Vacation in a Bottle…Grab a Cold One

Vacation in a Bottle: Corona Extra

No other beer in the world is linked to its bottle like Corona Extra. Yet, when people think of Corona, they don’t think of a bottle. They think of where they would like to be – relaxing on a warm beach, gazing out at picturesque azure seas. Years of effective marketing have convinced people that Corona Extra is an expression of lifestyle, not just a bottle of beer. People all over the world heartily agree, and choose to drink a Corona because it brings to mind relaxation and escape. Think of Corona as a vacation in a bottle.

The bottle itself is rather simple. It stands just nine and a half inches tall and holds 12 fluid ounces of cerveza (that’s Spanish for beer). However, Corona has several characteristics that make it different from any other beer and add to its unique image. For one, Corona Extra is not available fresh from a keg. It’s known for being served in a clear glass bottle that has the label painted on. In fact, the Old English style lettering of the Corona Extra label is a registered trademark. Most other popular beers are bottled in brown glass bottles and adorned with paper labels. Corona bottles are sealed with an aluminum cap that can only be loosened with a bottle opener; the bottles have a rough feel that makes you think each one is unique.

Corona Extra is known as a beer imported from Mexico, but it has a long history. The light-yellow beer was first brewed in 1925 by Cervecería Modelo in Mexico City, and was first imported to the United States in 1979 by way of California and Texas. The beer can now be found nearly anywhere in the world.

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Corona recently became the best-selling imported beer in the United States, and is now the fifth-best selling beer in the world. Back in its birthplace, Corona still holds the crown of most popular beer.

Grupo Modelo, one of the largest companies in Mexico, now produces Corona. In addition to Corona, the company owns nine other brands of beer including Corona Light, Modelo Especial, Modelo Light, Victoria, Negra Modelo, Pacifico, Estrella, Leon and Montejo. The only bottle-making factory for the gigantic Grupo Modelo is the Fabrica Nacional de Molduras in Mexico City. The factory is automated to produce nearly four million bottles per day. That’s 120 million bottles per month!

Inside the factory there are areas to produce and label the bottles before they are shipped by train to one of seven Grupo Modelo breweries. At one end of the enormous factory is the machine shop, which is responsible for creating the moulds for all the brands of beer.

The machine shop was once a simple operation for a small factory. “We began with just eight people and one manual lathe in 1971,” says machine shop manager Julian Fernandez Rodriguez. To keep up with the worldwide demand for Grupo Modelo beers, the machine shop realized they needed automation. “We now have 22 CNC machines, 39 manual machines and 172 employees working in our three-thousand-square-meter shop.”

Haas machine tools have been part of the growth of Grupo Modelo and Corona Extra. In November 1996, Hi-Tec, the Haas distributor in Mexico, installed the first Haas in the machine shop – an HS-1RP horizontal machining centre. That HMC was, in fact, the first Haas horizontal installed in all of Mexico.

The machine shop now has a total of five Haas machining centres – three VF-3s and two HS-1RPs. “We bought the Haas machines because of price, performance and service,” says Rodriguez. “The president of the factory was very satisfied with the first Haas machine because the service was so good. So it was an easy decision to purchase other Haas machines.”

The moulds to create a Corona bottle are complex and include 10 different parts. One set of moulds creates the top and the neck of the bottle, while a second set forms the bottom half. “The top of the bottle and the mould that creates it are important for several reasons,” explains Salvador Vazquez, assistant manager. “The rim of the bottle is where your mouth goes, so it has to be very smooth. Another reason is that the bottles require an opener – they’re not twist-off – so the top has to be very strong.”

The different parts of the mould are made from cast iron and brass. The cast iron comes from foundries in Indiana. Manual mills are used for roughing the B96 cast iron, and then Haas machines are used for the precision milling, drilling and tapping. It takes about seven hours to create a complete mould for a Corona bottle, with finishing and polishing taking the most time.

The Haas machining centres have helped the machine shop improve how well the two halves of a mould fit together. The shop uses a Haas VF-3 VMC to cut the grooves in the mould. “The different parts of the mould have to be machined to tight tolerances so that they fit together perfectly. We’ve had better repeatability and accuracy with the Haas machines,” says Rodriguez.

The popularity of the Grupo Modelo brands keeps the factory running around the clock, and the machine shop knew it would need machines it could count on. “The service from Hi-Tec has continued to be outstanding,” notes Rodriguez. “We have to have the machines up and running to keep up with the demand.

We can call Hi-Tec and they are here in 20 minutes. Haas provides far and away the best service when compared to the other CNC manufacturers.”

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A mould is generally used to create 80,000 bottles before it has to be replaced because of heat and stress. The machine shop manufactures more than 600 moulds per month to keep up with the worldwide demand for Corona. In addition to making moulds for 12-ounce bottles, the shop also creates moulds for 10-ounce bottles and small 8-ounce bottles, appropriately named Coronitas.

The machinists enjoy using the Haas machines because of the user-friendly control. “It was very easy to train employees how to use the Haas machines, because the control is so easy to use,” says Rodriguez. “We also like how the control is the same on the vertical and horizontal machining centres. Once you learn how to use the control, then you can use either type of machining centre.”

In addition to making moulds for beer bottles, the machine shop creates moulds for bottles of Tequila Sauza. The tequila bottle features an intricate label on the neck of the bottle. The Haas machining centres have helped reduce the time it takes to create the label. “We have seen an improvement in cycle times using the Haas machines, especially on engraving,” says Rodriguez. The engraving of the cast iron was once done by hand and took four days. It now takes only 40 minutes, using a Haas VF-3 VMC with an HRT-210 rotary indexer.

The moulds for the Corona bottles are used in an automated system that quickly produces thousand of bottles. Sand and limestone are heated in a furnace to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit to create the glass. Then the molten glass drops into the bottom of the mould.

The two halves of the mould quickly come together and then separate, to create the top and the neck of the bottle. A handle grabs the neck and flips it over into a second mould. Air is blown through the top of the bottle to create the middle and the base. The bottom of the bottle is still red hot when it emerges from the mould. All of this takes place in just two seconds.

The finished bottle moves to another unit, where flames burn off any excess material. The bottle then bounces along on conveyer belts to cool down before being placed in a box. The boxes are moved to another part of the factory, where the bottles come out of the box to have the labels painted on. The bottles go back into the box a second time, and then the boxes are wrapped up on a flat. The flat is loaded by forklift into a freight car and shipped by train to the brewery to be filled with the popular cerveza.

So when you are enjoying that bottle of Corona and dreaming of being on vacation, you might remember that Corona’s unique bottle got its start on a Haas machining centre. And while the popularity of Corona grows around the world, Haas will continue to help produce moulds for that special bottle of beer.