As simple as…a glass of water? It might seem like the most ordinary thing in the world, but in reality, there is a complex management system behind it. One that can only be optimized by constantly drawing on the latest and most innovative technologies.
Conceiving a dream is a creative act. But making it come true is an act of courage. And sometimes, of faith. If there’s one thing that Elettric80 and Acqua Sant’Anna have in common, it is this: they are both 100% “Made in Italy” companies, each with a strong history of anticipating trends, taking chances, and going the extra mile with boldness and heart. For both – the specialist group supplying automated intralogistics solutions and the mineral water brand at the highest echelons of the beverage market – success comes down to the right combination of winning ideas and often-audacious entrepreneurial choices.
It was certainly a flash of passionate and brave intuition that led Alberto Bertone – the founder, CEO and President of Acqua Sant’Anna – to create an industrial firm in Vinadio, in the province of Cuneo in the upper Stura Valley, in the early 1990s. It went on to become a touchstone in the mineral water sector. “I first visited this area twenty years ago and I fell in love with it,” says Bertone. “When I drank from the spring in the Maritime Alps Park 2,000 meters above sea level, I decided to put that same pure, light and clean water on Italian tables.” It was an ambitious and complex project, but Alberto Bertone believed in it. He decided to invest heavily in the construction of the brand’s image, as well as in the creation of cutting-edge functional assets.
From spring to bottle
The Acqua Sant’Anna plant in Vinadio is a high-tech example of bioarchitecture and “green building.” It was designed to integrate with its surrounding environment, with minimal impact on the local ecosystem. The 60,000-square-metre facility is located at about one thousand metres above sea level, where the mountain reliefs marking the border between Piedmont and France create a wide natural plateau. A 600-km network of stainless steel pipes branches off from the Sant’Anna Springs, bringing water down from the mountain peaks directly into the plant. Then, the water is collected in 11 enormous tanks, each with a capacity of one million litres. It is immediately bottled for the various Sant’Anna Bio Bottle lines, or used in the production of the company’s SanTHÈ brand iced tea and other beverages.
In the early 2000s, Acqua Sant’Anna expanded rapidly into the market. The Vinadio plant, at that point, had insufficient interior spaces for the company’s ambitious plans for future growth. And that was when Elettric80 came onto the scene. “I first met Alberto Bertone in 2001 at a trade fair in Germany,” recalls Enrico Grassi, founding partner and president of the Viano-based company. “When he saw our stand featuring our solutions, he realized that they could be exactly what he needed. And he was right. So we developed a plan to transition from a highly manual operation, like the one that had developed in those days at the Acqua Sant’Anna plant, to a largely automated one. The goal was to rationalize and optimize the use of space, reduce costs, and increase efficiency, sustainability and safety.” It was an operation perfectly suited for Elettric80’s potential.
Pioneers of Industry 4.0
“Over time, we have come to specialize in tailoring perfect solutions that allow our clients to be competitive in the modern world and ready to adapt to the future. Now more than ever, factories must be able to change very quickly to adapt to market demands,” explains Elettric80 president Enrico Grassi. “Since our technology is proprietary, we can develop it in any direction at any time to meet that need.”
“We don’t only provide the skeleton and muscles for a factory, we also provide the brain,” emphasizes Vittorio Cavirani, founding partner and vice president of Elettric80. “We don’t want to just sell integrated systems, we want to manage them together with our clients.” “Until a few years ago, we bought production lines without thinking about the overall management of the factory,” adds Enrico Grassi. “Nowadays we need to consider the entire process (supplies, storage, distribution, and so on.) Our vision is one in which barriers crumble: not only physical ones, but above all the cultural barriers that separate production and distribution.” In Elettric80’s solution, the entire flow is controlled by a single software platform, SM.I.LE80 (Smart Integrated Logistics).
Innovation is a team effort
“A factory is like an orchestra,” concludes Grassi. “You can have great instruments and top-calibre musicians, but without a good conductor, you will never get a truly outstanding performance.” This is the underlying philosophy of all the company’s projects.
Among them, the one developed for Acqua Sant’Anna stands out. “It’s one of our signature efforts, and it represents us on a global scale – not only for the big name, but also for the innovative value of the solutions implemented,” says Grassi.
It’s a classic “win-win” situation. “This cooperation between Acqua Sant’Anna and Elettric80 has been a triumph for both companies,” agrees Acqua Sant’Anna president Alberto Bertone. “It has allowed us to have a completely different vision of the future, giving us the possibility to transform our plant’s intralogistics into an integrated and automated system using cutting-edge technology. This allows us to reduce waste, and work in a more organized fashion. For Elettric80, it was an opportunity to transform their ideas into solutions that have contributed to Acqua Sant’Anna’s success.”
