Having invested in excess of £30m in the last five years and a further commitment that is likely to exceed £50m over the term of the long-term contracts agreed with farmers to supply apples from new orchards planted in Herefordshire, Aston Manor has just invested a further £ 6m in recent months to reconfigure their production site at Aston in Birmingham and add a state-of-the-art new packaging line.
Established in 1983, Aston Manor is the only UK drinks producer to enjoy the highest accreditation (of A++) across all production sites from BRC GS. As well as producing cider, Aston Manor is also one of Europe’s most innovative contract packers. Working with many of the world’s largest brewers and leading retailers, the business has innovated consistently to deliver more sustainable packaging solutions.
Aston Manor has never been one to rest on their laurels and it was back in 2018 that the ultimate in flexible contract canning facility was floated. The brief ultimately developed into a flexible canning line for a wide range of liquid types (including both carbonated and still beverages, ciders, beers, RTDs, fruit juices, and nitrogen dosed beverages), 3 product stabilisation modes (tunnel pasteurisation, velcorin and future hot filling), can sizes from 150ml slim to 568ml standard, 2 different can ends, multiple secondary packaging formats including cardboard multi-pack, 2 empty can pallet sizes, printed and unprinted cans, standard and euro palletisation, and the option to make as many layer patterns in house as your imagination allows – all on a new mezzanine floor at up to 24,000 cans per hour. The result – one of the most flexible new contract canning lines in the UK.
It was at an early stage that Aston contacted Enterprise Tondelli who have been working with Aston since 1991 to be one of those invited to tender. Due to the long association with Enterprise at the Birmingham site they assisted in the early conceptual designs for the line especially with regards to the layout. This was particularly important due to the limited space, focus on operator ease of access and operation plus the flexibility required. All materials access is from one end and all operator enter the are from the same end. This allows an optimisation of operators on the line so there can be dual purposing of operators rather than one man per machine.
After an intense period of tendering Enterprise Tondelli were successful in receiving the contract for the dry end of the packaging line. Working closely with Aston Manor’s chosen supplier for the wet-end, KHS, Enterprise helped to successfully deliver a line that meets all the key objectives.
The empty can depalletiser is located a ground level and was supplied to be able to cope with the variety of empty can pallets available. Empty can are delivered into Aston Manor on 1120mm x 1300 mm or 1120mm x 1420 mm configurations and the machine from Enterprise was specified to cope with these. The depalletiser manufactured in Italy by Fipal also removes both the top frame and also the interlayer boards too for a fully automatic machine.
The main filling and packaging plant is located on a mezzanine installed by Aston Manor in what was a standard full goods warehouse. This gave space for production capacity in an already busy site whilst still allowing storage at low level. Process plant for the canning line is located at this lower level beneath the can filler and adjacent to the incoming product reception tanks. The plant includes a KHS Paramix de-aerator / blender / carbonator along with an automatic CIP set suitable for cleaning the filling plant, tanker bay reception area and product reception tanks. Space is also provided for a future hot fill pasteuriser. At this lower level is also a fully equipped QA laboratory to check incoming product and validate quality through the entire process for both Aston products as well as their contract customers.
As cans exit at high level (3.8m) they are then transported to a height of 7.5 m from floor level, travel the length of the packaging line to the gravity can rinser. Can are raised using a mass flow spiral elevator they gently conveys the cans onto the high level platform that runs the fall length of the empty can conveyor to give easy access for maintenance. This platform supplied and installed by Enterprise also gives access down onto the tunnel pasteuriser – more of that later.
As there are three diameters of cans a triple lane can rinser from Enterprise was selected that uses ionised air for can cleaning. Quick change parts and automatic guide rails at the inlet mean a quick change over from one format to another. A 32/6 rotary volumetric can filler/seamer supplied by KHS / Ferrum was engineered into the project by Enterprise to give a more turnkey project.
A triple purpose tunnel pasteuriser allows tunnel pasteurisation or can warming or can cooling post pasteuriser was supplied by Enterprise along with cooling system . The unit features fully insulated hot side for energy savings along with a water saving system that ensures the machine is always balanced – something not enjoyed using traditional triple regeneration systems. The rapid heat up time due to the use of stainless steel heat exchangers rather than less efficient tubular heat exchangers and contributes to the machine smaller energy footprint. Rather than heating up vast quantities of water the pasteuriser works on a reduced water storage instead. All water overflows are collected and recirculated and reused within the machine system with only one drain point for a “dry “ floor rather than the sometimes swimming pool that can occur near the pasteuriser. Cooling water is through and adiabatic unto to reduce water consumption and negate the concerns around legionella and reduce chemical consumption. Fans at the discharge ensure that water is moved from the punt of the cans and returned to the circuit rather than being wasted. The simplicity of the tunnel design, quality of components used and also easy operator interface make for very easy operation. Access of the spray headers is from above and an access ladder of the high level platform gives access. As you would imagine the line has level inspection rejection post filler and also post pasteuriser for product integrity.
Although much of the production will be pre-printed cans Aston also incorporated a self adhesive rotary labeller for full cans as part of the contract with Enterprise. The high speed labeller from BRB Globus also has the facility for retrofitting a second reel station for non-stop operation in the future. Space has also be allowed for future can decoration such as sleeving etc to ensure future proofing.
