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Background

In today’s state-of-the-art breweries, each bottle of beer is labeled in a split second, faster than the eye can see. But precision is equal to speed in this process, because consumers often avoid products with crooked or torn labels, assuming  the contents are damaged goods. When labels go askew, the major reason is a wet bottle. Water is an essential element of beer, but it creates a slippery surface on containers as they travel –often at speeds of 2,000 bottles a minute – into the packaging process. Even the tiniest bubble on the outside can allow the label to shift. To increase quality control, major brewers and other beverage and food companies have turned to JetAir Technologies, based in Ventura, Calif. JetAir creates and manufactures the industry’s most advanced centrifugal blowers, air knives and drying systems which instantly strip moisture from bottles and cans, creating a dry surface for labels, as well as for other packaging operations like case packing and stamping date codes. Unlike conventional systems, JetAir’s high-pressure industrial blowers are powered by direct-drive, high-speed motors. “Direct-drive helps eliminate the need for maintenance-intensive belts and pulleys that the beverage industry has used for the past 40 years,” explained Kevin Beyer, vice president of sales for JetAir.

Challenge

For beverage and food manufacturers, packaging is as important as the product. “Even a slightly uneven label on a beer bottle can turn off consumers,” said Dan Snyder, JetAir’s vice president for development. But getting that label to stick straight is no easy task, especially when millions of bottles are moving down the line everyday and water is an intricate part of the process. Right before beer is labeled, the containers emerge from the pasteurization “rain tunnel.” Then, there is another source of wetness – condensation – that is especially troublesome in humid conditions, including tropical climates. “You need a dry surface to apply a label correctly,” Beyer said. But conventional belt-driven blowers were not consistently and instantly doing the job. “With summertime humidity, some brewing facilities, particularly in the southeast, had to run slower because the bottles were wetter,” Beyer explained.  “The last thing brewers wanted is to run slower in the summertime when people want to drink more beer.” Regardless of location, beverage companies consistently had to deal with belts breaking on traditional air knife drying systems. “Every time a belt would break, it would shut down a line,” Beyer said. “This was expensive for these companies. When they’re running two million bottles a day, downtime costs them a fortune.”

Solution

JetAir technology combines direct-drive with a high-speed motor to increase the amount of air in the drying process. “Its pure physics – the greater the speed, the more the mass air flow,” Beyer said. “At 14,000 to 20,000 rpm, our centrifugal blower instantly strips water off, making labels adhere even in harsh conditions, like high humidity.” At the heart of JetAir’s product is an integrated architecture solution from Rockwell Automation. Key components include an Allen-Bradley ControlLogix programmable automation controller, which manages all control functions of the highpressure blower, a networked Allen-Bradley PowerFlex 70 variable frequency drive, and an Allen-Bradley MicroLogix controller. The Rockwell Automation control system provides precise variable frequency drive coordination, real-time process control and immediate access to crucial operating data. “The PowerFlex variable frequency drive allows our blower technology to operate,” Snyder said. “To get to 20,000 rpm, we needed to crank up the frequency of the power supply to the motor. Because of the magic of PowerFlex technology, we can do that.” “The PowerFlex 70 drive not only makes the system faster, but also smarter and more efficient,” Snyder said. “The benefits go well beyond the elimination of belts and pulleys,” he explained. “Intelligence is inherent in the PowerFlex 70 drive. It has all kinds of capabilities in place to keep the system running at optimum capacity and to alert operators if there is any kind of problem.” The networked drive automatically assesses system functions, constantly checking for faults, such as a loose wire or electrical overloading. The drive also monitors and automatically adjusts motor speed. JetAir executives also appreciate the drive’s flexible capabilities, and the fact that so much power is contained in such a compact unit.

Results

The company, which formed around this patent-pending technology just five years ago, today counts Fortune 500 food and beverage companies among its customers. “Our systems are much more efficient than anything else out there,” Snyder said. “With the high cost of energy, everyone appreciates that efficiency.” JetAir’s customers also save money because the PowerFlex drive helps reduce downtime. “With no belts to break, maintenance is virtually eliminated,” Beyer said. Beyer and Snyder credit Rockwell Automation for helping them land major customers worldwide. “When I tell potential customers that Rockwell Automation is my associate, they know we’re for real, and our sale is much, much easier,” Beyer said. Besides opening doors to potential customers, Rockwell Automation has provided ongoing technical support and other resources to help JetAir Technologies compete globally. “We are a small company in Southern California, but Rockwell Automation has helped us negotiate in many different geographies,” Beyer said. To help serve its European customers, for instance, JetAir has relied on a consistent supply chain from Rockwell Automation, as well as its international business experience. “Working with Rockwell Automation has streamlined the process for us to deliver drives in Germany and other countries,” Beyer said. “We’ve also relied on Rockwell Automation’s experience to help us figure out foreign systems of taxation and distribution channels. They know the details and they have answers – even when it comes to multilingual service support.” Not every question can be answered over the phone. That was the case in 2006, Snyder recalled, when a brewery in South Africa needed help troubleshooting a problem with one of JetAir’s blower systems. “We called Rockwell Automation, and the next day, a Rockwell Automation representative in South Africa contacted the customer and made arrangements to visit them,” Snyder said. “We looked really good and the customer was blown away!”