That legendary fizzing noise you get when you pop the crown cork of a Coca-Cola bottle is synonymous with refreshment all over the world. This also applies to Mexico, where one particular episode in the history of the RICA company is inextricably linked to this sound. Once upon a time Don Antonio Rivera Venegas invented an embossing machine for the serial production of crown corks and in doing so put beverage filling in Mexico on a professional footing. Over 70 years ago the businessman founded Embotelladora La Minera, now Embotelladora Las Margaritas. With its two bottling facilities in Pachuca and Cuautla it’s now part of Corporación RICA, whose name is an acronym formed from the first syllables of the founder’s surname (Rivera) and that of his wife (Castellanos).
The Coca-Cola Group clocks up around 12% of its worldwide sales in Mexico which with a population of 125 million is the fifth-largest country in the Americas. There are no fewer than eight independent Coca-Cola bottlers here. With a workforce of approximately 2,300 RICA may not be the largest of these but justifiably prides itself in being one of the best: thanks to its operative excellence, for years the bottling company has acted as a good reference – both in Mexico and within the Coca-Cola Group worldwide. This is illustrated by a great number of awards, one of which is the Copa Legacy, a cup which the umbrella organization Industria Mexicana de Coca-Cola (IMCC) presents in recognition of outstanding performance regarding both strategy and business figures. In addition, RICA practically has a subscription to the National Quality Award which it has already won seven times. Julio Rodriguez, plant manager in Cuautla, is especially proud of this. “It’s important to us to set an example both economically and also socially and ecologically. This is reflected in our RENOVACIÓN project, in which we’re successively rejuvenating our machine park and further developing our philosophy so that we grow closer together as the RICA family.” The start of modernization was marked by the company investing on a massive scale; over the last few years the franchiser has poured €20 million into renewing its technical equipment with the aim of reducing its operating costs without having to compromise on capacity or customer satisfaction.
RICA has gained support in its endeavors from Dortmund systems supplier KHS. At its Pachuca site no fewer than three new InnoPET Blomax stretch blow molders with 14, 12 and 8 cavities and an InnoPET BloFill stretch blow molder/filler block with 8 stations were procured for 4 of the 6 lines. An Innopro Paramix C blending system and conveyors built at KHS Mexico in Zinacantepec were also installed. At the RICA plant in Cuautla in the state of Morelos one of the site’s four lines was given a new InnoPET Blomax 8 stretch blow molder, while the glass line was equipped with a new Innofill Glass DRS filler. This is by no means the end of the story for RICA; future projects include a line for carbonated soft drinks with a capacity of up to 30,000 600-milliliter PET bottles per hour and a palletizer for the PET line in Cuautla.
In cooperation with KHS the Coca-Cola bottler is also performing extensive lightweighting trials – and successfully so. The weight of the 600-milliliter Coca-Cola bottle has been cut down to 17.75 grams and that of the 2.0-liter coke container to 38 grams. The 600-milliliter bottle for still water now weighs just 13 grams. “This reduction in weight constitutes a real competitive advantage for us,” explains Rodriguez. “It not only boosts the profitability of our company but is also an expression of our commitment to the environment – an issue which is becoming increasingly important in Mexico. Together with our partners, injection molding machine manufacturer Husky and KHS, we’ve agreed on ambitious but realistic targets which have helped to make our project more sustainable.” RICA isn’t only challenging the Coca-Cola Group with its campaign for lighter bottles; in keeping with its high ecological demands the company also regularly experiments with the use of recycled PET.
KHS was chosen as a partner because RICA values the German manufacturer of machines and systems as one of the worldwide providers of plant technology. Says Rodriguez, “With KHS we share a corporate vision: namely to always be one step ahead. We thus consider our relationship to be not just a normal business arrangement between a customer and supplier but a real partnership. It was important for us that the Germans always felt part of our team. We often continued our meetings with a communal lunch among friends.”
Detailed planning, precise implementation
The cooperation was thus successful. Thanks to the efforts of dedicated project managers, engineers and the responsible key account manager at KHS, plus weekly meetings of all those involved, delays caused during transportation by sea, for example, could be compensated for so that importation and commissioning could take place on the agreed dates. Thanks to extremely detailed planning and the precise implementation thereof installation went smoothly, enabling the first bottles to be approved by Coca-Cola on the same day the machine was commissioned. RICA is especially pleased with the energy savings the new systems yield. In this respect Jaime Angeles, area product manager at KHS in Hamburg, has the following anecdote to report: “Once the new systems had been installed, it wasn’t only the customer who very quickly noticed that the energy consumption of the entire plant had been reduced by about a third. Three months later inspectors from the state energy supplier suddenly turned up at RICA to subject the factory to a thorough audit. On the invoices issued to the company the amount of energy consumed had dropped so much that they thought something fishy was going on.” We hardly need mention that the drop in consumption was of course caused solely by RICA’s efficient new technology!
Plant manager Rodriguez isn’t just delighted by his energy savings but also by the line’s greater efficiency. “The new machines at the start of our production chain also allow us to push the packaging and palletizing section. This has reduced downtime and we’ve been able to establish a stable production process. All told, since commissioning we’ve increased the availability of our systems by 8% on average,” he smiles. This means that Corporación RICA really is setting a good example – and not just within the Coca-Cola Group.