Flow through accumulation tables and pressure less combining from Eurosistemi Srl ensure good accumulation between the various machine for higher line efficiencies. Two Euroistemi can driers with high volume integrated fans ensure no moisture on the cans before labelling. The stainless steel conveyor control has a remote operator station near the filler/pasteuriser /labelling area for one operator. Infeed to the packer has an elevating section that raises to allow passage of either random cans or multipacks without the insertion by hand of heavy guides allowing for a repeatable change over operation. To enhance the line management information “Line view” were contracted by Aston Manor to collect and collate data from all the machines to identify areas where there could be any reduction in optimisation. This will ensure the line is always operating at its best.
Secondary packaging is by Baumer combined tray erector loader shrink wrapper that also has wraparound cartonning capability too. The compact machine also has the latest generation tunnel from Baumer that features movable side wall of the shrink tunnel along with separation of air flows between the sides and base of the packs. This allows regulation of air pressure, volume and temperature to give better shrink wrapping. The patented short film path also allows for narrower shrink film as the film does not wander….. The packer has quick change over system that allows the very wide variety of cans sizes, multipack size and fin pack configuration to be handled. It is the 7th Baumer that Aston have bought from Enterprise since 1994. The machine has 12 main formats multiplied by the number of can sizes……..
A GP multipacker that uses Kraft board has the capability for six configuration which again can be used for the 9 can sizes making Aston the ideal location for multipacking of cans.
The pack palletiser from Enterprise is located on the lower level so that no fork truck are in the production area and is reached by a spiral elevator again. The Fipal palletiser has non contact soft pack turning coupled with indexing row formation so there are no pop up plates impacting the packs. The servo motor control means that new patterns can be easily added by the customer who does not need to worry about roller pitch of the row former.(they have added several at the time of writing) . Opening basket roller head ensures that the pallet has a tight and uniform shape so it does not get rejected at the automatic warehousing.
Craig Wilson who led the project team from Enterprise Tondelli said “ there is always a great collaboration and interchange of ideas working with Aston Manor and we have appreciated the great co-operation with Mr. Clifford and his team. The visual impression of the line and viewpoints are very impressive for encouraging new customers for ourselves and Aston. Thank you.”
Paul Clifford, Manufacturing and Engineering Director at Aston Manor, managed the entire project including the mezzanine floor to accommodate the new can line. Ed Binsted of the Bottler and Packer magazine I asked Paul for some background for the decision leading up to the new line order being placed.
A. Yes the new line has been designed to build on our world class reputation for contract packing in small multi-layer PET which we have been doing for over 20 years. The line is intended to service both small and large volume customers as well as support the organic growth of our existing canning business which is well serviced out of Tiverton.
Q. Does the new line offer different multipack options, ie carton multipack and film as well
A. We have the option of using shrinkfilm over a tray or a pad but essentially we are providing a plastic free and sustainable solution to our customers. This can be done via open ended cardboard sleeve multipacks, using our Marksman 750 supplid by Graphic Packaging International, fully enclosed corrugate boxes or simple loose cans into a tray only.
Q. You have included a can labeller in the line, is this for the smaller run lengths. Or a marketing option.
A. Yes, the large minimum order quantity for pre-printed empty cans does often limit our smaller contract customers or even new product development volumes where the required quantity of cans can be too low to start with. We can take in plain unprinted cans and apply a self-adhesive wraparound label where the flexibility in design is not dictated to by volume.
Q. You have again gone with Enterprise Tondelli, and this time including a KHS Can filler bloc, having used them both before on a number of occasions I assume you are very happy with their aftersales and service
A. Yes both Enterprise and KHS are OEMs that we have long standing relationships and fully trust their product quality and service support. We will always go to tender on projects of this nature but the quality of the solutions by both suppliers for this line stood out to us from the rest and made the decision one of complete confidence.
Q. I would imagine the COVID lock downs have given you a great boost with off trade sales, do you see this continuing assuming the country gets back to some normality.
A. Like most beverage producers we have also been impacted by the restrictions in on-trade volume and certainly this has had a big effect in off-trade sales that we are well placed across our business to cope with. The hardest part has been maintaining normal business operations in an environment where the norms are completely out of the ordinary and we have had to continually adapt in order to safe guard the health of our workforce whilst maintaining our world class standards. Our hope is that normality does resume for the good of everybody.
Gordon Johncox, chief executive at Aston Manor said: “We have a track record of being responsive to consumer trends and having the flexibility and agility to deliver great products in different styles and formats. It is for this reason we are recognised as having a broad portfolio to delight every consumer and on every occasion – from value and mainstream to the most premium.”
Increased demand from growing sales has meant in the first seven months of this year nearly 127 million products have been made across production sites in Birmingham and Tiverton in Devon – over 8 million more than in the same period last year.
Gordon Johncox added: “I pay testament to the great work being done by our people – during a period of exceptional disruption they are delivering products of quality that people are enjoying as evidenced by award success, assurance from independent audits and customer care levels that exceed industry standards.”
Enterprise Tondelli have been working in the industry since 1977 and supplying equipment in over 40 countries. The Aston Manor project is the latest project that have ranged in scope from canning 72,000 cans per hour in 1982 to 25,000 bottles per hour complete PET line in Africa , three turnkey soft drinks factories in Russia, 1,200 bottles per hour spirit line for Scotland. This wealth of experience over many years ensures Enterprise add something to all the projects they handle. A recent customer bought some periphery equipment and commented that the supplier had been “pretty helpful but not the gold plated service we got from you guys”.