Smart thinking pays off

KAT PICKFORD
Last updated 07:39 15/11/2012

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Investment in innovation has helped Wine Bottlers Marlborough increase efficiencies and its client base, says the company's account manager, Daryl McMillan.

The wine glut from the bumper harvest of grapes in 2008 and the global recession have squeezed the New Zealand wine industry's margins during the past four years.

But by expanding its production line and warehouse space and investing in innovative bottling technology, Wine Bottlers Marlborough managed to retain its margins and build its client base without increasing prices, McMillan said.

"We've tried to keep prices static, instead focusing on improving our services and flexibility to secure more work and benchmark our efficiencies."

The company was started in 2004 and was owned by a group of mainly Marlborough-based shareholders, he said.

The business has taken on 10 extra fulltime staff in the past 18 months, raising employee numbers to 54, and plans to hire six more permanent staff.

During the busy bottling periods, it takes on an extra 18 contract labourers.

Two years ago, the company built a new bottling warehouse next to its site at the Cloudy Bay Business Park, leaving more space for storage and distribution.

The new plant, which almost doubled its footprint to 11,000 square metres, provided expansion opportunities and risk management and insurance in case of a natural disaster, McMillan said.

Last month, it installed a new Italian-manufactured bottling machine, which has a 45-head pre-rinser, 15-head de-oxidiser, 60-head filler and seven-head capper.

The process was done at blinding speed, taking only four seconds for each bottle, he said.

Further down the chain, there are two infra-red cameras on the labeller, which identify a marker on the bottle or cap, allowing the machine to rotate it and centre the label accurately.

The technology allowed customers to be more creative with their labelling and branding options, and provided a higher-quality, consistent finish, he said.

The combined bottling lines are capable of pumping out 30,000 dozen units in 16 hours.

"We now can do two eight-hour shifts, which leaves us time to do maintenance and trialling, without holding up commercial production."

Chief executive Lance McMillan said the volume of cleanskin wines jumped from 3 per cent to 30 per cent after 2008, which the company saw as an opportunity to improve its systems.

It commissioned Blenheim engineer Mark McClintock, who came up with the idea of adding a cleanskin component to the original bottling line.

McMillan and McClintock designed and built the machine, which significantly reduced operating costs and allowed the company to pass on the savings to its clients, he said.

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The volume of cleanskin wines had dropped to 19 per cent this year, and with less bulk wine on the market, there had been an increase in bottling, he said.

"Markets are firming up. We are 9 per cent busier than last year with new business, and are feeling very positive about the future of the industry."

- The Marlborough Express

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