From individual components, to ready-to-use water filters, to the ready-to ship palette. This complex undertaking was performed by a complete line with 60 meters of completely automated functions. OPTIMA was selected as a turnkey vendor for Brita at its China facility. Almost all modules and technologies for this project are supplied from Optima. The technical design was completed within just a few months.
“A project of this magnitude is only feasible if the customer and vendor work closely together”, said Stefan Bauer who managed the commercial aspects of the project. To illustrate the scale of the project again: first the filter cartridge is assembled, consisting of plastic parts and activated carbon, followed by sterilization in an autoclave. The filter is then packaged into a flow-wrap pouch, inserted into cartons (sales package) in different counts and sizes. Finally, the full cartons are packaged into various size cases and palletized for transport.
The base machine solution that was used for filling of the activated carbon is an OPTIMA CFL machine, adjusted to accommodate the large size of the cartridges. This machine produces 120 filters per minute. Currently, the machine processes one cartridge format. However, additional formats are easy to set-up. Seven different sales packages from the individual carton to the multipack with 15 cartridges per carton are presently packaged.
Eight additional machines are integrated in the automated line besides the OPTIMA CFL machine (see overview). The modular design proves itself all along the line (literally) providing easy accessibility via guard doors that extend all the way to the floor. All component hoppers and bunkers are designed to allow the machine to run for 30 minutes autonomously. The entire line is overseen by two to three operators. These employees are ensuring that sufficient components and filter material is consistently fed into the line and are taking care of the final transport palette.
The entire process was designed to be as efficient as possible. Due to the close collaborative effort between Brita and Optima engineers, the line uses state-of-the-art technology and maximizes performance potential. Stefan Bauer reported about ideas that went even further: “Today the line produces sales packs that are in cartons which are subsequently repackaged by a case packer into transport cases. However, the line can also package the individual flow-wrapped cartridges directly into transport cases while retrofitting the cartoning machine, the case packer can still process individual, flow-wrapped cartridges. This is accomplished by using a bypass through the OPTIMA CBF cartoning machine.
With an appropriate production schedule, downtimes are minimized. The autoclave also shows the close collaboration of the companies. The design to load and unload the filters for sterilization, batch by batch, was developed by Brita and Optima. Processes with different cycle times can be handled separately and allows for the machine output to remain at the design speed of 120/min. The sterilized products are cooled automatically at the rear of the autoclave, they are then unloaded and transported to the flow-wrapping machine. The product transfer from the clean room to the conventional environment takes place in this zone.
Our cooperation was characterized by mutual trust, respect for the task and a common goal. The level of the line quality and maintaining schedule were the constant focus.2.What were the decision criteria to give the order to Optima?
Trust in the Optima management, especially into Rainer Feuchter who I have known for almost 20 years. His word was more important to BRITA than the contract. Although a contract is necessary. Both companies have known each other for a long time. We know how to treat each other, what we have to pay attention to and how to manage the ups and downs that are normal in each project.
I am sure that we would not have been able to realize the timeline nor the production readiness if we would have individually ordered the machines from different vendors. Both companies can be proud of the result.4.Functional scopes in this magnitude and variety in one line are still the exception today. As far as you are able to answer: Would you go for a fully automatic system again?
Now more than ever. The internal overhead is less. We were able to test the entire line before shipping and saved both companies an expensive and lengthy start-up in China.
The software OPAL is used to continuously determine the efficiency of the machine OEE (Overall Equipment Efficiency). In addition, OPAL analyzes systematically occurring process or operator errors, like error frequency and error duration.
An additional function of OPAL is the batch specific controlling and scheduling of the production orders. The order quantity and format have to be defined, as well as country specific labels or prints that have to be inspected according to specification. Each of the complex machines has an HMI that forwards the order specific information to the modules. Typically, this information is entered manually. The information is elaborate and can result in errors when inputting manually. In contrast, OPAL takes the complex data from the customer’s ERP system and prepares it for the machine.
