Carsten Unterste
Global project key account manager
KHS GmbH, Dortmund, Germany

Phone: +49 231 569 -1213

It’s a mild 24°C in the evening as Carsten Unterste, KHS’ global project key account manager for Coca-Cola, gives a short speech to thank the Pakistani engineers gathered on the terrace of the Café Aylanto restaurant in Lahore. There’s a pleasant breeze blowing lightly under the vine-covered pergola where we’re sitting together with them and other representatives of Coca-Cola Beverages Pakistan (CCBPL) and its Turkish parent company, Coca-Cola İçecek (CCI). It allows us to easily forget which climatic challenges these men – and especially their colleagues from Germany and Ukraine – have been subjected to in the face of considerably higher temperatures.

It’s the beginning of November and we’re celebrating the completion of a successfully concluded, joint project. It was just yesterday when two new bottling lines were successfully accepted in Multan located about 350 kilometers southwest – the fourth and fifth lines from KHS to be installed within the last three years for CCBPL.

“Pakistan is one of the world’s most populated countries and thus a gigantic market for soft drinks,” explains Unterste. “With a population of approximately 185 million inhabitants, it represents almost half of the total of 380 million people living in the region to which CCI distributes it products.” It’s not without reason that Coca-Cola İçecek is the fifth-largest Coca-Cola bottler worldwide; this public corporation employs more than 10,000 employees at a total of 25 bottling plants within its region. In addition to carbonated soft drinks, CCI produces and markets juice, water, sports and energy drinks as well as tea and iced tea beverages in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, – and of course Pakistan.

KHS and CCI are bound by a long history of busi- ness relations. The Dortmund-based system provider delivered the first canning line to Turkey as early as in 1987. The relationship of the contact partners has been accordingly good since then. “For years we’ve maintained an excellent working relationship based on mu­tual trust,” Umit Copcu, operations manager at CCI, tells us during dinner. The task of installing filling lines in Pakistan is anything but ordinary; power failures, fine dust in the air and very demanding climatic conditions present major challenges to the engineers and to the machines themselves. Added to this is the precarious security situation in parts of the country which necessitates special arrangements for travelers from western countries and requires strict compliance with certain recommendations. Carsten Unterste puts into perspective any concerns in this regard. “I now feel safer in Pakistan than in some European cities. Together with Coca-Cola İçecek we’ve developed and successfully implemented an exemplary safety concept which allows us to perform our work here undisturbed.”

This includes, for example, shuttling the engineers during their stay in Pakistan between their hotel accommodations and installation site via routes which change daily for security reasons and ensuring a safe passage to and from the airport. But that’s not all: “Other principles of behavior apply in a strict Islamic country such as Pakistan, of course, but it’s not so difficult to adjust – if you know the rules.” Unterste particularly praises the mentality of his colleagues on site. “The special thing about Pakistan is the incredible hospitality and warmth of the people here.”

Many lines – one solution

Considering the sheer size of the markets CCI serves and its rapid growth, the question arose on how to install the large number of production facilities required in the various countries as efficiently as possible. Selim Mizrahi, engineering services director at CCI, is the person in charge of this project at the company’s headquarters in Istanbul. Under his leadership a total of eighteen turnkey lines to be implemented within a period of three years were planned – of which four were returnable glass bottle lines, two canning lines, and eleven PET lines. As part of the project concept, he and his colleagues from KHS jointly developed the idea of standardizing the lines to the greatest possible extent. The aim was to simplify processes at both CCI and KHS through extensive standardization to utilize synergies and also save time and cut costs – challenges that the experts from KHS are only too pleased to meet. “In order to do this, absolutely every­thing had to be planned very precisely right from the start,” says Unterste, explaining the most important prerequisite for standardization. “It’s a matter of developing the best possible layout regardless of the location. The ambient parameters also play a role: Which temperatures is the equipment exposed to? What are the ambient conditions inside the building?”

Fast and efficient: the lines in operation  in Pakistan are able to fill up to  36,000 1.5-liter PET bottles per hour.
Fast and efficient: the lines in operation in Pakistan are able to fill up to 36,000 1.5-liter PET bottles per hour.

