Mar. 12, 2018 – Whistler Water plant manager Daniel Marcoux shares his thoughts on the importance of quality control in manufacturing.
MA: Please describe the plant operation.
DM: We own a 12-acre property north of Whistler, B.C., and on that land, we have two wells where we pump water from an aquifer. [Our products] are bottled under the Whistler Water and Polaris brands, and we also do private label products for a variety of different customers. The plant is divided into two sections, one is for our water business and the other is for carbonated products for private-label customers. We also produce alcohol-based products like ciders, either in glass or PET bottles. [Across the plant], we have three production lines. The most automated line runs four bottle sizes: 350 ml, 500 ml, 1.0 L, 1.5 L. Here we blow our own bottles and fill them with our glacier-fed water. This line runs with four operators, and at 420 bottles a minute, it starts, stops, slows down, and speeds up automatically. After the bottles get blown, they go into a pressurized cleanroom for filling, which ensures no outside components can get in and affect the quality of our water. We also alternate and sterilize the water just before we fill the bottles in case there are any micro-organisms in that went through the system. [Upon leaving] the cleanroom, the bottles are capped with sanitized caps and go through machines for their various labelling and packaging [requirements].
The other two bottling lines are [comprised] of older equipment and involve more manual processes. The carbonation line in particular is a lot more complex because of the different batching processes for our customers — you have to add the right ingredients, colours and flavours based on the formulation process.
Another bottling line is for 4 L gallon jugs and uses premade 4 L PET and 4 L HDPE varieties. Again, these products are for our own brand as well as private label.
MA: How large is the facility?
DM: The factory is about 70,000 square feet and the warehouse is about 20,000 square feet, and those operations are staffed by 35 employees. Our manufacturing [operation] runs Monday to Thursday on 10-hour shifts. Along with our sales and marketing teams, we total around 45 employees.
The plant itself has been in operation for more than two decades but has been under about four different owners since it started — our newest owner took over in 2016. Over the years, the brand and [corporate vision] hasn’t changed, just the ownership.
MA: Maintaining a high quality standard is imperative for all manufacturers. How does Whistler Water tackle this?
DM: We maintain a very complex quality program for water and follow three different quality assurance programs: the National Sanitation Foundation [NSF]; the International Bottled Water Association [IBWA]; and the Canadian Bottled Water Association [CBWA]. Recently for the seventh consecutive year, [we] were awarded Excellence in Manufacturing from the CBWA. To receive the award, the [bottler member] must obtain 97 per cent or better with all critical areas in full compliance based on a third-party audit that is conducted every year. We’re very transparent with the results – all our audit reports can be found on our website. Receiving this certificate of excellence means our customers and consumers can feel comfortable in the quality of the water they receive from us. While most of our sales is concentrated in British Columbia and Alberta as well as the United States, we also export to China, Japan and Australia, among others…By following [international] standards, it also [allows for] new potential business opportunities.
As a secondary measure, we send 50 samples of our water a year, so roughly once a week, to a third-party lab to be analyzed, which helps maintain a high quality standard. On the safety side, we have implemented a 5S Health and Safety Program. It is very important [to us] that we ensure the safety of all our employees. We also strongly believe in [practicing] sustainable principles and are currently developing a zero-waste program. We anticipate that by sometime next year, we will be able to say we run a zero-waste operation.
MA: With all these different programs in place, how do you ensure success?
DM: I would say it is through communication and employee involvement. We have regular meetings with our staff to help keep them informed about our programs. Let’s say you were an auditor and came onsite, not only would you want to see the documentation for all our training and quality programs to make sure we are doing what we say we are, but it’s really about talking to the employees on the floor to see if they are being regularly trained and kept aware of program developments. It’s a lot of work to meet the qualifications for these yearly [programs] but I’m very proud of what we achieve.
This profile was originally published in the March/April 2018 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.