Krones’ process technology for Linie Aquavit
Producing and processing ten million litres of spirits and ten million litres of wine in one and the same facility – that was the challenge involved for the new greenfield plant of Arcus, the market leader for spirits in Norway. The plant handles 124 different products: not only wine, but also 40 to 96-per-cent alcoholic beverages und raw materials are in the explosion-proof area accepted, stored, and mixed to create intermediate and finished beverages. Minimal losses, maximised accuracy, the lowest possible costs and compliance with a tight time schedule: these were the group’s stipulations. In April 2012, what is presumptively the world’s most sophisticated spirits processing plant went into operation – right on time.
Ingo Kirsten, Krones AG
The filling hall accommodates a total of seven lines, with an annual capacity of more than 21 million litres. The ratings start at 2,000 bottles per shift in a manual filling operation for small 0.04-litre portion bottles; more than 8,000 of the five-litre bag-in-box containers are filled per shift. The line for filling 0.75-litre bottles is rated at 14,000 bph.
In the process technology section, for instance, Krones installed more than 14 kilometres of piping. From its new EvoGuard series of valves, Krones fitted the 529 manual and 875 pneumatic shutoff valves, 288 double-seat valves, six seat valves and 25 double-seal valves. Plus another 68 manual or pneumatic shutoff valves for high-pressure hot water, and 91 outsourced control and needle valves.
The Linie Aquavit brand
Linie Aquavit is indeed one of the Arcus Group’s major spirits brands, but is only one of many. Today, the group consists of two sub-companies: Arcus as the producer and importer of wine and spirits, and Vectura as an independent importer and distributor of spirits and wine. Arcus is the market leader in Norway’s spirits market, with a share of 34 per cent, and one of the leading wine producers and dealers in Norway and Sweden, with a market share of about ten per cent in each. Arcus itself produces ten million litres of spirits and another ten million litres of wine (both in bottles and as bag-in-box packages). For the spirits, Arcus concentrates mainly on the three international brands of Linie Aquavit, Vikingfjord Vodka and Braastad Cognac from its own Cognac firm in France. But the company also produces additional vodka and aquavit brands, whisky, gin, rum and other spirits.
Out-of-the-ordinary production method for Linie Aquavit
In 1805, a brig set sail from Norway bound for Indonesia and Australia, with a cargo including five casks of aquavit. But down under the customers were not overly enthusiastic about the taste of this potato-based schnapps. So the casks were homeward bound again to Norway. The ship’s outward and return voyages took two years in all. Once they had arrived in Norway, they revealed an unprecedented richness of taste and an overwhelmingly seductive aroma. The continual rocking motion on board the ship, combined with the depletion of the oak casks, the fluctuations in temperature and humidity, plus the salt-laden sea air, had transformed the potato-based schnapps into a glorious aquavit.
Ever since, Linie Aquavit – the Arcus Group’s flagship brand – has been regularly embarking on its voyage to Australia and New Zealand, crossing the equator twice and in its four months at sea passing 35 different countries. Every month, 100,000 to 120,000 litres of aquavit leave the German port of Bremerhaven in 500-litre oak casks, grouped together in dedicated Linie Aquavit shipping containers. Subsequently, each bottle is dressed in a label where the precise details of its voyage can be read on the back. Not a concocted marketing story, not logistically extravagant nonsense, but for two centuries now authentic reality for Linie Aquavit, designed to guarantee the inimitable taste.
Alcohol reception in two parts
The raw material reception operation features two independent reception lines and one dispatch line. One of the reception lines concentrates on all spirits, 96-per-cent ethanol and the glacier water for vodka, with an option for filtering the water. It can handle 25,000 litres an hour, provides an option for nitrogen overlay, and like the entire factory is constructed throughout in conformity with the ATEX explosion-proofing directive. This line is linked to the raw-material warehouse and the spirits production store area.
The second reception line provides the same capacity of 25,000 litres an hour, and is dedicated to wine: it leads to a heat exchanger for the wine, so as to assure a standardised temperature in the wine store, and optionally via a filter into the storage tanks. For reasons of safety, this line is separated from the spirits reception line by different connections at the panel, so as to prevent high-proof alcohol penetrating as far as the wine reception line. Both reception lines are fitted with venting lanterns, so as to remove oxygen bubbles from the product, and calibratable flow meters. After the raw materials have been transferred, the lines are rinsed with water or nitrogen. For reasons of safety, the entire reception station is accommodated in a separate building.
The cask draining and filling operation utilises Arcus’ existing equipment. This has been integrated into Krones’ Botec process control system. The new oak cask store, too, for up to 8,500 casks each holding 500 litres, like Arcus’ aquavit reception and discharge operations, has been incorporated in Krones’ process.
124 different products are handled in the blending system
The blending zone consists of four blending tanks (two holding 30,000 litres, one holding 15,000 litres, and one sized at 10,000 litres), four distillate collecting tanks each holding 15,000 litres, an inline blending system and an inline additive dosing station. The blending system handles a total of 124 different products, from 40-per-cent finished products, plus concentrated 60-to-80-per-cent spirits, all the way through to pure 96-per-cent alcohol.
