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KR QUANTEC packs Champagne bottles at Piper-Heidsieck & Charles Heidsieck

Tradition can go hand in hand with technological innovation, as two major champagne brands have proven. KUKA robots have been unpacking bottles at Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck for several months now.

A very French company with an international reputation 

The globally acclaimed champagne houses Piper-Heidsieck und Charles Heidsieck – founded in 1785 and 1851, respectively – are two “made in France” flagship brands. Since July 2011, they have been under the full ownership of the companies went to the Descours family. Philippe Soriano, head of technology, is in charge of the construction of new systems and investment in new production equipment. He explains, due to the growth of the two houses, they were obliged to give up the magnificent premises in the heart of Reims. Beginning in 1995, the company gradually moved to a more adequete location on the outskirts of the city. While the tanks, production lines and administration departments are now housed in several ultramodern buildings, the wine cellars remain located in the city center.
The tanks of the champagne houses Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck are housed in ultramodern buildings.

Robot technology for maximum flexibility 

In 2011, Philippe Soriano was considering fast and flexible solutions for replacing the old machine, whose job it was to unpack the bottles after they were cleaned. He contacted Fege, a leading integrator in the bottling industry and one of KUKA’s longstanding, official partners.

According to Fege, the greatest difficulty lay in the variety of bottle formats and storage methods (champagne or burgundy wine). Indeed, production varies according to the various bottle volumes (half bottle, 75 cl, magnum) and shapes (champagne, Piper RARE or the new Crayère bottle). 

The greatest difficulty lay in the variety of bottle formats and storage methods.
It was clear that a simple manipulator would not be able to handle all of these formats. This led Fege to design and develop a robot cell that could meet these challenges. A shelf-mounted KUKA QUANTEC K robot removes the champagne bottles from the crates and places them on a conveyor belt which transports them along to the packaging steps. What makes this cell so ingenious is the simplicity of the gripper tool, which consists of suction ramps without a moving element. To change the bottles, the operator exchanges two ramps and two cradles, eliminating the need for a tool. To simplify the work of the user, the various bottle formats have been given specific color codes. This means that a green crate for “X” format bottles corresponds to a robot gripper of the same color.

KUKA robot is efficient and reliable

A further advantage of this system is that, thanks to a relatively short gripper, the shelf-mounted robot is able to dive deep into the bottle crate. In this way, it is not necessary to use crates of less depth and capacity.

A decisive factor in Philippe Soriano’s choice was the simplicity of Fege’s solution. “The true difficulty was in making it simple!” he explains. Because a simple system guarantees efficiency and easy maintenance. A further advantage of the robot is that it has very low noise emissions – an essential factor for a handling rate of 4,500 bottles per hour.

The KUKA KR QUANTEC K has a gripper tool with suction ramps without a moving element.

Once the cell was installed, we noticed that the KUKA robot is incredibly quiet, a feature we can really appreciate!

Philippe Soriano, head of technology

Fast adaptability to new trends

On the champagne market, the trend is moving particularly towards the export of increasingly choice and high-quality bottles. The fact that 50 percent of the product is shipped abroad (to Asia in particular, where luxury products are in high demand) means that companies must be able to adapt to these new trends quickly – and must therefore invest in extremely flexible production equipment. Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck have successfully responded to this trend by integrating technological innovation into modern design while preserving a first-class product of time-honored tradition.

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