Innovative Bottling Systems Allow Craft Brewers to Adjust to Trends

By: Gerald Dlubala

While tastes for craft beer are as individual as each customer that walks into your tasting room, the reasons to package your craft beer in a bottle remain consistent whether manually capping a few bottles or running a high-speed bottling machine around the clock. You want that bottle of beer to retain its quality, compete with other breweries for on-shelf presence and present a consistent product to those consumers who look to packaged beer as their primary selection.

Flexibility And Versatility Are Key

“In a crazy industry like craft brewing, versatility and the ability to react to and meet changes are key. That includes your packaging system,” said Dan Komarony, President of DK Advanced Technologies, manufacturer of the MicroBottler filling machine. “When looking to purchase a packaging system, craft brewers should be aware of their projected volume, available floor space and the potential effects that adding additional equipment will have on their workflow. Most machines offer a sanitizer or pre-sanitizer and a filling and rinse function, but can they do it within the footprint that you can offer? Can they transition from canning to bottling across any product you offer without significant downtime during changeover?”

  “Breweries need to follow the trend of what their customers want, not what their equipment forces them to do,” said Doug Ernenwein, Sales Manager for DK Advanced Technologies. “Most new craft brewers operate on a small budget, but they still want and need the ability to get in on new trends without having to spend thousands of dollars on a new setup. One minute, cans are popular, next it’s bottled, then it’s specific closures to match the different styles of beer that they brew, so versatility is essential. A packaging system should support all sizes of bottles or cans and offer smooth bottling or canning transfers with minimal setup, configuration and maintenance requirements.”

  That’s why the team at DK Advanced Technologies is passionate about their MicroBottler system. Having initially built the MicroBottler for their private use and using it for three years before making it available to the public, they know it fills the needs for craft breweries requiring up to a 600 bottle per hour system. It’s on wheels for easy maneuverability and compact enough to maneuver through a standard doorframe. To get up and running, you need an operator, a standard 110-volt power supply and access to compressed air and CO2 supplies. Without changing the original footprint of the machine, operators can use modular options to fill bottles ranging from six to twenty-five ounces with enclosures ranging from corking, caging, capping, screw tops, or anything in between. The MicroBottler bottles carbonated or non-carbonated beverages directly from your bright tank, keg or vat, easily changing midstream if you want to package a batch of your craft beer in multiple ways.

  “The machine is built and engineered in-house to your specifications at our New York facility,” said Scott Lufkin, Engineer at DK Advanced Technologies. “Right out of the box, it’s fundamentally set up and assembled containing additional spare parts to replace those that are most needed or misplaced to minimize downtime. Parts that wear the most like O-rings and gaskets are standard, off the shelf components that the buyer can obtain directly from the manufacturer, saving time and money.”

  Technical support is always important when purchasing new machinery, and it’s also a major component of controlling downtime. When it’s needed, it’s usually needed right now.

  “Ours is unmatched,” said Jordan Wood, Technician at DK Advanced Technologies. “Every purchase includes a full machine manual and a short, eight-and-a-half-minute video to help complete your setup. For additional support, you’ll get our company phone number that a live person will answer, along with my number, and our engineer’s number. We are open to conversations by text, message, conference call, email and face time. We take the time to solve your problem, 24 hours a day. Our machines are very user-friendly, with setup and system changes able to be accomplished with only five tools to match the packaging job at hand.”

Specialty Brews And Bottles Are The Perfect Combo

  “We’re seeing bottles used mostly for specialized packaging,” said Andrew Ferguson, Product Manager for Wild Goose Canning – Meheen Manufacturing in Louisville, Colorado. “The need is still there. Craft brewers have to compete with national and international beers for shelf space. It’s sometimes easier to get that space in the warm storage areas using the popular 22 to 24-ounce bottles. Both glass and alumapak bottles are a great choice and work for water, wine, mixed drinks, kombucha and even cannabis mixes. Alumapak bottles are filled on the same bottling machinery as the glass bottles, just requiring a different cap enclosure.”

