The mechanics of filling and packaging systems are durable and reliable – to the great satisfaction of the operator. As in devices for household use, however, the electrical technology designed to control lines and machines has a shorter life span. Standard components are removed from the market in this segment after just a few years and replaced by more modern, more powerful systems. Spare parts and service for older variants are thus harder to come by and become more costly for the customer. How, then, can assurance be given in the long term in this area in particular, helping the production process to keep on running smoothly even after many years? A new solution to this problem was recently found at the largest mineral water bottling plant in Germany, Gerolsteiner Brunnen GmbH & Co. KG, who tackled this challenge in close cooperation with their long-standing partner the KHS Group.
Mineral water has been bottled in the district of Gerolstein in the volcanic hills of the Eifel in Rhineland-Palatinate since 1888. This is where Gerolsteiner Brunnen GmbH & Co. KG produces the biggest-selling brand of mineral water in Germany. In 2014 alone the company sold 6.6 million hectoliters of its produce. In Gerolstein 3.5 million returnable and non-returnable PET and glass bottles of mineral water are filled on average per day. Gerolsteiner operates a total of eleven filling systems and as the biggest mineral water exporter in Germany distributes its products worldwide. Exports make up around 5% of total sales, with the biggest export countries the USA, Japan and Benelux.
For a company like Gerolsteiner it is extremely important that longer downtimes on its filling lines are avoided. This is why regular optimization of all of its plant engineering is very much part of day-to-day business. When last year KHS partly renewed a palletizer in the returnable PET filling area, the machine's outmoded drive technology (a robot in the KUKA KRC2 series) drew attention to itself by repeatedly causing disruptions. It was very difficult to procure spare parts for the outdated control system. Replacing the machine would not only have been time consuming but also annoying as the mechanics were still functioning perfectly. Replacing the system would have also meant a downtime of several weeks. It was thus important to avoid a longer standstill purely for economic reasons – a fact the production management at Gerolstein was well aware of. On site it was nevertheless clear that a big change would have to be made to prevent longer downtimes in the long term. "We checked if it was possible to simply replace the old controller with the model which had just appeared on the market – in other words, to simply upgrade the old electronics and drive technology," reports Ingo Henze, service engineer at KHS. This may sound easy – but had not yet been done at that time.
Gerolsteiner was convinced, however, and prepared to put this idea into practice together with KHS as this was how to best avoid a long-term stop on the line. Careful planning was required on both sides prior to implementation of the concept. "The entire KHS team was very well prepared. Each maneuver was perfect," says Richard Heinz happily, maintenance coordinator at Gerolsteiner. "The entire conversion also went so swimmingly because Gerolsteiner was so committed," adds Jürgen Thielen, head of Service for Northern Europe at KHS.
Mutual preparation included visiting KHS in Worms to view the new controller prior to installation. "This enabled us to clear up a number of points prior to conversion and thus minimize any possible risks," says Heinz. In less than five days the machine, converted by four KHS employees, was again ready for production. Three different types of crate were tested on the palletizer and all three ran without any hitches, meaning there was no longer anything stopping the start of regular operation. "We were given optimum support by Gerolsteiner and everything was really harmonious," praises Gerhard Gunnesch, head of Commissioning for KHS.
The practical test showed that upgrading the control technology was no problem whatsoever, with a KUKA KRC2 controller updated on site to the latest KUKA KRC4 model. The conversion includes new drive technology (motors and gears) and KHS standard ClearLine HMI visualization which provides optimized, standardized operator prompting. The old machine is now more or less on a par with a machine built in 2015. Gerolsteiner now only needs one operator for both the palletizer and depalletizer. The upgrade also means that the supply of spare parts can be guaranteed for over ten years – or possibly much longer, as the KUKA KRC4 control system is already in successful use shortly after its launch at major customers of renown throughout the world, meaning that parts will probably be available for a considerably lengthier period. Thanks to shorter reaction times and downtimes the conversion also means that Gerolsteiner will profit from cost savings. The company also benefits from increased line availability, as in the event of error the availability of the installed electronics is ensured. With this positive experience under its belt, KHS can now install this particular conversion at customer sites worldwide.
Gerolsteiner can also offer a clear summary by way of conclusion to the project, as Heinz says: "What's ultimately also important during processes like these is that you have a reliable supplier on board who helps you make the right decisions. We've had a huge success with KHS. When implementing this solution, everything was just perfect."
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