By Brenda Loreman
The world over, clean water means life. In Guatemala, “Salvavidas”—or “life saver” in Spanish—is synonymous for pure bottled water. Since 1936, the Salvavidas company, a division of Cerveceria Centro America, S.A., has been bottling water in Guatemala. A combination of high quality, good
planning and progressive technology from companies like Portola Packaging allows Salvavidas to meet the continuing increased demand for bottled water in the country. In fact, Salvavidas has become the No. 1 water bottler in Guatemala, and its main plant in Guatemala City was reportedly—until only recently—the largest single such facility in the Americas. It’s now second.
Strategic planning: oversize
Part of Salvavidas’ strategic planning includes building new plants and installing equipment with a greater production capacity than is currently needed. “All of our plants are oversized,” says Plant Manager Carlos Novotny. “When we build, we always look ahead at least five years.” With each of Salvavidas’ four plants larger than needed, the company is able to handle any increased production demand, including the duration of the country’s hot months or catastrophic emergencies such as 1998’s Hurricane Mitch, which decimated Guatemala’s neighboring countries and caused disruption of services at home.
The Guatemala City plant runs six days a week for 24 hours a day using three shifts. Production averages nearly one million five-gallon refillable bottles per month—record-breaking numbers, according to Novotny. Production of five-gallon bottles is provided by a pair of large-capacity integrated bottling systems from Portola Packaging Inc. of San Jose, Calif. The two 2,100 bottle-per-hour (bph) systems, some of the largest Portola makes, run side-by-side on a staggered schedule that provides Salvavidas with round-the-clock operation and record-breaking production.
Portola engineered a unique configuration for the two five-gallon bottling lines. An extended conveyor layout provides maximum accumulation going into the washer and filler, ensuring a steady production rate of 2,100 bph from each system. Operators can load empty bottles consistently, with no gaps in production. A third line in the plant, using a gravity filler, fills 1- and 2.5-gallon, 0.5- and 1.5-liter bottles on a rotating production schedule.
Guatemalan consumers are no different from those in other regions
in the world and weather tends to dictate water sales. Production is heaviest March through May, during Guatemala’s hot months and lighter during the dryer, cooler months of November and December.
Binary bottling system
Salvavidas attributes its ability to meet production demand to the two bottling systems. Each runs 21 hours a day and the three-hour maintenance downtimes are staggered so that bottling is constant.
Empty bottles are manually unloaded from racks onto the system’s stainless steel in-feed conveyor, automatically de-capped then staged and automatically loaded into the washer, eight bottles at a time. The washer steadily indexes 144 bottles at a time through 18 consecutive cleaning cycle steps. Theses steps include exterior bottle pre-rinse, recirculated heated solution wash and detergent purge, ozone-based sanitation, a final rinse with product water, and an air blow step. A microprocessor or programmable logic controller (PLC) controls the index time and positions the bottles throughout the cleaning process for precise and thorough bottle cleaning. The systems’ efficient use of water has aided Salvavidas in reducing both water and energy consumption.
From the washer, clean bottles are conveyed to a clean room containing the filler and capper. With high-velocity air turnover, the clean room helps ensure sanitary filling conditions. The system’s 10-head, side-shift filler pre-stages 10 bottles at a time, providing for continuous filling of bottles in as little as seven seconds. A contamination-proof product water recovery system captures any overflow.
After filling, the bottles are automatically capped with a Salvavidas-designed flip-top cap. The system’s feeder includes a special lubricator system that sprays a small amount of ozonated water into the cap to remove any dust or particles, and ease the seating of the cap.
Once capped, the bottles exit the clean room, and a Videojet coder marks the cap with production information. An additional safety step, Salvavidas adds a shrink sleeve over the cap to provide tamper evidence and a freshness guarantee. The bottles are then loaded onto racks, and racks are taken by lift truck into the warehouse staging area for daily distribution.
Priority: high quality
Part of the cause for increased bottled water demand in Guatemala is the changing awareness of the health benefits of bottled water. “People here are beginning to look at bottled water as a need rather than a luxury,” says Novotny. “They are looking for a source of water they can drink with confidence, for good health and a better quality of life.”
Providing the citizens of Guatemala with the highest quality of water possible is a high priority. “Our number one goal is quality,” says Edgar Castillo, Salvavidas’ general manager. “As a large company, we can afford to spend more to make sure that our products meet the most rigid standards and we are
known for quality and leadership in the industry.
“All of our plants are inspected by NSF International and we regularly receive certificates of excellence for good manufacturing practices. As a member of the International Bottled Water Association, one of our goals is to continuously improve the standards and technology in the industry. One way we strive to achieve that goal is to use NSF-certified vendors.” Portola was the first equipment vendor in the industry to achieve NSF certification for their bottling systems.
QC, QA and loyalty
To help achieve their high quality priority, Salvavidas meets or exceeds NSF water quality testing standards. Quality control (QC) personnel analyze the water at Salvavidas daily, testing it at every step of the bottling process. As required by NSF, an independent lab tests the water on a monthly basis to guarantee reliability of Salvavidas’ in-house testing.
Part of quality assurance (QA) involves a rigorous multi-barrier filtration system. After initial chlorination, the water is subjected to microfiltration, down to 0.45 microns. Ultraviolet (UV) sterilization follows, and then ozonation just prior to bottling. “With this process, we can assure at least one year of shelf life,” says Novotny. “We get visitors from around the world who want to look at our process to see how it’s done.”
Reliance on the highest-quality technology and testing standards is an aid to producing a quality product. For Latin American companies, building relationships is also an important part of any successful business. At Salvavidas, this includes employee relationships as well as equipment supplier relationships. Employee teamwork is an integral part of Salvavidas’ business and ability to plan for future growth. “One of the most important factors we rely on is our work force,” notes Castillo. “It’s one of our main strengths. We are one of the most stable companies in the country, and many people want to work here. We have great employee loyalty and our employees identify themselves with us.”
An equipment supplier relationship, like that with Portola, provides Salvavidas with benefits beyond mere equipment. “Our relationship with Portola began more than 15 years ago, and we consider the people at Portola to be our friends,” says Castillo. “They are very warm people and we feel comfortable doing business with them. Over the years, they have always been willing to give advice, ideas and assistance. Portola’s philosophy is to build the best equipment in the industry. In the whole world, there are many companies who build very good equipment, but we believe theirs is the best.”
With a committed workforce, beneficial business relationships and a dedication to high quality, Salvavidas looks forward to continued growth. To handle that growth, Salvavidas plans to build new or update existing regional facilities to keep up with production demand.
The three additional facilities, at Quetzaltenango, Escuintla and Zacapa, all have installed automatic bottling systems. These regional plants aid distribution and allow the main facility to maintain an extra cushion of capacity. Plans are in the works for a new facility in the northern jungle district of El Petén.
“We want to be known as a Guatemalan company that produces refreshing drinks of the highest quality, at a reasonable cost,” says Castillo. “We use the best technology to meet the needs of our customers and ultimately, to work together for the benefit of our country.”
About the author
Brenda Loreman, who also provided the photos, is an associate with Keck & Co., a San Francisco management consulting firm with a nationwide practice in strategic research, marketing, and planning for industrial firms that manufacture packaging and processing equipment and related technologies similar to the large-capacity CapSnap® PortaPlant™ integrated bottling systems from Portola Packaging discussed in this article. She can be reached at (650) 854 9588, (650) 854 7240 (fax) or email: firstname.lastname@example.org