  Meheen is a bottling technologies company that prides itself on helping craft breweries deliver quality, consistent, packaged craft beer. They have become intensely focused on the filling technology of packaging, working with strategic partners equally focused on the other integral parts of the bottling system to fully outfit breweries to their unique specifications. With the help of these strategic partners, Meheen provides end to end lines for bottling and packaging.

  “Meheen bottling units are very responsive and easy to use,” said Ferguson. “We’ve traditionally sold two, four or six head fillers as standalone units based on the brewery’s fill rate and bottle format. With our updated bottle filling systems, we now can provide all of those format styles for use on one unified frame, so expenses are kept down by only having to buy the needed filler head.”

  Meheen units are fully integrated technologically for remote connectivity when needed. Ferguson tells Beverage Master Magazine that the filling units are touch screen operated with the ability to save format settings, so once successfully configured they can be retrieved with the touch of the screen.

  “Our tech teams stay on-site through the installation until the users are up to speed on the systems,” said Ferguson. “But should the brewer need help, Meheen technicians can remotely tap into, troubleshoot and run diagnostic tests based on your system’s error codes and current running information to keep downtime to a minimum.”

  “With packaging systems, there is always more innovation regarding the faster and easier transition between bottle formats and sizes,” said Ferguson. “From smaller, manual style bottling through fully automated, high-speed systems, our goal is to hit on all budgets and be a craft brewer’s one-stop-shop for bottling and packaging system acquisition and installation.”

Technology To Bottle Your Passion

  Randy Kingsbury, owner of XpressFill Systems LLC, knows that craft brewers want and need an affordable, well designed, low maintenance filler that will get their craft beer on the shelf. Since 2007, XpressFill Systems has been filling that need with their affordable, long-lasting, easy to use, premium bottle and can filling systems manufactured in America using only the highest quality components available.

  “When looking for a bottling or canning system, read reviews, check with others that are using the system and look for a good warranty with corresponding technical support and parts availability,” said Kingsbury. “For the craft brewer looking to fill up to 400 bottles or 600 cans per hour directly from their keg or brite tank, our XpressFill systems are a perfect choice.”

  The lightweight XpressFill system is a craft brewer’s dream, designed as a plug-and-play tabletop unit that needs only electricity, air and CO2 supplies to start filling bottles or cans using either a two or four head filler. XpressFill systems are sold worldwide and are routinely engineered specifically for each customer’s packaging and business needs.

  “We do customizations all the time,” said Kingsbury. “We tweak our machines in house to match brewery specifications whether it’s for different sized bottles or cans, including crowlers. The finishing setup is as easy and straightforward as possible, but we are available by phone to help or just for additional information. There are also YouTube videos, photos and manuals available. Honestly, the hardest part of the setup is finding your beer’s unique balance regarding the pressures that it can handle. You have to know your beers and how much pressure they need and can tolerate for proper filling. That balance is always dependent on the product, the environment, working conditions and bottling temperatures. It’s different in every situation.”

  Kingsbury tells Beverage Master Magazine that they are always working on simplifying the methods needed to verify and maintain proper filling measurements, including improvements in weighing systems. “It’s easy to see the filler results while bottling because you can see through the glass,” said Kingsbury. “But when canning your beer, it’s not so easy. You have to rely on your measuring systems and physical checks after the product is packaged.”

  “Craft brewers are usually budget and space-oriented, so you should start small and step up as needed,” said Kingsbury. “Recognize your place in your local craft brewing industry and proceed accordingly. You may have really big plans for the future, and that’s great, but it’s always best to manage your money wisely and cautiously. Design your system conservatively by focusing on getting an easy to use and maintain bottling or canning system that serves your present needs.”

Reliability, Speed & Innovation

  Krones AG is the world’s leading manufacturer of filling and packaging technology and is commonplace in many global sized breweries. They remain focused on keeping energy consumption low while offering efficient resource utilization. The Krones system can be found in many popular breweries regardless of size.

