In many respects Schützengarten is a very special brewery for Martin Ketterer. Technical director of the company since 2009, Ketterer comes to the point when he says: “Although we’re the oldest brewery in Switzerland, we use cutting-edge technology to produce products with character and of top, international quality.” One prerequisite for this is a careful selection of raw ingredients. We’re not just talking about the special malts and specific varieties of hop Schützengarten sources for its beers, some through exclusive direct contact with select farmers; depending on the type or style of beer more exotic ingredients are also involved. Schützengarten’s Brown Ale owes its special flavor to juniper, for instance. Its shandy has a fine hint of herbal bitter thanks to an extract of edelweiss which complements the fresh citrus taste of the mixed beer beverage. For their Sweet Chocolate Stout the Swiss even use the best cocoa from Trinidad.
“Nowadays we’d be called a craft brewery,” explains Ketterer, “but with one difference: unlike many craft breweries, who are newcomers to brewing, we only have qualified experts working for us, from our seven master brewers – two of whom are women, by the way – to every single employee in production, all of whom are either brewers or food technologists.” He characterizes his colleagues and himself – and even the family of owners – as beer-loving madmen and -women who do their job with passion.
“The number of packaging variants has positively exploded in the last few years – we can’t escape this fact.”
Modernization of the brand
The result of so much pooled brewing expertise can definitely be seen – and drunk. For its Schwarzer Bär beer Schützengarten was awarded a gold at the 2016 European Beer Star in the European-Style Dunkel category; its Red IPA, only launched a few months ago, won a bronze. The lion’s share of the brewery’s sales, however, is still made up by the traditional Schützengarten Lager Hell, a pale lager. “Our maxim today is that everyone should be able to find the right beer for them at our brewery; at the same time it’s important to us – with all our variety and innovations and despite the modernization of our umbrella brand – that we don’t scare off our lager consumers,” Ketterer explains. He of course knows that he’s treading a fine line here. “We want to extend our brand, which to date was perceived as being rather conservative and traditional, to include aspects such as modernity and creativity. But even if we want to present ourselves as being young and fresh, adopting the dynamic market presence consumers expect, our target group must be able to reconcile this with our existing image. We don’t want to wear the shoe if it doesn’t fit. We understand our trade and don’t need to hide behind the term ‘craft beer’ or some kind of bearded hipster image.”
Among the market demands Schützengarten has to meet is not just the provision of a wide range of products but also of a variety of containers, container sizes and packaging formats. Besides the individual bottle for its Gallus 612, an old style ale, the brewery has also developed a special bottle shape with embossing for its stout and IPA. The rest of the portfolio is filled in 330- or 500-milliliter returnable or non-returnable glass bottles sealed with crown corks, or in swing-top bottles or half-liter cans. The amount of secondary packaging makes production even more complex; Schützengarten does sell packs of four, six and eight yet the most important pack size in Switzerland is the ten-pack, followed by packs of 18 “which student households especially like,” Ketterer remarks with a grin. For special campaigns with individual retail chains cartons of 12 and 15 are also offered. In addition bottles are of course also packed into crates. “From a technical point of view it’s naturally not our aim to produce too big a variety,” stresses Ketterer. “We don’t want to hamper our production shop by constantly changing products. Yet the number of packaging variants has positively exploded in the last few years – and we can’t escape the pressures of the market.”
New technology in a minimum amount of space
Schützengarten’s decision to revamp the packaging and palletizing section of its bottling operations was thus all the more significant. Its investment in a combined packing machine for wrap-around cartons and plastic crates comprises a crater and decrater, a strapper and destrapper, a combined palletizer and depalletizer and a glass bulk depalletizer. A pallet wrapper, crate washer and a fully automated crate magazine to buffer plastic crates are also part of the system. Uwe Müller, technical sales manager for KHS in Bad Kreuznach, outlines the particular challenges posed by this project. “The greatest challenge was the limited space. Existing links in the buildings, which can’t be changed, also made things difficult, as well as elevators and a pasteurizer for non-alcoholic beer which had to stay exactly where it was. The ceiling is also relatively low. In order to make the best possible use of the available space, we supplied a multifunctional, blocked system developed together with our partner Schubert which is being used for the first time here. We literally shoe-horned the machines into the building,” Müller exclaims. The undertaking was assisted by a 3D line model which could be copied into a 3D scan of the existing space and took even the tiniest protrusion or ceiling beam into account.
For Martin Ketterer, one of the biggest advantages of the line is that both crates and cartons can be processed in combination on just one common machine block which also buffers the crate magazine. “Our line could only be realized with the given output and in the available space by the KHS layout and this combined system – especially considering that bigger and bigger machine housings are needed for safety reasons which take up more and more space.”
“Blocking the KHS and Schubert components renders long conveying segments and the infeed and discharge segments otherwise needed for each machine superfluous,” says Lutz Müller, sales manager for Switzerland at KHS, describing the compact design of the machine. “This reduces maintenance, wear and energy consumption and the space-saving machinery can be operated by just one person.” From the customer’s point of view perhaps the most important issue is the vast degree of flexibility with which the machine masters Schützengarten’s sheer diversity of products and packaging. “We have a high level of reproducibility when changing formats. No more fine adjustment is needed; instead, there are defined formats for changeovers which enable us to produce with the same settings. This cuts changeover times down to less than 15 minutes. Thanks to its modular design the system can also be extended in the future so that it can process new types of packaging, such as cluster packs or baskets.” The new, innovative line concept has also practically doubled the line capacity for one-way packs.
Time for detailed planning
During negotiations and technical clarification between Schützengarten and KHS both partners took the time to closely consider all the details and eventualities. During the course of the extremely flexible planning process many changes and adaptations were made at Schützengarten’s request which proved to be of great value to the brewery. Both Martin Ketterer and Uwe Müller agree that it was a good idea to leave so much time for the ‘fine tuning’; this meant that in principle the order could be clarified prior to the awarding of the contract. “It was anything but a run-of-the-mill project, of course,” admits Uwe Müller with reference to the first KHS/Schubert block installed here. “A task as challenging as this can cause a few headaches.” The awarding of the contract itself merited a small celebration, his colleague Lutz Müller remembers. “We gave our colleagues at Schützengarten a bottle of red secco which we had dressed with a special label to express just how much passion had gone into the project at the planning stage alone.”
With one voice
One face to the customer: technical sales personnel from both companies visit the customer together in order to generate the maximum benefit for the plant. All interfaces are defined in advance, enabling trouble-free communication between colleagues.
The company cooperation adopts a holistic approach to give customers flexible production in the long term. Schubert offers extensive training courses and services and demonstrates many different approaches at its packaging workshops.
Installation in multiple shifts
The installation process was also planned in detail in advance as the machines weren’t brought in at ground level but – after successfully dismantling the existing plant equipment – had to be lifted onto the first floor by crane and positioned within a very short time indeed. As Schützengarten has very limited storage capacity and thus little opportunity to produce large batches of product in advance, the first ready-to-sell beverage had to roll off the machine within just three weeks. At least five to six weeks are usually scheduled for situations like this. Uwe Müller describes how this was made possible. “We only managed this because we worked with two full teams in several shifts – which is actually not the usual procedure.”
The commissioning stage was of course especially exciting for Martin Ketterer. “When we resume production, we’re not just looking at the mechanical details on a line like this but also whether all the interfaces are working properly. There are often moments when you hold your breath.” But when everything runs smoothly, Ketterer also knows why Schützengarten trusts in its partnership with KHS of 21 years – 14 years more than Ketterer’s time at Switzerland’s oldest brewery.