Bottling line technology has advanced significantly in recent years. Della Toffola Pacific’s Managing Director, Paul Baggio, examines these changes and the benefits to winemakers with Grapegrower & Winemaker Magazine.
Della Toffola is very well regarded across all winemaking regions as the industry leader, with a multi-generational history of delivering winemaking technologies. From its earliest acquisition of the manufacturing and technical capabilities of OMB labelling, Priamo beverage process technologies, AVE bottling and Z-Italia (Zeeman Packteck), Della Toffola Group today has integrated a dynamic range of beverage technologies. AVE has long been regarded as one of the top leading European bottling manufacturing businesses. Supplying for many decades now beverage packaging technologies to companies such as Coca Cola, PepsiCo, Fonterra and many of Europe’s finest wine brands. When AVE merged into the Della Toffola Group over 15 years ago, the engineering and technological capability of Della Toffola provided the resource base and global reach that propels AVE wine bottling technology to a world leading technology today.
So many aspects of mechanical and electro-pneumatic engineering have exponentially accelerated over recent years, reshaping many aspects of precision engineering. The 3D printing technology that finds itself in the modern-day fabrication engineering workshop has revolutionised, for example, the ability to craft filler valves with a precision and consistency that could only have been dreamt of only a few years ago. For many years, a lot of work went into designing wine filling valves that provided fill height level accuracy, along with low foam filling. But today, the modern-day filling valve is designed completely different to what, just a couple years ago, would have been seen as world leading.
The focus these days is on the ability to ramp on and off the flow speeds electronically, enabling far greater fill speeds but reducing foam and oxygen ingress. Critical to achieving the faster fill speeds, with a smaller footprint across a smaller diameter pitch of build that was ever previously possible, whist all along enabling modern fillers to fill with dissolved oxygen levels measurable in parts per billion (not million).
The innovations that enable the modern Della Toffola AVE wine filling valve to perform so effectively find their secrets more in the evolutions within metallurgy. Stronger, more resistant designed 316L and higher grades of chromium and titanium are important parts of this complex story. The design of simple-to-use quick change universal stars across the filler through to the labelling group, that are now commonly used, has enabled wholesale changes to the turnkey combi blocs designed in today’s high tech beverage landscape. Along with stainless steel craftsmanship that provides an ergonomic sloping based framework that houses asynchronous servo motor drive technology enabling easy modularity, all of these are part of the modern bottling plant design story.
Factors driving change
The take-up of technology in wine bottling in the last couple years has tended to be directed from three primary perspectives. There is always the ire of wine quality. And, no doubt, how wine can be more effectively mobilised into a glass bottle, without any cross contamination or oxygen ingress, remains high on the technical agenda when discussing any wine bottling plant design.
How the design of modern filling nozzles, and how bottle fill heights are managed are critical questions. Once, typical designs of leading wine filler brands allowed the overflow or level control volumes to be pushed back into filler bowls. However, this is not considered quality design by today’s standards. Integrating overflow volumes back in contact with primary wine volumes is where a lot of cross contamination has been found to occur. Venting bottle oxygen volumes, along with similarly venting inert gas volumes to an external loop are all modern design features for any discerning wine filler today.
Modern bottling systems can be influenced by a number of factors: the way water is used, as well as how CIP and COP processes are performed; better access to modulating valves and access to electric-pneumatic circuitry for maintenance purposes, along with more ergonomic engineering of the filler bloc itself, which enables access to effect change parts or provide better access into the working environment of the filler and labeller.
Packaging monobloc groups are sought to be completely modular in their design. For example, enabling the complete retrofitting capabilities of additional closure groups is considered fundamental for even the most economical of packaging machine investment today. No wine business is static and must be able to respond to the dynamic marketing environment in which wine producers compete.
The ability to retrofit, for example, cork closure monoblocs or tirage crown capping into the design seamlessly shows the ultimate flexibility that any modern-day filling plant must accommodate. The recalcitrance of US and Chinese wine markets to readily shift to ROPP closures, as was thought they would 10 years ago, has caught many winemakers off guard. Being able to simply integrate into any frame or monobloc design such capability retrospectively adds powerful flexibility to any investment. The overall compact footprint of any wine line is fast adding to the nature of technical decision-making. The ability to replace older smaller lines with faster, more technically astute packaging machinery all compacted within the previous footprint is where modern day engineering has shown its advantages.
