Newcastle Brown, Strongbow and Shloer are all bottled in a state-of-the-art factory in Elton. But the £300m Quinn Glass plant – and almost 700 jobs – are under threat because of a legal challenge by Ardargh Glass. DAVID HOLMES was offered a tour of the plant
IF R2D2 had walked past me carrying a pallet of lager in his robotic arms it wouldn’t have surprised me.
The level of automation at the Quinn plant is eye-opening with only a few workers visible on the shopfloor whose job is to monitor the machines.
Quinn’s giant automated warehouse is stacked 14 pallets high by 96 wide full of beverages.
Computer-controlled cranes sweep up and down the aisles placing finished bottle stacks into spaces and dispatching others for delivery to giant regional distribution warehouses.
In the filling-hall, laser-guided unmanned electric vehicles beaver away like from some vision of the future, moving pallets around, passing each other with no danger of collision.
Like giant cyber pets, the £100,000 vehicles even plug themselves in when they are running low on charge.
Some workers believe they have their own personalities. (Number 17 is apparently a bit of a character).
The Quinn plant is one of the biggest in the world making 1.4bn bottles per annum.
But it prides itself on its environmental record; uses recycled glass from Ellesmere Port firm Recresco for reprocessing into new bottles and has low emission levels.
But its revolutionary feature is that it not only makes glass containers but also fills many of them on site.
Take the example of Australian wine. In the past, it had to be imported along with the bottles it was in and the fresh air in between them.
Now the wine is put into a giant bladder within a shipping container and bottled at Elton, saving on transport costs and making the process more eco-friendly.
Economies of scale, says Quinn, allow it to make bottles cheaper than its competitors.
So much so that one French beer company employs Quinn to manufacture small green stubby bottles rather than have them made in France.
No wonder then that rival firm Ardagh perceives the Quinn plant as a major threat.
And a feeling of insecurity pervades the workforce as Ardagh and Quinn do battle in the courts with the outcome set to determine whether the factory stays or goes. Quinn remains confident it will triumph in the end.
Working alongside the two glass furnaces may be a hot and thirsty business given the core temperature is 1,600 degrees Centigrade. But Quinn says its staff are paid “significantly” above the average and keen to hang onto their jobs.