The batch blending tanks are fitted with a mixing system that is linked to a bypass line for circulating the tank’s contents. In all four bypass lines, alcohol measuring systems have likewise been integrated. Thanks to this specially developed mixing system, Arcus achieves maximised levels of blending accuracy in terms of raw materials and alcohol contents. Moreover, the blending system has been developed so as to ensure minimised losses and maximised flexibility.
Following the final production step in the blending process for creating the finished beverage, the product is expelled using nitrogen, so as to prevent mixing phases and dissolving of the product, with concomitant dilution of the alcohol content. Overpressure and vacuum valves with integrated flame-catchers have been designed to cope with hot-cleaning of the tanks.
In the sugar/powder dissolving unit, holding 1,000 litres, powder and liquid components, both with and without an alcohol content, can be mixed. The mixture can be transported either directly into the blending zone or into an intermediate bulk container, or into the existing buffer tank. Here, too, once again, maximised flexibility was the paramount consideration in designing the system.
The filling tanks are used to store the end-product, and buffer it for the filling process. Seven tanks are fitted with safety and vacuum valves, plus connections for CO2 and nitrogen when running special products. The other seven tanks are open to the surrounding air. This area has not been executed in conformity with ATEX, though of course several precautions have been taken in order to ensure that the applicable safety regulations have been complied with. This has been achieved by means of a low product temperature, by air-conditioning, by gas detectors with an alarm to the process control system, by room ventilation, and by a sprinkler system designed to cool down the tanks in the event of a fire. For this purpose, coolers are installed at each line, so as to cool the product down to 18 degrees Celsius. Normally, only products with a maximum abv content of 45 per cent may be stored here. Under certain (but even more stringent) preconditions, products with an abv content of up to 60 per cent can also be stored.
The filling line area links the process section to the fillers. Here, too, the CIP return lines are integrated for both the fillers and the wine filters. Arcus also installed a Hydronomic water treatment system, made entirely of stainless steel, and featuring an ion exchanger rated at two times 65 cubic metres an hour. The water treatment system, which can be sanitised with hot water, is used for preparing the product water.
For the reception station, a CIP system is provided for cleaning all tanks in the reception building (raw-material, spirits, product stores), all the piping inside the building, plus some transfer pipes into the process building. This CIP system consists of two circuits. The CIP system for the process section features four circuits, and is dimensioned for cleaning the entire remainder of the equipment in the process building, including the filler.
Unique recording system for oak casks
Besides the physical installations, Krones’ job package also included implementation of the requisite software and control systems. The existing SAP system serves as a master software package, which specifies the quantities required at a particular juncture and generates orders, which are then completed in the process. The transfer between SAP, MES and Botec are handled via a defined interface. In the level below this, there is a Krones MES (Manufacturing Execution System) operating, with reporting and tracking & tracing features, supplying the data for the entire production process to the Botec control system, and also a warehouse management system (WMS) for the aquavit oak casks. This cask store management system was developed by Krones specifically for Arcus. A special high-bay warehouse provides space for 8,500 oak casks, each holding 500 litres, and serves solely for storing the various aquavits. 7,400 slots are currently occupied. Every year, about 100 new casks are purchased and old ones replaced. The system records the entire history of each cask, like year of manufacture, wood origins, year of purchase, capacity, date of storage and retrieval, or time of cleaning and maintenance. Hand-held scanners are used to read the labels, and the data are passed to the software.
“This cask recording system is something rather special, and it functions perfectly”, explains Arcus Production Manager Lars-Erik Gulling.
Deadline compliance, quality and flexibility
Erik Bern, the Arcus Group’s Project Director, who bears the overall responsibility, had a whole series of stipulations (and challenges) for this new-building project.
“What was supremely important was deadline compliance. The weather conditions in Norway, with the long winters, can quickly derail even the best-laid plans. So we needed vendors we could trust implicitly. And for a fully functional plant, too, commissioning and acceptance-testing have to be complete promptly and swiftly.”
“One very significant point financially was the need to reduce product losses. Spirits are not at all cheap. The declared target was: zero product losses. In order to minimise losses, you need firstly maximised accuracy in the process technology, and secondly a variety of techniques that have been used to expel products. Krones took a holistic approach to the project here, but nevertheless each and every product is individually treated”, explains Erik Gulling.
This can be illuminated by an example: for exports to the USA, an abv figure of 40 per cent may under American regulations deviate upwards by 0.0 abv and downwards by a maximum of minus 0.5 abv. This maximum permitted alcohol loss applies to all steps in the process, including the bottling. Krones solved this, for example, with ultra-minimal alcohol overdosing during the blending operation and with recurrent flow-rate and alcohol measurements using maximally accurate measuring instruments.
“We’re getting very close”, said Erik Bern shortly after commissioning, and Lars-Erik Gulling comments:
“The low loss rate is fantastic”.
Linie Aquavit, the Arcus Group’s flagship brand, embarks regularly on its voyage to Australia and New Zealand, crossing the equator twice and passing 35 different countries.
For the spirits, Arcus concentrates mainly on the three international brands of Linie Aquavit, Vikingfjord Vodka and Braastad Cognac from its own Cognac firm in France, but also produces additional vodka and aquavit brands, whisky, gin, rum and other spirits.
Arcus also installed a Hydronomic water treatment system, made entirely of stainless steel, and featuring an ion exchanger rated at two times 65 cubic metres an hour.
Valve rack at product reception.
In the process technology section, for instance, Krones installed more than 14 kilometres of piping.