Coca-Cola European Partners: smart water

Coca-Cola European Partners’ Morpeth manufacturing site has benefited from a recent £14m investment. Jonny Williamson took a trip to drink it in.

Morpeth is the sole source of water for Coca-Cola European Partners (CCEP), producing both Schweppes Abbey Well Natural Mineral Water and Glacéau SmartWater.

Every drop of the water bottled at the site comes from an underground spring, naturally filtered through white sandstone. Upon extraction, the water sees sunlight for the first time in more than 3,000 years.

Armed with this information and having successfully located Morpeth on the map (north of Newcastle), I expected the water to arrive via an extensive network of underground pipes, pulled from a spring many miles away. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In reality, the aquifer sits directly beneath the facility, tapped via two separate heads. The first, at the front of the site, is the Abbey Well spring head and only Abbey Well-licenced products are filled from it. The second, located to the rear of the site, is used for the SmartWater.

The filling process is so rapid – little more than five minutes, that the Abbey Well Natural Mineral Water still carries a chill from the underground source after being bottled.

The SmartWater filling process is longer, at closer to 40 minutes. Both go through the same initial robust sand filtration process to remove any unwanted particulates, but the SmartWater is subsequently vapour distilled.

The new high speed, fully-automated Glacéau SmartWater processing and bottling line is capable of producing more than 56,000 bottles an hour - image courtesy of CCEP.
The new high speed, fully-automated Glacéau SmartWater processing and bottling line is capable of producing more than 56,000 bottles an hour – image courtesy of CCEP.

Put simply, this entails the water being evaporated. The vapour is then condensed and electrolytes are added before bottling. As such, the water has a distinctive, clean taste without the hint of metallic back-flavour some bottled water can have.

On the line

Considerable work has been completed at Morpeth over the past several months, with more than 100 external contractors on site on any given day, yet production has continued uninterrupted.

Morpeth’s operations director, Jane Buckley described some of the challenges to me.

“Concrete was laid in the dark under spotlights, foundations were dug while snow was falling, adhesive wouldn’t set because of the low temperature; there were so many different aspects to it,” she recalled.

“Though Coca-Cola European Partners as a business frequently puts in new lines, this was effectively rebuilding Morpeth from scratch – without impacting production. That’s a tremendous achievement and every single member of the team here has been fantastic throughout.”

The £14m investment has seen a new high-speed, fully-automated Glacéau SmartWater processing and bottling line capable of producing more than 56,000 bottles an hour – more than treble the previous line’s hourly output.

Jane Buckley, operations director, CCEP - Morpeth.
Jane Buckley, operations director, CCEP – Morpeth.

The line will also support the production of a new sport cap format for the brand, a significant growth area within the instant water consumption sector according to Buckley.

Untapped resource

The work carried out so far represents the first of a multi-phased project that will see almost every aspect of Morpeth overhauled, improved and made more efficient.

Already the site is benefitting from two new high-pressure and two new low-pressure compressors, two modern boilers and an advanced water treatment processing plant; all of which are helping to improve the site’s environmental standing.

“While we are upgrading the buildings and surrounding areas, all of the lights have been substituted for motion-activated LED bulbs, which is going to reduce our kilowatt usage from 100,000 to less than 20,000,” Buckley said.

“At every stage of this project, everything has been absolutely optimised to provide the greatest ROI, while keeping our utility usage as low as possible.”

Phase two will see the engineering workshop demolished and replaced with a modern warehouse, advanced water treatment processing equipment, and a new pipe bridge for Abbey Well spring head, among other works.

With all of the expansion taking place, I asked Buckley whether they were any concerns over the long-term sustainability of the aquifer.

“We believe the source is very sustainable,” she said. “We have it tested by the Geological Society every 10 years and, despite all of the extraction over the years, there has been no change.

“We are not seeing any deterioration in the aquifer’s water level, and that’s not surprising given the enormous size of it – around five square-miles.”

TMMX Awards 2016

Coca-Cola European Partners has been shortlisted in both the Apprentice of the Year and Manufacturing in Action categories.

You can view the complete TMMX Awards shortlist here.

TMMX Awards is part of TM Live, a series of events taking place from November 1-3, including the launch of The Manufacturer Top 100, The Manufacturer’s Annual Leaders Conference, and The Manufacturer Smart Factory Expo.