  “We’ve had our current Krones line for over a decade, and plan on upgrading our packing equipment, cleaning stations and inspecting and conveying operation this upcoming March,” said Dick Leinenkugel, President of Leinenkugel Brewing Company. “Our brewery workers manage, monitor, change or control our processes using available screens and PLC logic. It’s user-friendly with additional access to some functions by smartphone, laptop or tablet when needed. The training is pretty straightforward including both vendor and equipment manufacturer led classroom sessions and on the job training,”

  Leinenkugel told Beverage Master Magazine that although technical support is always important, they use Reliability Centered Maintenance as their approach to defining maintenance tasks and frequency intervals. “We currently run traditional 12-ounce, long neck, no-return bottles at a rate of 475 bottles per minute for both 12 and 24 packs, so we do have consumable or high wear parts readily available,” said Leinenkugel. “Then we use preventive or predictive tools to help us plan repairs or replacement tasks and retain the needed technical support to get those accomplished.”

  “The main thing when looking at bottling systems is to involve your brewery workers upfront in the design function,” said Leinenkugel. “Safety and ease of cleaning are important and welcomed. Look for reliable, simple and robust equipment that is easy to be trained on, use and maintain. Seek out manufacturers that design out waste and overproduction and design in energy efficiency to lower overall operating costs. In the end, your system depends on your unique situation.”

  Abita Brewing Company has used a Krones bottling line for over eight years. They currently run 400 bottles or cans per minute and are planning a new addition using manufacturers Garvey, Omni, PakTech and Switchback to improve efficiency and offer customers more variety in package types. 

  “All of our equipment uses a Human Machine Interface (HMI) to allow operators and maintenance to operate and repair the systems,” said Christopher Bradley, Sr Packaging and Automation Manager, Abita Brewing Company. “They are Automation PC powered touchscreens working with other Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC’s) and safety systems. A Line Data System (LDS) monitors our system via an internal network and server, providing real-time data to help us look for efficiency gaps or machine issues.”

  Bradley tells Beverage Master Magazine that while they have the ability, they don’t allow remote operation of their systems due to the risks and dangers involved. And because obtaining parts can sometimes be a challenge, they stock many replacement parts to prevent large periods of downtime. There is additional support available from their OEM and other outside sources.

  “Innovations allowing for speed and efficiency improvements are coming at a fast pace in this industry,” said Bradley. “Bottling systems are tailor-made for the needs of the customer. When designing your system, use an experienced firm to make determinations on present and future needs. Pay close attention to details. Things that may be simple to implement during the design phase can cost several times that amount if done post-production. Everything from the placement of a light fixture or a convenience outlet could save years’ worth of headaches and expenses.”

  With the 2009 acquisition of Kosme, an Italian based producer and developer of packaging and filling lines for lower output beverage industries, the Krones technology became more accessible to the craft beer industry.

  Brad Branco is the Packaging Manager at O’Fallon Brewery, a regional craft brewery in Maryland Heights, Missouri. They’ve used a Krones Kosme bottling line for about five years, including a depalletizer, a pressure-sensitive labeling system, a rotary filler head and rinser. It was in place when Branco joined the company, and definitely allows room for growth.

  “Honestly, it’s oversized for us right now, but it’s a very good machine, and I’ll always take faster processes over slower,” said Branco. “We use a 28 head rotary filler with a max speed of 9000 bottles per hour, which equates to about 150 bottles per minute or about 25 barrels per hour if speaking in volume. We can empty a 100-gallon brite tank in four to five hours.”

  The Kosme system is windows based and can be manipulated remotely, but Branco tells Beverage Master Magazine that at their facility, there is always an operator on-site, negating any need for remote operation.

  “The Kosme bottling and packaging system is Italian made, which brings with it a learning curve,” said Branco. “Initially it was a bit of a language struggle with the tech support being all Italian speaking. It was a challenge if you needed a proprietary part or something non-standard. We’re good now, and there’s a parts distributor in Wisconsin that carries the most common parts. But Google translate was our best friend for quite some time. You can still have an issue and have to wait for something, but through technical support and speaking with other breweries that have the same equipment, we’ve learned the best replacement parts to keep on hand. It’s all about planning. All in all, this is a great filler that doesn’t lend itself to failure. It’s all metric, with blocks and modules that are easily and fully accessible. In that sense, it’s what I consider a simple machine.”

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