Similarly, recipe changes are made centrally and automatically with the OPAL software, which adjusts each individual machine and module of the line based on the format settings. The machine then provides confirmation of proper adjustment before the OPAL system will release the entire line for production. If a size part needs to be changed manually, the operator confirms the correct execution at the HMI. This system brings the machine to production mode in a very short time.
Guaranteed Traceability: Batches are diligently separated from each other. This is done by coding, starting with the primary packaging to the palette.
Only the line structure in combination with the OPAL line control permits the parallel production of a batch in the front of the machine while the back of the line is still retrofitted. Thus OPAL provides the system that allows bulk production into shipping cases while a format change is being performed at the cartoning machine.
In the Chinese and Asian markets, these water filters are a premium product. The product quality is the most important issue for the customer. This is evident with the stringent fill accuracy, package quality control, and packaging material requirements. Therefore, the line has various quality control sensors that inspect the processes and parameters for each individual cartridge and monitor the primary and secondary packaging as well as the palettes.
The quality requirements also have an impact on the machine’s construction materials. Product contact parts and materials that are in contact with the filter media require materials that are already certified to be used in the machine building process. Asia has similar legal regulations as Europe or the U.S.A.
A reject discharge ensures high product quality.
The OPTIMA TFL punches the cartridge lid mesh for the water filters.
The first advantage for the customer in a turnkey project is to have a central contact. On the Optima side, this contact partner coordinates all concerned departments. During the entire project duration, weekly meetings with Brita took place. The customer didn’t have to worry about which company is responsible for what. Technical interfaces – mechanical, electrical and software – are not easy to manage when multiple vendors are used for one project. This is also not an issue anymore, if the equipment is designed according to consistent standards.
As a result, it is much easier to integrate and adjust the various technologies in an automated process. The only third party equipment, the flow wrapping machine and the autoclave, were integrated under Optima’s direction into the process. Last but not least, the uniform logic of the HMIs is easier to understand for the Brita operators than if it would be different HMIs that are all structured differently.
The selection of the non-Optima components, also showed the close cooperation with Brita. The company had good experiences with the manufacturer of the autoclave and the flow wrapping machine in other projects and upon recommendation of Brita Optima integrated them in the line solution – Optima still acting as the main contact for all parties.
Besides the technical expertise and the turnkey aspect there is another important characteristic to this project: “the China competence”. Starting with customs: how can a machine be shipped to China fast and cost effective? Whoever understands the country specific procedures has a clear advantage, emphasized Stefan Bauer. There are several departments at Optima that are experts on this subject.
Technical qualified support is important for the successful operation of such a complex line. A local subsidiary and qualified employees on both sides in China are imperative to success. Optima has had its own subsidiary in China since 2012, but the market was served by Optima before that. The employees from both companies were involved early on in the project. Chinese employees from Brita and Optima were visiting Optima in Schwäbisch Hall often, to get to know the machine. German and Chinese employees performed the installation and the training in China. In the meantime, the line is completely serviced by the Chinese Optima subsidiary.
Projects of this magnitude and complexity usually have a duration of three years or more from the first initial conversation to the FAT. Together Brita and Optima succeeded in reducing the time to 16 months. A significant contribution to the success of this project was the close and trusting cooperation. Brita started its regular production in August 2017, approximately 20 months after order placement.
Conclusion: This line stands for technological variety like no other. In the opinion of our customer, flexibility, output, and process safety are imperative and require specialized expertise from the machine builder. Profound expertise was required for the installation and the service duties in China. Last but not least, without the close collaboration of Brita and Optima, the line could not have been completed in such a short time.
Cartridge components are fed into the machine in multiple lanes, the dosing system fills granulated activated carbon into the cartridges. The lid is fed into the machine and sealed onto the filled cartridges.
The cartoning machine erects the carton bottom and lid from pre-cut carton material. Flowwrapped filter cartridges are placed by a pick and place system into a carton. The lid is placed on the carton and closed with hot adhesive. The ready-to-go carton packages (seven formats: 1 to 15 cartridges) pass a check-weigher and coding station.