They likely didn't realize it at the time, but brothers Thomas and James Ripy created the birthplace of an American bourbon icon in 1869 when they opened their distillery on the bank of the Kentucky River just outside Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.
The distillery survived America's prohibition period in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1940, its bourbon product attained the Wild Turkey moniker from a distillery executive who had brought the distinctive spirit on a turkey-hunting excursion.
Nearly 70 years later, the distillery and its bourbon made history again when Italy-based spirits giant Campari acquired the Wild Turkey brand in 2009. Wild Turkey had become a staple in bourbon aisles throughout the United States and was sold in more than 60 international markets. Campari saw an opportunity to continue this track record of success both in the U.S., which accounted for about half of the bourbon's sales, and abroad.
To support higher product demand, however, Campari identified needs for upgrading and expanding the Wild Turkey distillery. Campari wanted to modernize the distillery's production operations with the latest automation technologies, and bring the processing and bottling work in-house to increase efficiencies and cost effectiveness.
In the first phase of its $100 million facility expansion, Campari constructed a new distillery with a plantwide process system that replaced manual processes that had been in place for decades. The new distillery delivered the same flavor profile that customers expected, increased overall production capacity, and helped operators achieve a deeper understanding of the production processes to optimize operations.
As production doubled with the new Wild Turkey process control system in place, transportation requirements limited the company's growth. When Campari purchased Wild Turkey, the aged bourbon products were being shipped from the Lawrenceburg distillery to Fort Smith, Arkansas, for third-party processing and packaging. As a result, Campari incurred additional transportation costs in shipping the product nearly 460 miles. This also restricted Campari's control of its product and limited scheduling flexibility.
To help manage transportation costs, Campari sought to construct a new processing and bottling facility alongside the Wild Turkey distillery. This greenfield facility would provide on-site processing and bottling capabilities for the entire line of Wild Turkey products – including Wild Turkey 81, Wild Turkey 101 and American Honey bourbons and whiskeys. Campari also sought to use the facility for the processing and bottling of its Skyy Vodka products.
Campari wanted the latest automation technologies to be used at the new facility to help ensure consistent and high-quality spirits products for its customers. Campari also needed data analysis and reporting tools to ensure compliance with the strict regulations in the spirits industry.
During construction of the Wild Turkey distillery in 2010, Campari selected Kansas-based Bachelor Controls Inc. (BCI), a Rockwell Automation Solution Partner, to design and implement the control architecture. Campari competitively bid the distillery's automation technology provider and ultimately chose Rockwell Automation over the incumbent. When the time came to choose an automation provider for the new processing and bottling facility, Campari this time didn't need to put out a bid – it opted to again use Rockwell Automation.
“We wanted to expand on the success of the distillery's automation system,” said Wayne Knabel, packaging director for Wild Turkey. “The Rockwell Automation control technology that was already in place allowed us to double our production, improve operator effectiveness and reduce losses. We saw an opportunity to replicate this success in the new facility.”
The new 144,000-square-foot facility houses approximately 40 tanks that provide a total of 635,000 gallons of storage capacity. This includes two 50,000-gallon bulk storage tanks where bourbon, whiskey and vodka products are first brought in, as well as processing and bottling tanks that range in capacity from 4,000 to 25,000 gallons. The facility also houses three high-speed automated bottling lines and one low-speed manual bottling line, which is used for limited runs.
Each spirits product is processed based on its specific recipe. Flowing through the processing facility, the spirits are directed to appropriate tanks – from receiving sweeteners in blending tanks to being cooled, filtered and cut to proof in bottling tanks – before they are transferred to the bottling lines.
BCI chose the PlantPAx? process automation system from Rockwell Automation, combined with the BCI Batch Engine? XE, to provide control and information capabilities across the entire facility. Using a similar architecture to the distillery enables technicians to share knowledge, information and parts between the two plants, which are only a few hundred yards apart.
The PlantPAx system provides ingredient receipt, batch management and control for the processing operations. Operators and managers use ingredient-management and batch reports to schedule and run batches, as well as to track the flow of specific ingredients and lots to confirm they are correctly made.
The system helps ease regulatory compliance. Utilizing FactoryTalk? View SE software from Rockwell Automation, operators can monitor the flow of spirits down to the gallon throughout the operation. They can then use this information to track production, and provide monthly inventory and annual reports required by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau.
The quality department was involved in the entire project to ensure there was no impact to the spirits' taste, consistency or quality. Their efforts included selecting the appropriate filtration equipment, using the right specifications, developing the necessary operational and cleaning procedures, and nurturing a workplace culture that makes quality a priority.
“Our quality and operations teams worked closely together from the onset,” Knabel said. “We made an effort to gain employee buy-in along the way and empower them in their jobs. Our employees have the power to stop the line due to product nonconformance or to make adjustments to the process.”
The new processing and bottling facility opened in May 2013 and became fully operational in March 2014. Over those 10 months, operational equipment effectiveness (OEE) increased from 10 to 20 percent to approximately 70 percent. Despite this significant improvement, Knabel and his team are setting their sights higher with the goal of reaching a best-in-class OEE performance level of 85 percent.
“The PlantPAx system has helped us get better and better every day with regard to our processing, bottling and material-handling operations,” Knabel said. “Our KPIs are all trending up, and our cost per case is going down.”
Ultimately, bringing the processing and bottling operations on-site has helped Campari decrease its time-to-market. The highly automated facility has given the company a new level of control and flexibility to manage its materials and improve its processes.
“Having two new, state-of-the-art facilities in place allows us to combine the old world skills of our master distiller, Jimmy Russell, with the latest production technologies,” Knabel said. “The ability to craft and perfect our bourbon and whiskey recipes, and then produce a consistent, high-quality product for customers – all right here in Lawrenceburg – gives us a level of control that we didn't possess three years ago.”