Siemens AG (Chile) - The Chilean wine industry is a global winner. But even as competition grows, automation solutions from Siemens are helping one producer discover the taste of success – by Andreas Kleinschmidt.
The palm tree in the courtyard may give the impression of warm weather, but it is actually a bitterly cold day in August. The winter sun bathes the courtyard of the Santa Rita winery in pale light. Soon the sun will disappear behind the snowcapped mountains. Down here, south of Santiago de Chile, the soil is fertile and the local wines are becoming increasingly popular on the global market. “Only the prices are not yet where they should be,” says Jorge Heiremans, the Chief Operating Officer at Santa Rita. “Our product is excellent, but we nonetheless have to pay attention to every peso. If we don't, we'll quickly lose our competitiveness.”
Santa Rita's most important cost factors are human resources and energy. Because the booming copper industry is attracting many workers, wages in Chile are increasing, including those in the winemaking field. Well-qualified workers are rare and expensive. And in Chile electricity isn't cheap either. In general, cooling accounts for 80 percent of the energy consumed by Chile's wine industry. But to many people's surprise, Santa Rita manages to do almost entirely without air conditioning in its storage halls.
“We've built adobe walls,” says Heiremans. “This traditional material is an ideal insulator, and it keeps the coolness inside. Besides, we have programmed the gates so that they automatically open at night and let in the cool air.” Thanks to these features, the temperature in the storage halls remains stable at 15 degrees Celsius. But human resources are still the more important cost factor. “We are increasingly automating simple processes. An investment in new technology often pays for itself after just one year. That's why we're paying more for reliable automation solutions so that we don't lose time and money because of technical defects and the like,” Heiremans adds.
Five years ago, a harvesting machine was used at Santa Rita for the first time. Today six such machines are in operation. Around 300,000 bottles rattle through the filling system every day, guided automatically with the help of a Simatic controller from Siemens. The wine crates are stacked with the help of a Siemens automation system. “Today we have fewer jobs, but they are higher-quality jobs. In other words, we've got fewer packers and more electronic technicians,” says Heiremans. “By becoming more efficient we can grow. And in the long term that will create more jobs too.”