Modern HEUFT equipment maintains the safety and appearance of the returnable pool for mineral water and soft drinks along the new RHODIUS glass line. This applies to the only recently introduced individual designer bottle of the mineral water company from the Eifel in particular. The heart of the line is a dynamic labelling machine of the new generation.

100% natural and a gift from the Volcanic Eifel. This is RHODIUS mineral water from the 500 metre deep RHODIUS spring in Burgbrohl. It is one of the deepest in the world and protects the water against external influences and impurities. RHODIUS mineral water absorbs valuable minerals on its way through the volcanic rocks and is filtered at the same time. It is naturally carbonised and rises back to the surface unassisted. There the drink is protected by the glass bottle, the primary packaging material, from bottling to consumption according to Hannes Tack, managing partner and production manager of the important mineral water company which processes over 400 million fills annually and sells around two million hectolitres: “The demand for mineral waters and soft drinks in returnable glass bottles has been growing for many years. These have always played an important role especially in the regional mineral water market. We, the regional mineral water companies, are all the more pleased that they are now gaining in popularity again after the last few years were simply a matter of convenience and small containers. No other container stands for such high value and quality.”

RHODIUS mineral springs was able to record an increase of 20 per cent for its glass bottles in the past financial year compared to the previous year – a reflection of consumer demand which is clearly headed in the direction of returnable packaging again in recent times. Therefore the decision made by the medium-sized family business to introduce its own new returnable glass designer bottle in addition to the GDB (Genossenschaft deutscher Brunnen – German Mineral Water Association) container pool at the end of 2019 was obvious – and to set up a brand new returnable glass line in a confined space at its source in Burgbrohl in the Volcanic Eifel. It was at least just as obvious to rely on HEUFT “as a strong partner” for all the in-line QA equipment used for this project – after all the headquarters of the leading manufacturer of highly productive quality control, inspection and labelling systems is in the same location less than three kilometres away from the RHODIUS head office. In this respect the investment in the new glass line was “a clear commitment to the Burgbrohl business location,” says Mr Tack. Cooperation with HEUFT is based on partnership accordingly: “We have already been working together ‘next door’ to each other for 40 years. We try to promote and implement innovations jointly in the process.”

Servo-controlled fine alignment of the bottles for high-precision labelling

The best example: the new bottling line officially opened at the beginning of 2020 achieves a full 50 per cent higher output than the existing one with an energy saving of 40 per cent. The HEUFT TORNADO II dynamic a semi-modular high-performance labeller of the new generation is at its heart. Open, constructed without a bulky machine table, it provides plenty of flexibility: up to four electrically coupled labelling stations can be easily integrated. It is equipped with two wet glue units at the RHODIUS company for the moment. Two further ones e.g. for self-adhesive labelling as well as wrap-around labelling or even an automatic magazine feed (AMF) can be easily retrofitted if required. But at present the two existing stations are quite sufficient for applying collar, back or even neck labels to a total of twelve different types of glass bottles of various formats cleanly and precisely.

“Labelling,” confirms Mr Tack, “plays a major part regarding the high-quality appearance of the glass bottles. Therefore the exact position of the label is, of course, absolutely essential.” An exact fine alignment of every single full bottle is required in order to ensure that every single label ends up exactly where it belongs – especially in the case of the 0.75 litre glass designer container introduced at the end of 2019 “where we rely on high-quality aluminised labels in the form of drops”. The HEUFT TORNADO II dynamic carries this out with millimetre precision using servo technology. For this an in-house developed, intelligent sensor camera generates nine images of each individual container in order to record the high-quality embossing in the neck area of the new returnable glass bottles which symbolises the volcanic landscape of the Eifel as the original place of origin of the premium mineral water with a stylised range of hills as a reference point. The premium labels in an elegant metallic look are therefore always applied accurately and without creases exactly in the intended position on the body of each individual container. The palm design which is already fired into the glass is used as a mark for the camera-based, servo-controlled alignment and precise neck labelling in the case of the 0.2 litre and 0.33 litre Afri cola bottles which RHODIUS fills under licence just like it does Bluna lemonade.

Integrated quality check as well as fast brand and program changes

Directly following this further cameras check the label position and the presence of the best-before date which is applied by a coder also integrated directly into the modular labelling machine via a special interface. A HEUFT DELTA-K rejector immediately removes the full bottle in question from the production flow should this nevertheless be missing or the entire label incorrectly positioned. This naturally also applies to the 0.75 litre or 0.25 litre gastro bottles which are filled in Burgbrohl with RHODIUS Classic, Medium, Naturelle and Apfelschorle (apple spritzer). And also to the clear and green GDB bottles with still, sparkling or mildly carbonated mineral water of the RHODIUS and Vulkanpark-Quelle Eifel brands as well as, last but not least, to the 0.33 litre long neck containers which are filled here with beer specialities from the nearby Vulkan Brauerei (brewery) in Mendig.

