of the parts – such as the flow meters- are industry standard instead of being only available as manufacturer’s spare parts. In other cases, Metalnova has introduced square shafts to allow components to be rotated to reduce long-term wear. Charlesworth considers that it is the overall package that he has that makes this machine so attractive. “Yes, it was not the cheapest machine available that would do what we wanted, but the advantages far outweighed that disadvantage. As time passes, I know that we will make big savings.”
These savings manifest themselves in many ways. Downtime, for example, is a major issue that fillers consider with every component on a line. In the case of Abbey Well this is of added importance because of their range of products and the way that they have evolved. This is worth looking at in order to understand how the company fits into the market and what it requires from its equipment.
The company was founded in 1910 as a soft drinks manufacturer using the Abbey Well source for its water. In 1982 during a UK water workers it began producing and distributing water regionally to meet a demand. Three years later, sales were still high and distribution was expanded nationally. Chief executive Tony Robson says that that was a pivotal moment for the company. “We decided not to place our products into supermarkets, instead concentrating primarily on the catering and on-trade sectors.” It was a decision that was to influence its operations to this day. “These are highly specialised areas of the market”, says Robson, “and have individual needs that vary considerably to the retail sector. To fulfil these demands, we currently fill 14 different sizes and types of glass bottle and 54 variations of plastic bottles. This is completely different to most water and beverage fillers who usually have no more than a handful of sizes. Quick change and reliability, together with the need to retain the quality of the product, are therefore the paramount issues. We have never missed a delivery and I intend to keep it like that.”
With regular product changes, another concern can be the carry-over of flavours which can be absorbed into the seals or behind them. The fact that there is no contact between the nozzle and the neck of the bottle on this machine undoubtedly helps, but Metalnova has gone much further in addressing this issue. The design of the filling nozzles relies on only two seals – one of pharmaceutical grade and the other a flat rubber seal – instead of the more common multiple seal design. This not only aids maintenance, but also offers less opportunity for carry-over and makes cleaning easier.
It is easy to see that this machine is a used for filling. What is not so easy is to work out where everything is. With the motors placed above the filling stations, the header tank has to be displaced. Where is it? Well, it does not exist anymore in this design. The tank, which is used traditionally used as a mechanism to keep the product flowing by gravity to the filling stations, has been removed. Instead, the filling valves on this machine are fed from a central manifold. This design, not only simplifies cleaning, but also reduces the amount of product that is wasted when the system is flushed.
CIP is automatic and does not require physical intervention by the operator. This significantly cuts down on cleaning time and eliminates human error in an environment that demands high standards of hygiene.
Although the machine is different from anything else that Abbey Well has, Robson summed up why he had supported the decision to acquire it. “We believe that our water is the finest available,” he said, “and we sell it to those sectors of the market that appreciate that quality. Our flavoured drinks are made with real fruit flavours and natural mineral water. There can be no question in anybody’s mind that this is an expensive way to produce flavoured beverages, but it does allow us to provide the quality products that we put our name to. It therefore makes sense that we should buy a machine that strives to enhance that quality.”
Metalnova founded in 1981 and still under the same name which is something of a rarity now days with the changing market, manufacture the full range of range of fillers including counter pressure, gravity fillers for still products, low vacuum assisted gravity fillers for wines, spirits and liquors, vacuum fillers with recirculation for hot filling and/or high density products, low pressure controlled fillers for oil and electronic volumetric fillers for carbonated and non carbonated products. Filler speeds range up to 60,000 bottles per hour and with up to 140 valves for the Metalnova machines.
One of the very first fillers built by Metalnova was sold by Enterprise Tondelli in the Middle East for filling cordial drinks. This machine is still in operation after 23 years and running very reliably and in excess of the original contract output. Enterprise Tondelli who have been supplying from single machines to complete turn key projects for over 28 years to the beverage industry. These have included complete lines with filling machine monobloc rinser/filler/cappers with a few as 16 valves up to 140 valves and all sizes in between. Enterprise Tondelli have their head office in the heart of the beverage manufacturing region in Parma, Italy. A branch office located in the UK follows the International market.