Founded in the Netherlands in 1873, Heineken is now one of the largest global producers of beer. Today, the company operates over 150 breweries around the world and brews more than just its classic green-bottled lager (Amstel, Sol, Desperados and more all fall under the Heineken brand). At its brewery in Seville, Spain, where beers are brewed, packed and shipped out, a recent interest in 3D printing has led to new innovations and productivity.
The behind-the-scenes adoption of additive manufacturing at the Heineken factory will not affect the taste of your cerveza, but it has apparently led to higher productivity and efficiency. The initiative to integrate 3D printing was spearheaded by the brewery’s Packaging Manager Juan Padilla González, who acquired a number of Ultimaker S5 3D printers last year for the pilot project.
The goal of integrating the AM technology was to trial its viability for improving safety applications, creating functional parts, optimizing part designs and producing custom tools. So far, the implementation of 3D printing has proven to be an overwhelming success on all fronts, with Heineken achieving its AM-related goals and seeing time and cost savings for the production of new parts.
As a company representative said: “We’re still in the first stages of 3D printing but have already seen a reduction of costs in the applications that we found by 70 – 90%, and also a decrease of delivery time of 70 – 90%.”
Cheers to safety
Heineken’s Seville brewery is a major operation, capable of producing about 500 million liters of beer per year. In any factory of its size, safety is a major concern. In order to improve safety measures at the plant, González and the 3D printing team designed improved safety latches for use during machine maintenance. The latches—3D printed from bright red filament—are designed to fit onto machines while they are being serviced, so that they cannot be turned on until maintenance is complete.
The 3D printed safety latches are now used on nearly all of the machines at the Seville brewery, adding an additional safety feature to the plant’s production. Moreover, Heineken says that the conspicuous parts have helped to bolster awareness of 3D printing among its employees.
Redesigning and optimizing
Ultimaker’s 3D printing technology has also been explored and implemented for a number of other applications. For instance, the brewery identified spare parts as a potential area, using the 3D printers to create functional plastic parts to replace damaged or broken metal components. The 3D printers enabled the Heineken team to rapidly produce the parts in-house, reducing machine down-time dramatically.
Heineken has also leveraged AM’s flexibility to optimize part designs. That is, engineers have been able to rapidly iterate parts, test them and tweak them until the desired properties and functionality have been obtained, all while keeping costs and production times down. For example, the team redesigned and optimized a quality sensor part on a conveyor belt using 3D printing, which solved a recurring problem with the original metal part (which knocked bottles over frequently).
The beer producer also leveraged 3D printing to create a number of custom tools to facilitate the maintenance of its machines. These parts were mostly 3D printed from Tough PLA, which has both good printability and high strength. One tool that benefitted from 3D printing was a stopper tool, which loosens and tightens the columns of guiding wheels that apply bottle labels. 3D printing the tool resulted in dramatic cost savings of 70% and a faster delivery time (from three days to one) compared to the previous method of CNC machining. Other, more simple tools—such as a toroidal rubber cutter—can be 3D printed in less than an hour.
A toast to 3D printing
Overall, the Seville brewery saw a number of improvements to its production after the adoption of additive manufacturing in-house. On average, Heineken said it experienced 80% faster delivery times for parts and 80% lower costs.
The success of the pilot project in Spain has piqued the interest of other Heineken plants, and the global beer producer is now investigating the potential to scale up its use of 3D printing. One particular area of appeal is how the technology can be networked, meaning that designs and solutions can be easily shared from one plant to another. The ability to send parts digitally, to be produced on the spot, reduces transportation and freight costs and environmental impact.
Heineken added: “3D printing has proven to be a technology that helps us, brings value to us, and enables our people to work more efficiently.”