LONDONDERRY — Coca-Cola of Northern New England, an independent bottling franchise owned by Japanese beverage company Kirin, is expanding production capabilities at its Londonderry plant after closing a production facility in Needham, Mass.
Russell Bruner, general manager of the Londonderry production center, said the company is spending about $9.5 million overall on improvements to the plant.
That includes $5 million to install a new water bottling line using equipment from Needham. Last year, the company spent $3.5 million for a new blow-molder used for making plastic bottles, and has ordered a new $1 million packager for the can line.
The packager will enable the company to create 35-packs at a rate of 200,000 cases per month for 12-ounce cans and 100,000 cases per month for 16-ounce cans. The larger packs are sold by the chains of club stores.
Current equipment can create 12-packs or 24-packs. Bruner expects the new packager to be operating by the first week of February.
“It’s coming from Germany, so it’s on the ocean right now,” Bruner said
A packager from the Needham facility was sent to the company’s other production center in Hartford, Conn.
The facility currently has three lines, one for cans and two for plastic bottles, which alternate between water and various other beverages. After the new water line is installed, which Bruner said will be done over the course of the next five months, that line will be dedicated to bottled water so other lines won’t need to be switched over, saving the company time and money.
The new line will take up about 20,000 square feet of existing space within the 507,000-square-foot building.
When it’s operational by mid-May, the company expects to increase its production of Dasani bottled water from 8 million cases a year to 11 million cases.
In addition to the blow-molder it acquired last year, the Londonderry plant will be inheriting another blow-molder from Needham, roughly doubling the rate at which the plant can create plastic bottles.
A single blow-molder can create up to 900 bottles per minute and form the bottles into up to 19 different molds between the current three machines.
It’s more cost effective to mold the bottles in house because one truckload of raw materials can produce the equivalent of 10 truckloads of bottles.
In the first six months of operating the new blow-molder, the company saved 1,600 tractor-trailer loads of bottles, according to sustainability manager Ray Dube.
Just before Christmas, the company hired 10 production and two maintenance employees who previously worked in the Needham location, all union members. “The ones we hired, they’ve accommodated very well,” Bruner said.
The production center employs 140 people and the adjacent sales center has 180 employees.
“In this job market, you can’t afford to let people go,” Dube said.
Bruner estimates the Londonderry facility produces about 80 percent of the brands offered by the Coca-Cola Co. There are more than 250 Coke bottling partners worldwide, according to the corporation.