Challenges and solutions
The first and most fundamental problem that Elettric80 was tasked with fixing was the issue of space. “When we started out, business was booming at Acqua Sant’Anna. But the storage area was much larger than the production area,” says Vittorio Cavirani. “We needed a solution that would let us completely invert that paradigm, increasing production without also needing to expand the warehouse.” The entire operational system was reimagined according to a “just-in-time” model. A strong contribution in terms of automation and precision control of the entire flow inside the plant have made it possible to shorten the time from bottling to shipping and to reduce storage space to a minimum, guaranteeing the full traceability of the products handled. “Without stock, we must produce and deliver immediately,” explains Alberto Bertone. “In these years of transformation the relationship between production and the consumer is changing drastically, especially thanks to digital tools and the internet. Companies will increasingly be required to produce and deliver directly to the end customer.”
The 16 bottling lines have been fully automated with the Elettric80 Group’s technology. The fastest of the lines can fill up to 54,000 1.5 or 2 litre bottles or 81,000 half-litre bottles per hour. A unique palletizing system increases line efficiency and cross-docking possibilities. “About 10 million bottles are produced and shipped from the Vinadio plant every day, but the plant could theoretically palletize up to 20 million bottles per day,” Cavirani says.
When innovation is electrifying
Among the fundamental innovations introduced for the Acqua Sant’Anna “smart factory” is the use of 52 laser-guided vehicles (LGV) that integrate to shipments at the end of the line and interconnect all operations. “These are automated vehicles that respond to input from a central piece of software,” explains Enrico Grassi. “They are able to manage internal logistics, from storage to the moment the pallet leaves the warehouse. They move completely autonomously. They carry products and can prepare pallet-loads for the trucks, distinguishing water types, sizes, and quantities.” In addition to guaranteeing over 99.5% precision, these smart vehicles are also more efficient and “green” thanks to their use of recyclable lithium-ion batteries featuring Flash Battery’s innovative technology.
“We have been collaborating with Elettric80 for about ten years,” says Marco Righi, founder and CEO of Flash Battery. “We have worked in synergy on several projects, but the one for Acqua Sant’Anna is certainly the most exemplary in many ways.”
This is a plant in which the LGVs work at a very high intensity, moving 3,000 kilogrammes of water at a time. That translates into significant energy consumption, and our batteries must be up to the task. This usage also brings the batteries to a significant daily stress level: in fact, they deliver up to 3 times their daily capacity.
Here, 400Ah Flash Battery batteries with more than five years of life have exceeded 1,200,000Ah delivered, which translates to more than 3,600 cycles at 80%.
Vinadio clearly demonstrates that Flash Battery lithium-ion batteries are synonymous with durability, reliability, and efficiency in logistics-type operations.
Bertone also confirms these advantages: “In 2016, we decided to exclusively use LGV trucks with lithium batteries for our production plant in Vinadio. The switch from lead to lithium offers several concrete benefits,” summarizes the Acqua Sant’Anna president, “first and foremost, greater energy efficiency. In addition to this, the batteries last about 2.5 times longer (more than 3,500 recharge cycles compared to 1,000) and can be recharged in any area of the warehouse instead of only in dedicated and specially equipped areas. Finally, there are the opportunities offered by ‘boost charging,’ with fast recharges that do not require a double battery and a fully automated recharging system. The next goal,” he continues, “is a gradual transition to third-generation lithium batteries, which offer even longer life.”
When the battery makes the difference
The advantages of lithium-ion technology are perfectly suited to the needs of the Vinadio plant, along with the general goals pursued by companies seeking greater efficiency and sustainability. “On average, lithium-ion batteries are more efficient than lead-acid batteries (96% vs. 70%),” says Righi, “but they also offer many other advantages. First of all, each trolley needs only one battery instead of two, which means eliminating the battery-changing systems and all their associated costs, leading to significant savings. This solution also allows en-route partial recharging, even for just five minutes, taking advantage of the downtime between one task and another (opportunity charging), thereby eliminating recharging rooms and freeing up space for other operational activities. Finally, Flash Battery lithium-ion batteries are very safe and require no routine maintenance.” The solution offered by Flash Battery offers specific additional benefits.
“The batteries used by the Acqua Sant’Anna fleet are automatically remote controlled, and send daily operating data reports to the Flash Data Center. The centre analyses these reports and sends alert messages if necessary, with the goal being pre-emptive intervention to eliminate machine downtime.
This cloud-based solution allows us to aggregate vehicle data. These data are stored and can be shared with our service and Elettric80’s,” explains Marco Righi. “In other words, we can manage the fleet in a synergic and integrated way with the Elettric80 platform in order to better serve the plant.” How so? “We can perform proactive, predictive analytics, meaning we can act early in the event of a problem. We can also detect anomalies before they cause downtime. All of this makes it possible to reduce safety risks, maintenance interventions, and their associated costs, and also promote continuity of operations. That’s not all. The exchange of data between our portal and the management system helps us optimize the use of the fleet and, taking advantage of the partial-recharge opportunity, lets us maximize efficiency in order to better respond to the plant’s varied operational needs.” For all those reasons, since 2016, lead has no longer been an option for Elettric80. “Our fleets are all powered exclusively by lithium-ion batteries. Today, there are over 3,000 LGVs using Flash Battery batteries,” confirms Vittorio Cavirani. “This is not only a plus for the environment and sustainability: it also means an economic advantage for our clients. Vehicles and batteries have a longer lifespan and require less maintenance. There is a substantial recovery of energy and a significant reduction in waste.”
