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From bottlenecks to bottles: Developing a turnkey beverage concentrate production solution

Hold onto your bottlecaps. When this leading manufacturer set out on a path to rule the beverage world, they wasted no time assessing their network for expansion. They quickly determined that reliance on a sole U.S. production site for its beverage concentrates (highly concentrated flavors used to make finished beverages or syrup for fountain drinks) was a flat-out gamble. So, they set their sights on the future and chose an old distribution center in Europe, as their gateway to international expansion.

There was a physical building, but to get the facility ready for production it was more like a greenfield project. Due to the scale of this endeavor, the beverage leader needed an experienced partner they could trust.  Having brewed success together with other projects, this customer leaned into our existing relationship and proven experience.

No project too big

Rather than waste time and money managing a montage of vendors, they asked us to provide a turnkey, start-to-finish solution for everything required to produce their beverage concentrates. The project scale was massive, requiring deep expertise across different areas. That would be problematic for some companies, but with our incredible in-house resources spread across the Gray family of companies, we were ready to pour everything we had into this project, including:

  • Equipment gathering We sourced all the necessary processing equipment to turn ingredients into syrups, from beginning to end.
  • Automation expertise We designed controls for the process lines, added a clean-in-place (CIP) system for sanitation, and whipped up a solid batching process.
  • Tech integration Our tech know-how wasn't limited to the plant floor. We seamlessly merged IT and OT, ensuring the facility's digital gears turned in perfect harmony.

Before a single speck of construction dust flew, we enlisted one of our sister companies to craft a 3D model of the facility. We didn’t do this just to impress them; it also allowed us to refine the design as we went along. We're big fans of the 3D approach because, unlike the more common 2D drawings, they provide a much more realistic view of the plant and its inner workings than a flat blueprint ever could. Bonus points: they also save time and money, and we work smarter, always.

Brexit's bumps and COVID's curveballs

As fate would have it, this project was set to commence precisely when COVID-19 shut down the world and travel all but disappeared. Since “can’t” isn’t in our vocabulary, we quickly pivoted. Our internal agility and flexibility allowed us to chart a course for remote work, seamlessly connecting our team with the Gray Construction and customer representatives stationed in Europe. Recognizing the value of a boots-on-the-ground presence, we extended our reach by forming partnerships with several companies based in the area. These new allies became our eyes and ears onsite, taking care of tasks that demanded in-person attention. Some of the key partners we closely collaborated with throughout the project included Rockwell distributor Consolidated Electrical Distributors (CED) and Tamaki Control.

To keep things moving throughout the multi-faceted project, there was a flurry of parallel activity. To ensure that no detail slipped through the cracks and all stakeholders stayed informed we crafted a set of communication best practices. Our intent was clear: proactively address potential snags to prevent them from snowballing into major roadblocks.

As the project unfolded, we needed vendors onsite—operating in isolation wasn't a viable option. The constraints imposed by COVID added an extra layer of complexity, limiting the number of individuals allowed in a given space. But because of the trust we’d developed with the customer and our vendors, as well as clear, consistent communication, we overcame all of the pandemic-related hurdles we faced.

To comply with ATEX, we opted for the Allen-Bradley 1718 Ex I/O modules. We also leveraged pre-engineered enclosure solutions from Rockwell Automation's Encompass partner, Pepperl+Fuchs (P+F). A key advantage of P+F solutions is their exemption from additional lab testing or certification, which streamlined the deployment process. We had to tweak some other design components to align with ATEX, such as adjusting the direction of power cords and incorporating special gaskets and explosion-proof cables. Thanks to the collective expertise of our project team, and the insights from partners CED and P+F, we skillfully tackled the ATEX requirements.

As if navigating through the delays caused by pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions wasn't enough, we encountered another formidable obstacle: the onset of Brexit. This threw a wrench in the works when it came to transporting equipment to the facility. Once we resolved that, the commissioning phase presented its own set of challenges. Our U.S.-based team went the extra mile, battling the time zone differences with unwavering dedication. This commitment translated into a marathon of remote factory acceptance testing (FAT), ensuring that every component was up to the mark.

Can’t is where we come in

In the face of challenges that could've sent most integrators running for cover, we stood our ground, undeterred by the global pandemic or the Brexit upheaval. At Gray Solutions, we have a knack for turning roadblocks into speed bumps. Mundane? Not in our vocabulary. We embraced each curveball and complexity with an unyielding spirit. Problems might knock, but we always answer with our signature blend of unwavering commitment and tireless problem-solving.