Portugal is one of the most popular vacation countries in Europe and is synonymous with excellent specialty wines and beers worldwide. It’s good to see that things have been improving for a while now in some sectors of the economy, too. The ongoing successful history of Unicer Bebidas is just one remarkable example of this.
As part of a restructure Unicer recently centralized its brewing activities at its Leça do Balio site near Porto. The company is well versed in strategic realignment protocol; milestones to date include the privatization of the state-owned company in 1990, diversification of its portfolio to include non-alcoholic beverages, wines and the production of coffee in the year 2001 and in 2006 the return to its core areas of expertise and the subsequent sale of certain areas of the company.
This last change of course has obviously not damaged the company at all as Unicer now holds a top position on Portugal’s beer and water market and also services around 50 foreign markets in Europe and overseas. The investment the Portuguese group made in the expansion of its facilities near Porto was also accordingly substantial. “We provided €100 million for what’s currently one of the biggest investment projects in Portugal,” reports COO Carlos César Morais Teixeira with a clear sense of pride. “In view of the still difficult economic situation at the moment, this is very good for both our country and its people.”
Unicer ordered no fewer than two turnkey glass lines, one for returnable and one for non-returnable bottles, and, as replacement investments for existing lines, three fillers for glass bottles, three keg washing and racking systems and one pasteurizer (see ’Major achievement’). For reasons of sustainability the Portuguese chose to use the KHS Eco+ vacuum pump on their glass bottle fillers. As its new kegging technology, Unicer took delivery of three Innokeg Till Transomat 5/1 DUOs which wash, sterilize, and rack its kegs.
With the KHS Eco+ vacuum pump on its glass lines Unicer saves on classic coolants. It also needs hardly any water to cool the vacuum pump and has reduced its energy consumption (the energy efficiency is far higher than the customer’s specifications). The excellent cleaning results and minimum oxygen and gas pickup in the product of the keg lines have the company convinced.
“We very specifically opted for KHS as our only trusted supplier and partner,” states José Pinto, plant manager at Unicer. “We associate the KHS brand with top filling equipment which ensures and doesn’t alter the high quality of our beer in either the bottle or the keg over a long period of time. We’d studied the Innofill Glass DRS-ZMS, the most modern system on the market at the moment, at other breweries prior to investment and it was always recommended.” Pinto is still just as positive today – also to visitors who come to his plant for reference. “We’re very happy with our new fillers. They operate with minimum oxygen pickup and are a major component in our quality concept. They also fully adhere to our sustainability strategy as we’re saving considerably on energy, water, and cleaning media.”
And the Portuguese have set sail for further growth: for example in Angola, where their first brewery outside Portugal is due to open in 2016, and in Brazil, where Unicer brands are brewed under license. Unicer therefore hopes to double its sales to a round a billion euros by 2020. “However,” states plant manager Pinto, “we don’t expect to realize a project as complex as this one on this scale ever again.” Whatever the odds, this is still a major achievement.
9 new lines in just 15 months
Kai Jusek from the KHS office in Portugal can only agree. “The main criterion for success was the perfect interaction of all components.” This started with joint visits to similar lines in Germany and continued with a line simulation process which had been researched right down to the last detail. “We watched the results of the simulation online in real time in Leça do Balio,” remembers João Marcelo Guimaraes, Unicer’s project manager, and plant manager José Pinto.
At the same time KHS began training employees at both the Unicer site and various KHS workshops. The manufacture of the lines and machines continued in parallel in order to push ahead with the tight schedule for installation, test runs, and commissioning. An initial delay of about one week was compensated for by the special effort of the “extremely professional team”, to quote KHS sales expert Frank Schneidermann.
At the fervent final stage the project was practically running in three shifts, with the project team working even closer together. “We were coordinating and sending emails more or less from six in the morning to three at night,” reports Kai Jusek. The reward came with the commissioning of the last machine to be installed, with all those involved proud of the fact that they had done something quite remarkable: made their plant state of the art – a major achievement.