“We currently fill more than eight different bottle formats and over 60 products as a regional mineral water company and at the same time contract bottler,” explains Mr Tack. “For us quality comes before quantity and variety before mass production.” Therefore “short set-up times by means of fully automatic container changeovers” are important for the family business. The dynamic labeller meets these requirements: the height and position of its machine head adapts to the changed format just as automatically as the integrated cameras for a fine bottle alignment and fault detection. The same applies to the servo-controlled rotating cam which can be programmed according to the brand and is therefore reproducible at any time so that the time-consuming mechanical replacement of individual cam segments is completely unnecessary. And replacing the significantly reduced proportion of change parts is also possible without tools. The HEUFT NaVi user guidance provides specific audiovisual support for the reliable operation of the labelling machine while four flat screens arranged around the top of it provide the user with a full overview of its current status from anywhere. And the network-compatible HEUFT TORNADO II dynamic can even be simply controlled by voice when the upgrade to the hands-off dialog function is added soon.

Reliable empty container inspection with full productivity

The labelling machine of the new generation also impresses with its open, easily accessible construction in accordance with the hygienically optimised HEUFT CleanDesign. And that with particularly compact dimensions which were not only advantageous during its integration into the limited space available along the filling line but also beforehand when the machine was being transported through the narrow, winding valley from the HEUFT to the RHODIUS site in Burgbrohl. Commissioning was also completed quickly so that the new glass line was able to produce perfectly labelled full containers as early as the end of January 2020 just ten months after the go-ahead had been given for the whole project. The local technology leader also supplied further equipment in addition to the HEUFT TORNADO II dynamic in order to safeguard product and packaging quality sustainably with full productivity: the spectrum ranges from empty crate check, empty bottle sorting and empty container inspection to fill management and full crate check: “We are impressed with the detection accuracy of the HEUFT inspection systems,” says the managing partner and production manager at RHODIUS. “The systems installed reject faulty containers accurately and, if necessary, also safely in an upright position.”

The still unfilled returnable glass containers are transported by the mass conveyor, which is regulated by the HEUFT synchron TXI conveyor control system, after being unpacked before the HEUFT streamer C corner combiner gently transfers them to a single-lane transport. Non-brand bottles which are unsuitable for the current production are detected and sorted out here at the latest. The highly automated HEUFT InLine II IR then takes over the reliable detection of lye and other residual liquids as well as foreign objects made of glass and other materials on the base of the container in the smallest of spaces. In addition the examination covers the sidewall of each individual container without gaps as well as the sealing surface, the outside area and even the inside of its finish, so that cracks, inclusions, scuffing, contamination and chips are detected reliably regardless of their position. Empty bottles which cannot be filled safely or do not meet the high standards of the mineral water company regarding the appearance of the pool are rejected in good time by the space-saving HEUFT LAMBDA-K curve rejector.

Correctly filled and reliably sealed full containers in premium quality

A HEUFT SPECTRUM II VX checks the filling quantity of each individual bottle as well as the presence of the closures immediately after the filling machine in order to ensure that only perfect full containers are supplied. A special locator also exposes filler valves which cause underfilling or overfilling in good time and therefore prevent them from becoming serial faults. And a signal interface ensures that burst bottles are also detected during the filling process and adjacent bottles which could be contaminated by flying pieces of glass as a result are rejected. A compact HEUFT ONE full container check inspects the presence and tightness of crown corks which are necessary for, among other things, 0.25 litre RHODIUS gourmet gastro bottles before the HEUFT TORNADO II dynamic applies wet glue labels to them cleanly and precisely.

All the equipment installed for checking and inspecting the quality is highly automated and network-compatible just like the new labeller: “The HEUFT machines have a central data hub,” confirms Mr Tack. “This makes it easy for us to retrieve all the machine data in real time via our central PDA system.” It also makes remote maintenance possible via the HEUFT TeleService. After all even if the HEUFT and RHODIUS sites are really not far away from each other nothing is more obvious and resource-saving than an automatic in-line quality assurance when filling up to 20,000 premium glass bottles per hour the high performance of which can be easily maintained online. Just perfect for a premium quality mineral water!

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