Bottlers Quench Thirst with Technology

A look at beverage companies that are using automation and supply chain software to improve operations.


Today’s beverage distributors are faced with a number of challenges—SKU proliferation, labor shortages, tough competition at the shelf—to name a few. Many distributors are turning to automated solutions and supply chain technology to address these challenges.

One such company is Cristalia Premium Water. With the growing demands in beverage distribution the Puerto Rico-based company thrives on the booming Caribbean tourist trade and the region’s need for clean, safe water. A namesake brand and successful private-label bottling division have helped boost its revenue, which is up 400 percent since 1999.

Recently, high labor costs and inefficiencies in packaging operations were making it increasingly difficult to meet demand while maintaining profits. Cristalia’s Ponce, Puerto Rico bottling plant manually palletizes four lines of bottled water—shrink-wrapped trays of 16-ounce bottles, multi-packs, five-gallon cooler bottles and one-gallon jugs. However, Terrell and his team knew that the 20,000-square-foot facility only had the space to automate one line.

The one-gallon-jug line was the most difficult to palletize manually, with its unstable, 27-pound cases forcing employees to take frequent breaks. Four employees worked in an hourly rotation on this line, while the 16-ounce bottle and multi-pack lines only required one worker each.

Terrell also noted that the one-gallon jugs were the plant’s highest producer—filling a pallet every two and a half minutes. The team calculated that automating this line would give them the greatest benefits in terms of labor savings and increased efficiency.

Cristalia’s cramped warehouse did not have the space for the accumulation conveyor required for a standard high-speed palletizer. The company turned to automated material handling solutions provider FKI Logistex, St. Louis, and its GS100 series case palletizer for an affordable way to automate its line within the space constraints of the warehouse.

The compact footprint of the GS100 series eliminates the need for a long infeed conveyor and allows fork truck access to all points of the facility, including incoming materials, warehousing, production discharge and outgoing product—without intruding on personnel.

Working with FKI Logistex and Puerto Rico-based packaging equipment representative Inter-Strap Packaging, Cristalia chose the GS140 model, which features a pallet dispenser and a full-pallet handling discharge for complete automation. The GS140 gives Cristalia the ability to palletize at rates of up to 30 cartons per minute and includes a touch-screen operator-interface terminal (OIT) pattern utility.

A SIX-MONTH ROI

The FKI Logistex GS140 system has enabled Cristalia to reduce labor costs and heavy lifting, while producing an extra 1,000 cases every shift, for a capital investment of less than $100,000. The GS140 palletizer also fits completely inside a standard 40-foot shipping container, which saved the company approximately $14,000 on overseas shipping costs alone.

“With the new FKI Logistex palletizing system we reduced labor costs by 25 percent and increased our total volume by 20 percent,” says Tom Terrell, Cristalia’s director of manufacturing operations.. “The most important gain came from continuous uptime and uninterrupted shifts—now the line never stops.”

According to Terrell, Cristalia experienced a six-month ROI with the new palletizer. “For the same overhead costs, we’re getting more cases out the door,” he says.

With the new palletizing system, the local bottler is well on its way to meeting its goal of becoming a $100 million bottled water marketer to the Caribbean and the U.S. in the next 10 years.

In Cristalia’s new system, an existing line shaft roller conveyor brings cases from the one-gallon-jug production line to the infeed of the GS140. The palletizer forms 16-case layers, with each case containing three one-gallon jugs.

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