Elettric80 protects its customers’ investments over time and supports them during the growth of their businesses with a 24/7 remote and on-site assistance service.
Another important perk is their consulting service, available starting day one for the entire duration of the business relationship. “Thanks to the Group’s expertise and digital support,” adds Cavirani, “we can intervene in all types of plants in a timely manner, with scalable and modular solutions. We can integrate third-party systems and, especially in brownfields, we can ensure that we never stop production processes, with a net reduction in project implementation times.”
The power of a dream
The Acqua Sant’Anna case is not only a feather in the cap of Elettric80 and Flash Battery’s vast portfolio, but also an example of creativity and entrepreneurial courage. “Alberto Bertone had an intuitive understanding of what was needed, and he believed in the project,” say Enrico Grassi and Vittorio Cavirani. “He was good at seizing the moment, and understanding when and how to invest. A factory that used to produce 100 million bottles a year now has a production capacity of over 3 billion bottles a year. Technology was crucial in that achievement, but it was vision that really made the difference. As we like to say,” they conclude, “you can stop anything, except the power of a dream.”
Flash Battery was founded in 2012 by Marco Righi, the current CEO, and Alan Pastorelli, the current CTO. Today, the company is one of Europe’s leading manufacturers of lithium batteries for industrial machinery and electric vehicles. Headquartered in Sant’Ilario d’Enza in the province of Reggio Emilia, the company is made up of a team of professionals developing new technologies and creating tailor-made, high value-added solutions for manufacturers of industrial machinery and electric vehicles with medium production volumes and high customization requirements. The product portfolio includes more than 400 different battery models installed in over 11,000 applications. Their main customers span a wide range of business sectors, from automation, robotics, logistics, construction, boating, and aerial platforms to agriculture and airport vehicles.
Flash Battery’s presence in the Acqua Sant’Anna plant in Vinadio was established in 2015. Today, it counts 52 lithium-ion batteries installed in Elettric80’s self-driving trolleys. The stress placed on batteries in production facilities of this calibre is extremely high: each battery’s average daily consumption is about 800Ah, which is equivalent to 2.5 constant charge cycles per day. The Flash Battery batteries more than 5 years old have proven to have a very long life, significantly exceeding 3,500 complete cycles; moreover, the 11 newer, so-called third-generation batteries with more advanced chemistry and increased performance will easily reach 5,000 cycles. In systems that work so frequently, having extremely reduced balancing times becomes essential to increase plant efficiency. This is where the efficiency of the Flash Balancing System comes into play. The Flash Battery proprietary balancing system operates at high power (20A) both in active and passive mode, allowing for ultra-fast balancing in less than 30 minutes.
Source: Flash Battery
Elettric80 was founded in Viano, in the province of Reggio Emilia, in the early 1980s. Among its founding partners were Enrico Grassi and Vittorio Cavirani, today respectively president and vice president of the Group. The company’s first steps were in making electrical panels for third parties. “Towards the end of the decade, we realized that the world was about to change radically,” explains Cavirani. “So we started thinking about an integrated and interconnected factory, where smart intralogistical solutions could not only boost efficiency, but also improve the sustainability and safety of all the plant’s operations. In 1992, the first one was built in Caldonazzo, in the province of Trento, for Costerplast (part of the Coster Group.)”
In other words: a factory fit for the fourth Industrial Revolution. Cavirani and Grassi were far ahead of their time in defining a lean and flexible organizational model, integrating the latest industrial automation technology into a broad vision of overall workflow management. To date, the Reggio Emilia-based company has built more than 300 smart factories with over 2,000 robotic systems and 5,000 laser-guided automated systems; since 2016, it has added 35 high-density automated warehouses.
Today, the Elettric80 Group has subsidiaries all over the world, and counts over 1,000 employees. “Between 2016 and 2020, our turnover increased from 146 million to almost 300 million euros,” says Grassi. “We should close out 2021 with 350 million, and are aiming to reach 500 million in 2024.”
This success is the result of dedicated teamwork, of forty years of expertise across multiple sectors, and of constant investment in research and training – particularly for young people – but also and above all, of excellent collaborations with clients and partners.
“In our Group, we believe strongly in the concept of Youth and Experience,” continues Grassi. “A mix of youth and experience brings out the best of our legacy as we learn to listen to the voice of the next generation, building on their enthusiasm and dynamism. This constant dialogue and sharing of knowledge has allowed our Group to grow and look ahead with the awareness that people are our most important value. We have a daily commitment to developing the qualities necessary for continuous improvement: Enthusiasm, Competence, Charisma, Humility and Wisdom.”