Millions of bottles of Scotch whisky are sold worldwide. Between the many small and large distilleries and the customers there's a longer logistics chain. The heart of this chain is the bottling.
The demand for big brands, such as Chivas Regal, is so high that many distilleries must produce for them (e.g. Strathisla, Braeval, Allt-á-Bhainne). A steady flow of tankers pour their liquid freight into the bottling plant, and filled bottles leave it again.
Bottles of all usual sizes (0.7l, 0.75l, 1.0l) are filled simultaneously on several bottling lines. Every second the bottles are filled and loaded on pallets into the waiting trucks.
A logistical problem must be solved. How does the whisky get into the bottle steadily, fast and without any disturbances? The solution is three-dimensional.
On the ground floor empty bottles, unfolded cardboard boxes, bottle caps, labels, etc. are delivered. On the principal floor above there are multiple bottling lines extending over several meters.
At one end of the plant, the tankers with grain whisky and the container trucks with malt whisky casks are unloaded. The different whiskies are temporarily stored in countless smaller vats.
Then it's time for blending. Fine blending and tasting take place in the laboratory. Afterwards the malt and grain whiskies are married together, diluted with water and stored in large vats. This marrying takes some time.
Blended whisky is often drunk on the rocks. Unfiltered whisky gets cloudy when cooled down. Although this is a natural process, it's regarded as a quality defect. All whisky is therefore cooled down to a few degrees above zero and then filtered. In a large filter 20 to 30 paper layers clear the whisky of particles that would cloud the whisky when cooled down.
Then the whisky is ready to be bottled. But first the packaging must be prepared.
To save energy, heat exchangers recover heat wherever it's possible. With several hundred thousands of litres per year, this method pays off.
1. Delivery of Materials
Each whisky bottle consists of the glass bottle, the cap and the labels. High-quality whisky bottles are additionally packed into paper boxes or tubes, which are in turn packed into large cardboard boxes for shipping.
Whisky bottles must meet high quality criteria. All bottles are already delivered cleaned to Chivas. All batches are shrink-wrapped so nothing becomes dirty again. But that's not enough. All bottles are upside down, so nothing can get into the bottles in case the wrap is damaged.
Once unpacked, these bottles quickly disappear upwards via elevators.
The caps are also supplied from the floor below. Chivas uses a patent cap that prevents the bottle from being filled again. You would have to destroy it if you wanted to fill anything other than Chivas in. Precautions are necessary! More than once the status symbol of prosperity has been filled with cheap stuff in emerging and third world countries.
The basement holds the empty cardboard boxes into which always 12 bottles are packed.
Due to limited storage space, these boxes are delivered flat and are glued together just in time. A gluing machine ensures that this happens fast.
While the preparations for the bottling take place, the whisky is pumped into large vats so the bottling line is never empty and can be run day and night.
The scenery is eerie. Have you seen 'The Hunt for Red October'? The whisky vats with a capacity of more than 125,000 litres resemble the missile silos in the movie.
In a car factory the heart of the process is the wedding between car body and chassis. In the bottling line it's the carousel in which the bottles are filled with whisky - truly an impressive spectacle. And above all there's the sound of clinking glass and the smell of Scotch whisky.
The machine revolves at breath-taking speed, and the whisky flows into the bottles in a never-ending stream. Whisky forever! The picture below illustrates the filling process well. The empty bottles are supplied from the left and pushed into the carousel with the filling tubes.
After one rotation (see picture before) the now-filled bottles leave the machine to the right.
In the next step the bottles are closed on a similar carousel. The rotation of the carousel is skilfully used to screw up the bottles.
The last step is to wrap-fit the caps, and we're done. The precious content is now safe.
What began so quickly now becomes time-consuming and laborious. Over endless conveyors the bottles are led past a multitude of machines.
The next step is quality control, which is done by humans and by computers. Quality is not left to chance.
After the labels have been put on the bottles, everything is checked again.
Now the bottles have only to be packed into the famous silver boxes and the transport boxes.
Automatically the silver gift boxes are set up and the bottles are pushed in. As if by magic, every second a bottle disappears in a box.
Controlled by light barriers, each transport box rolls to the large stacking machine.
Always 10 boxes are put on one level in the stacking machine. All dimensions and wall thicknesses are exactly calculated so that all 10 fit on a EUR-pallet.
One pallet holds six levels of boxes. Everything is automated, which is a great relief for the employees, since every pallet weighs several hundred kilogrammes.
At the end of the packing line the pallet leaves the hall, where a truck is already waiting.
Even this truck has transport rolls in its container. Using its pneumatic suspension, it can adjust the inclination of its container and move the pallets almost without effort. After everything is tied down, the truck starts its journey to the connoisseurs all over the world.