Satisfying special requirements

The basic idea behind standardization of the PET lines was to develop systems that are 99% identical and sat­isfy special requirements. This included that the lines run reliably at temperatures ranging from zero to over 50°C and a humidity of up to 90% and that they operate equally well at an altitude of 10 or 1,000 meters above sea level. The only leeway was to be in the various formats and bottle sizes produced on the lines – the volumes in this case ranging from between 200 milliliters and 3 liters. Once KHS had been awarded the contract from Istanbul, the first PET line equipped with a stretch blow molder, filler, packer and palletizer started production in September 2013 in Erbil located in northern Iraq. This was followed by other lines installed in Gujranwala, Lahore and Multan in Pakistan, in Dushanbe, Astana and Baku (the capital cities of Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan) and in the city of Bursa in Turkey. “The important thing is that a project of this kind is carried through consistently and in a disciplined manner,” Unterste emphasizes. “CCI headquarters in Istanbul has supervised our work excellently and ensured that the production sites strictly adhere to the defined standards and that any modifications due to local conditions were made only if they couldn’t be entirely avoided.”

And something that cannot be taken for granted: “We naturally prefer to plan our lines ourselves,” explains Muhammad Asif who is in charge of production at CCBPL in Lahore. “At first, we wondered if standardizing could perhaps limit our flexibility. But in retrospect, these fears have proven to be unfounded; the advan­tages of standardization by far outweigh any restrictions.” This includes in particular the transfer of knowledge from one line to another; thanks to the standardized machine park, employees trained on one line can pass on their knowledge to colleagues at other locations better; CCI then later has free rein in personnel planning. Asif also finds it both economical as well as practical that the spare parts are the same for the machines at each site. This simplifies both the procurement and warehouse logistics and reduces the related costs.

One standard, many benefits

Standardization, however, must not be construed to mean that the customer is excluded from technological advances. “In principle we’ve agreed to what’s referred to as a design freeze for the entire duration of the project, both in the interest of customers as well as in our own interests,” says Carsten Unterste. “This means that on conclusion of the contract, no more fundamental changes are made to the layout of the lines. We discuss minor adjustments, which seem sensible and necessary based on technological advance, with the customer and if all parties agree, the design is modified accordingly.” One example is PET bottle coding which was initially performed by inkjet printers and is now applied by laser printing. Another example is the grippers on the palletizer that were modified and improved after the project has been started. “We must of course remain flexible to meet market requirements,” Unterste summarizes, “but only in agreement with the CCI headquarters in Istanbul.”

»This open and straightforward coexistence makes life easier and simplifies business negotiations.«

From a customer standpoint one great advantage is primarily the much shorter time required for offer clarification, delivery, installation and commissioning of a line – an important one on a rapidly growing market. This is made possible for the most part by the standardization of layouts and machines. “Fixed definition of the bottle formats before the order is placed eliminates technical clarification completely. This enables the customer to plan resources better, doing away with the need to repeatedly deal with the same questions,” explains Carsten Unterste. He then adds, “By always using the same team at the various locations, we’ve been able to shorten the time required for installation by about 30% – starting when the second line was installed in Lahore.”

Great interest in the pilot project

The lines were installed and commissioned in what were, on the whole, difficult working conditions. Both CCBPL and CCI indicated their satisfaction with the quality of the cooperative work accordingly and vowed to con­tinue along the same lines. The project even attracted the great attention of the corporate management in Atlanta, Georgia, in the USA and could soon possibly set a precedent beyond Coca-Cola İçecek.

At the end of the evening Imran Malik, KHS’ representative in Pakistan, explained the significance of soft drinks and Coca-Cola in particular in his country whose population is marked by great poverty in many regions. “If you only have little chance of enjoying yourself, a couple of bottles of Coca-Cola costing only 20 rupees or €0.17 is a special treat for the whole family – or enables hosts to provide their guests with a grand form of hospitality. You know, entertaining guests is considered a blessing in Pakistan.” And this is something the KHS team had plenty of opportunity to experience for themselves in the recent weeks and months in Lahore and Multan.