Upgrading bottling lines
The speed and cost of technologies such as server drives, switchgear and sensors, and not least of all, PLC/CPU communications via electro-pneumatic and wireless capabilities, have all played their part in rendering line control, automation and remote diagnostic commissioning and service support to all be readily accessible technology.
The ability to create cost effective fully automatic packaging monoblocs that can, via recipe control, adjust any number of parameters – from pre-evacuations, sniff duration, CIP regime, CO₂ adjustment between wine styles, cap type, quality control, along with ejection systems – are features that make up more technically astute, yet cost effective, packaging solutions today.
However, the ability to diagnostically access, as well as to service and support remotely all the components of a modern-day packaging system, is where the evolution of automation has delivered its most poignant value.
The challenges for many winemakers located in regional agricultural hubs, having low access to skilled technical engineering capabilities, has plagued the wine business for generations. Hence, the ability to contemplate an investment into packaging machinery that can be seamlessly accessed from a remote factory manufacturer is a major game changer.
Advantage of automation
The advantage automation has provided the modern-day winemaker is the ability to operate highly sophisticated lines with far less oversight than was ever considered possible previously. The ability to operate far more autonomously with a smaller labour impost, achieving high standards of quality and consistency, make the case for winemakers to invest in controlling their own packaging requirements.
For Della Toffola, the cross pollination of technical ideas between its various engineering faculties, be it beverage, juice and aseptic type filling – as used in milk packaging – along with the innovations occurring in wine processing provided the genesis for a significant amount of innovation into wine bottling.
The AVE wine EVO G range, for example with its slopped stainless-steel frames, enabling easy cleaning, COP (clean out of place) practices, and a valve design enabling faster filling speeds for wine all evolved from juice and beer filling valve legacy.
The demands for low dissolved oxygen pickup in beer filling are rated in levels of parts per billion. The wine industry limited itself for many years to allow oxygen ingress. DO (dissolved oxygen) is not tolerated at all, as is not microbial cross contamination.
The relatively higher pH level inherent in beer and water packaging create specific drivers in alternative industries for which the wine industry had long become complacent. Many specific wine bottling manufacturing companies struggle with these dynamics.
Much can be said in seeking out manufacturers of beverage equipment who have exposure to other beverage industries outside of wine.
The current availability of technically advanced wine packaging technology that is financially accessible makes this a new exciting time for winemakers seeking to explore how branding and marketing control of their wines can be better achieved.
A lot of really exciting technology is being adapted, such as that for CIP automatic cleaning of filler machinery, and wineries in general are offered whole new perspectives as to how ecology and triple bottom lines can managed, for all sizes of wine businesses.
The ability to better measure cleaning agents and capture waste streams could make wine packaging practices far more water efficient than it is currently.
The ability to design more automatic, autonomous lines that can be managed by a quarter of the workforce that was once required, along with far more seamless systems of remote service support, along with quality control, have taken away a lot of the voodoo that has surrounded beverage wine packaging for years.
With traditional sales channels changing in many different ways, winemakers are today able to take control to a greater degree of the packaging of their own wine products.
Wine businesses can take back control of their brands, branding strategies and many aspects of their wine business by adopting this technology. There are benefits stemming from the better management of cash flow, wine quality and bottling – by doing this when it is required rather than having the timing of this imposed by contract bottling companies.
There is also the potential to more effectively manage raw material inventory, such as glass bottles and cap or label spend, while, overall, better managing the balance of wine volumes that can be branded versus volumes kept as clean skin inventories.
Meeting individual needs
Some of the most exciting technological developments in bottling have been evolving in the bottle labelling space. The technology of servo drive motors operating within labellers, along with x-ray vision, QC and orientation technology, have added whole technological leaps in perspective to label application.
The ability to apply what were once complex label formations of body back and neck label designs, along with printed capsules in alignment, with the potential addition of any number of medals that had once been very difficult label stock, such as transparent labels, has changed the whole competitive landscape in respect to the calibre of wine packaging.
That Della Toffola offers universal star technology to make rapid bottle changeovers on their labelling units, with the same universal star bottle change over technology that is utilised on the bottle filler and closure groups, is unique.
With the nature of marketing having a greater influence in the final position of any brand, bottle and label materials, along with label designs themselves evolving at radical rates, are all influencing the need to have better packaging/bottling technology.