By: Alyssa L. Ochs
Much of the winemaking process focuses on growing and harvesting grapes and turning raw materials into the amazing beverage that is loved worldwide. But once those bottles, cans, pouches or boxes get filled, some essential work is still to be done.
End-of-line packaging is an integral part of getting wine into the hands of consumers and establishing a brand image. Therefore, it’s good to know all the details that go into the packaging process to make it as efficient, safe and cost-effective as possible.
Machinery and Materials for End-of-Line Packaging
Various machinery exists for end-of-line packaging solutions, including depalletizers, decasers, case erectors, packers, partitioners and case sealers. Some wineries use an automatic process, while others rely on old-fashioned manual labor to package their wine.
Automation is typically implemented when a winery’s line speeds get to at least 120 bpm as a way of reducing labor, producing more product or adding diversity to packaging sizes and configurations. While automation requires a significant up-front investment, it can help keep winery employees safe and take production to the next level.
Pallets, cartons, shrink wrap, Styrofoam and Tetra Paks are commonly used to ship wine. Ensuring that wine is protected from damage is the top priority during shipping, but the aesthetic appeal of the packaging is also a consideration for wineries to keep in mind.
End-of-Line Recommendations from Industry Experts
The best way to learn about end-of-line packaging solutions is to talk to companies specializing in this part of the winemaking process.
Bryan Sinicrope, Vice President of Sales and Marketing for A-B-C Packaging Machine Corporation in Tarpon Springs, Florida, told The Grapevine Magazine that his company offers several options for packing, including robotic and pick-and-place machines for bottled wines. He said that these robotic and pick-and-place machines have features to protect both the closure and label during packing to preserve package integrity. For pouch-packaged and cartoned wine, robot packers provide maximum flexibility to pack into cases or trays with servo-powered product feed, gentle robotic packing and quick changeover at the operator station.
“We also offer a semi-automatic carton packer for smaller operations that package wine in cartons with speeds up to 10 cases per minute,” Sinicrope said. “This packer uses one attendant to supply cases to the packing section, while the packer automatically orients and stacks the cartons. The packed cases feed to a case sealer.”
A-B-C Packaging has been providing packaging solutions since 1940 and serves a variety of industries, including beverage, automotive, electronics, chemical, pharmaceutical and more. The company offers machines that close and seal the top case flaps with adhesive or tape and square the case as it is sealed for maximum stability on the pallet.
They also sell low-level, robot and semi-automatic palletizers to accommodate wineries’ budgets, space, flexibility requirements, speed and personal preference. Sinicrope said that the low-level machines are easy to install and help keep operating costs low due to the floor-level control and simple maintenance.
“These palletizers convey cases into layers with complete flexibility for pallet patterns,” Sinicrope said. “The patterns are programmed into the HMI, and new pallet configurations can be set on the plant floor. Also available are empty pallet feed, slip sheet insertion and full pallet discharge. These palletizers are a good solution for most wineries.”
Meanwhile, A-B-C Packaging’s robot palletizers can handle multiple product types with minimal hardware because these machines stack cases on pallets in preset configurations with the option to easily program new patterns. A-B-C Packaging’s semi-automatic palletizers can be converted to full automation for small wineries looking to upgrade their equipment.
“They require one full-time operator who creates the pallet patterns by orienting cases from the line,” Sinicrope said. “The palletizer lifts and stacks the pallet layers. Completed pallets are removed by a forklift driver who also positions the next empty pallet.”
ABE Beverage Equipment, a company based in Lincoln, Nebraska, also serves the winery market and has expanded its equipment solutions to address rapid growth in canning and ready-to-drink packaging options. In fact, the company changed its name from American Beer Equipment to ABE Beverage Equipment in 2020 to better reflect its all-encompassing lineup of equipment solutions for nearly every beverage market. Amanda Podwinski handles sales and marketing for ABE Beverage Equipment. She told The Grapevine Magazine that in addition to canning lines for carbonated and still beverages, ABE offers the AutoPak Can Carrier Applicator, an end-of-line automatic carrier applicator for six- or four-packs of cans.
“This labor-saving system offers a minimal footprint and is adjustable to accommodate a variety of cans and configurations,” Podwinski said. “Carrier applicators are an excellent choice for marketing multi-packs of wine in cans. As competition heats up in the canned wine marketplace, ABE also offers a 12- and 24-pack case wrapping system, perfect for wineries looking for ways to minimize their canned wine packaging costs. The ABE ShrinkPak is designed to shrink-wrap cases of cans when selling bulk, rather than by way carrier packs. Case costs can be reduced by as much as 60% when compared to corrugated packaging.”
Mistakes Wineries Often Make with End-of-Line Packaging
Every winery has its own preferences and processes for packaging wine, but some common mistakes seem to repeat themselves throughout the industry. One example? Assuming all packaging options are equal. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for packaging wine.
“Everyone’s space, budget and resources differ,” Podwinski said. “In the highly competitive beverage industry, there are plenty of suppliers offering one-off parts or equipment. To ensure you receive the most reliable solution, ABE Beverage Equipment provides a comprehensive approach to your beverage equipment line. At ABE, we design and engineer your equipment from the ground up, ensuring you receive the highest quality product. And we don’t stop there: Our world-class team of engineers, manufacturers, customer service techs and support staff are by your side to help you plan, launch, build and maintain your beverage business. We promise our dedicated partnership will extend beyond just providing your equipment.”
Not considering future flexibility is another common mistake that wineries make with their packaging.
“While a winery may be packaging only 12-packed cases of 750 ml bottles right now, they may find opportunities in alternate bottle sizes, container styles or pallet configurations as time goes by,” Sinicrope said. “With flexible equipment, they can take advantage of these opportunities without a large capital investment or line downtime.”
Trends and Innovations in End-of-Line Packaging
Because of advances in modern technology and lessons learned from challenges with end-of-line packaging, companies that work in this niche industry continue to develop promising solutions. For example, A-B-C Packaging has introduced a compact palletizer with a small modular footprint to accommodate tight line layouts. This advancement emerged in response to wineries having limited space for equipment in the packaging area of their production facilities.
“It occupies from 10 to 30% less floor space than conventional low-level machines, with an open profile and full machine guarding,” Sinicrope said.
Concerning trends and innovations, Podwinski said ABE Equipment products could be used across various industries looking to package, label and produce different types of products.
“ABE’s innovative equipment solutions span several markets, product types and industries,” Podwinski said. “The equipment we have built for nearly 30 years continues to evolve to meet the needs of today’s entrepreneurs. This includes solutions for a variety of container sizes, shapes and materials.”
Choosing the Right End-of-Line Packaging for Your Winery
Since there are several options available today for end-of-line packaging solutions, wineries should start researching machines and materials before they are truly needed.
Sinicrope said wineries should talk to their potential suppliers about the best ways to ship their wine. “Discuss your goals, ask questions and listen to their recommendations, and they can help you find the best solution for your winery packaging line,” he said.
Ultimately, trends in wine consumption are changing how wineries approach end-of-line packaging and equipment choices. Podwinski said that canned wine is making a substantial impact on how wine is sold.
“Multiple cans packaged together make a sturdy package that in many cases is less likely to be damaged and [more likely to] arrive safely and allow consumers to take their favored beverage into numerous environments,” she said. “Cans may be new to many wineries, but with the versatility and environmentally friendly impact that cans offer, wineries would benefit from investigating this opportunity further.”