Beverage bottling on high

Krones (Thailand) Co Ltd
Monday, 12 June, 2006

At 5100 m above sea level, a spring wells up from a glacier in the Himalayas, which is bottled by the Tibet Glacier Mineral Water Co. The actual bottling operation is located at a 4300 m near the Tibetan capital of Lhasa.

The company built a greenfield facility, housing a complete Krones bottling line, which went into operation last July. At a speed of 24,000 bph, square 330 mL PET bottles, and in future round or square 600 mL PET bottles as well, will then be blow-moulded, filled and dressed in OPP wraparound labels. The Contiform S14 stretch blow-moulding machine used for this purpose must surely be the highest-placed PET blow-moulder in the entire world.

Since the location is so high up, special measures were taken to ensure reliable bottle production, filling and labelling.

Firstly, the ratings for all drives had to be chosen at least 20% higher than for drives operating under 'standard conditions'. Since Tibet Glacier Mineral Water Co wants to sell the water in lower-situated regions as well, right down to sea level, the bottles have to stand up to a pressure differential of about 0.4 bar (corresponding to a height differential of about 4000 m). So this was an important consideration in designing the bottle. In addition, Krones gave a good deal of thought to how any tendencies to bottle deformation could be countered. The PET bottles are accordingly filled as brimful as possible, since the liquid cannot be compressed as much as the air in the bottle's headspace.

The stretch blow-moulding machine's air consumption is significantly higher as well. At sea level, it would be 581 m3/h; at 4260 m, by contrast, it reaches 999 m3/h. The high-performance compressor also supplied by Krones is for this reason rated at 170%, while the chiller for the Contiform provides 25% extra output.

The other machine configurations conform to the Krones standard. But of course the project team did a lot of thinking in an attempt to anticipate numerous imponderables, whose significance and influence would only emerge in actual operation, such as that the technical guarantee for the touch screen control panels is valid only for elevations of up to 3000 m and temperatures of up to 50°C. Given the low ambient temperatures in Tibet, though, even higher locations shouldn't be a problem. Will the Contiroll's vacuum cylinders function normally?

Krones ran simulation tests to eliminate any remaining risks, and to ensure that the line would function properly.

And there were, by the way, some purely human problems that made installing this line up on the roof of the world into a whole new experience: the first Krones fitter to arrive very soon succumbed to mountain sickness and had to retreat to lower climes. Additional service staff were dispatched, so the lost installation time was swiftly made up.

The 5100 Glacier Mineral Water product, named after the spring's location 5100 m above sea level, is going to be sold not only in Tibet, but more particularly on the export market, especially in the USA, where its exotic qualities are predicted to cause a sensation.

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