The packaging side of chocolate

An anchor in uncertain times, chocolate is one of the most widely enjoyed foods in the world – it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t indulge in the occasional treat. It has been enjoyed by American tribes who used the basic ingredient of roasted beans from cocoa trees to make a rather bitter drink. The Europeans then added sugar and it wasn’t until later in the 19th century that firm, blocked chocolate bars that consumers are so familiar with today were created.

In the recent past, chocolate consumption has grown continuously, particularly in countries where prosperity is growing and developing middle classes have more disposable income [1]. Since 2015, the increased worldwide demand has been driving up the price of cocoa until it fell in 2017, to its lowest point in 10 years. However, the German market is stagnating; after years of growth the world champion consumer of chocolate seems to have reached the limit of its enjoyment.

Variety demands flexibility

The increasing competition generated by globalisation has led to an ever-greater variety for the end customer. Every year, new types and new formats are designed to be more sophisticated and individualised. A glance at the Ritter Sport brand demonstrates this. Production company Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co claims to be a German market leader in chocolate bars (level with Milka in 2016) and the third biggest in Europe. It currently offers 22 flavours in its range, with an additional product line including six nut varieties, small and large formats (250g bar, mini, chocolate cubes) and new lactose-free and vegan varieties with names like Quinoa and Amaranth.

The company, which was founded in 1912, today produces all chocolate products at its German site in Waldenbuch, near Stuttgart. Sold in over 100 countries, export counts for one third of its business and this looks set to increase. The company prides itself on its ‘vibrant’ square shape packaging. What’s more, the product can be easily opened with a snap.

What is behind this variety? What technology and machines are used? Since 2000, Ritter has been working with Bosch Packaging Technology to ensure the required market flexibility of its packaging production systems – from provisioning to order related assembly. Klaus Hätinger, head of production technology at Ritter, says, “For a long time, Bosch had been known to us as a provider of reliable packaging machinery and good service. However, we were won over by the way in which our real needs and requirements were considered and met. With the machines we use, we are in a position to convert to other formats within 10 to 15 minutes – without the need to use separate tools.”

Currently, Ritter operates 22 Bosch systems in Waldenbuch, of which 19 are modular, servo-controlled flow wrappers.

The one to replace the many

The digitally controlled systems have a balcony construction with a steel frame and integrated control cabinet. The modules enable quick adaptation of the packaging process to different shapes and seals so that a variety of products can be packaged using just one machine. Hätinger explains, “The short set-up times make it possible to cover many different formats with a single production line – previously, several machines were required.”

The flow wrapper is operated either using a modern HMI with a 12.1-inch touchscreen or a panel with function buttons, a graphical display and a jogging wheel. Machine analysis can be performed via an integrated memory, which displays incidents for 24 hours, including time data. The entire system is controlled digitally and, depending on layout, can be operated with PLCs by different manufacturers. Film transportation and seal roll pressure are affected by servo drives connected to a high-speed motion controller via a servo interface. These make high speeds and maximum performance possible, even with hot sealing.

Crucial to the acceptance of the Bosch solution was the high degree of system effectiveness. Hätinger estimates that the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is around 98 per cent which is a direct consequence of the high performance of the individual machines. He also points out that procurement costs are more than balanced out by the lifecycle costs, “With this solution, we achieve a high level of availability with minimal investment into spare parts, which prove to be cost-effective when calculated across the individual machines.”

Good service makes for good relationships

It is well known that the best service is the kind that is not needed. Unfortunately, the reality is often quite different. Hätinger notes, “We can actually handle most things ourselves, but when a Bosch Packaging expert is needed, they respond quickly, providing a first-rate service. The interpersonal relationship is very important for us, and this collaborative way of working has led to a high level of understanding between the two companies.”

It’s no coincidence that service quality derives from the design of the machines: the three separate access levels for operation, maintenance and engineering are said to make it easier for the user to independently carry out conversions, maintenance work and troubleshooting. Therefore, if the packaging stage was once something of a bottleneck in the overall chocolate manufacturing process, it is now the reverse – according to Hätinger, packaging technology is almost faster than the chocolate production process itself.

He adds, “We are planning to install this solution for additional production lines. It is important to us that the systems are still available in 10 to 15 years so that future solutions can be implemented.”

With its head office in Schiedam, the Netherlands, Bosch Packaging Technology has been part of the Bosch Group since 2003. The business area specialises in horizontal flow wrappers of modular design for the packaging of products in the confectionery and pharmaceutical industries.

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