The Interpack gives the opportunity to take a closer look at aseptic packaging. Several manufacturers are exhibiting their aseptic processing and packaging lines. If we talk about aseptic in food and beverages, we immediately have visions of TetraPaks, or SIG Combiblocs in our mind. But in these days there are alternatives. Interesting developments in machines as well as in materials. We will describe the aseptic brick line of Japan’s Shikoku Kakoki.
In pharmaceutical industries aseptic processing and packaging is a common practice. Often done in the environment of a Clean Room, sophistication of machine technology allows nowadays direct aseptic bottle blow moulding and filling. It’s not surprising that this technology is moving to the beverage, particularly the dairy industry. I selected the Rommelag BFS-system.
We end this preview with the Gea Procomac ABF-system for soft drinks in PET bottles.
But before I go into details with the mentioned machinery, let’s talk about the basics of aseptic processing and packaging.
The traditional sterilisation via retorts, autoclaves or other terminal systems is in these days more and more replaced by advanced and sophisticated sterilisation technologies such as, but not solely, aseptic processing and packaging.
The increasing popularity for aseptic packaging is fed by the consumer trend for more natural based foods and beverages, without any addition of non-natural additives. With this preference for fresh food however, the consumer faces a more limited shelf life and may also require refrigeration.
By implementing aseptic processing and packaging technologies, food and beverage companies can provide shelf stable ambient products with extended shelf life without the need for preservatives.
Though hot-fill and retort processing and packaging (bottles, cans and even stand-up pouches) can also claim these benefits, the heat and the time required by these sterilisation systems is said to have a negative effect on both taste and nutrition value, while aseptic processing minimizes flavour and nutrient loss.
Besides the benefits for the consumer in terms of shelf life, taste and flavour, there are significant advantages in aseptic packaging for the food companies. Serving the faraway consumer and even emerging markets brings huge logistic problems if a product has a short shelf life. Refrigerated supply chains aren’t always trustworthy and certainly expensive and risky.
With aseptic packaging a product is shelf stable and offers a potentially better tasting product in all climate conditions.
Till recently aseptic packaging was more or less (with the exception of the Clean Room activity) exclusively used for liquids. This is changing. New developments allow adding (separately pasteurised/sterilised) low acid particles, as vegetables, in soup products. About this new technology I will write later in another article.
For the time being we can say that there is a strong movement from aseptic liquids in paperboard cartons to aseptic food in almost any packaging format (bottles, cups, stand-up pouches etc). I even see aseptic filing of metal cans and glass jars as an optional alternative for autoclave sterilisation.
Now let’s have a look at what the Interpack has on offer.
Aseptic brick line of Shikoku Kakoki
As already said, if we talk about aseptic bricks we immediately have Tetra and SIG in mind, but there are interesting developments going on. One is the Aseptic brick line of Japan’s Shikoku Kakoki. Just before the Interpack the company signed a cooperation/distribution agreement with the Dutch special machine manufacturer QuadroPack.
Shikoku-BX Master Series is an aseptic filler line for box style cartons. The BX Master properly controls each critical point in the sterility process to prevent possible food safety hazards. The machines are designed to handle various carton sizes and compatible with virtually any standard aseptic carton material supplied by various carton converting manufacturers. Providing all the benefits of Shikoku’s revolutionary aseptic technology, BX Master Series improves shelf stability of widely consumed products, such as milk, probiotic beverages, soymilk, fruit juice, or iced tea drinks. Additionally, the aseptic technology has successfully extended the refrigerated shelf life of fresh Tofu which generally degrades within 2 to 3 days and has now achieved 180 days with no addition of preservatives.
The interesting point in this development, which is a result of a cooperation between Nippon Paper Industries Co, FujiPak Systems and Shikoku Kakoki, is the introduction last month of the “Non-Aluminium FujiPak”, an environmentally friendly paper carton for liquids.
As aluminium foil is characterized by its excellent barrier performance, the system previously used aluminium foil laminated paper as packaging material to secure long-term storage. However, taking recycling into account, the companies set to find a way to get rid of the alu-foil layer.
They looked for alternative materials to replace the aluminium foil and succeeded by introducing the GL film from Toppan Printing Co. This transparent high-barrier film features the same degree of barrier performance as that of aluminium foil, as well as recyclability, and it can be used for the new Non-Aluminium FujiPak system to package drinks for long periods of time at room temperature.
The new system enables the beverage cartons to be marked with the paper carton symbol and as it stimulates recycling, it contributes to a reduction in CO2 emissions.
The Blow-Fill-Seal technology
In my previous preview I spoke about the Combox blow-fill-cap unit of Serac France. Today I want to preview the Bottelpack Blow-Fill-Seal technology of Rommel AG in Germany. You can find them at stand C29 in Hall 14.
At a time when the filling of glass bottles was still standard procedure, pharmaceutical manufacturers began to recognize the important advantages offered by Rommelag, as inventor of the bottelpack Blow-Fill-Seal (BFS) technology.
Plastic materials provide several advantages to the producer and user of parenterals. There are plastic materials available according to the FDA which are inert, do not contain additives, have low water vapour permeability and are easy and safe to handle in the hospitals. The packages are environmentally friendly and disposal or recycling is achieved without any pollution risks. The bottelpack technology makes production with such pure materials possible. No additional active additives are required.
An important characteristic of the Blow-Fill-Seal Process is the sterile and pyrogen-free moulding of the bottles or ampoules directly from the extruded PE or PP in water cooled blow moulds with an immediate sterile filling of product, followed by a hermetic sealing of the container in one step and under aseptic conditions in the same machine.
This assures a high reliability of the process as well as product security. The flexible design of the containers with integrated moulding of the head closure as well as in-mould coding allow a high degree of convenience in handling to the user. The technology is known for a very low particulate matter production and neutrality to the filling product.
Packaging designs are now so far advanced that low wall thicknesses are possible, allowing excellent collapsibility, eliminating the need for an air vent.
Today the majority of bottelpack Blow-Fill-Seal machines are supplied to the pharmaceutical industry. However, these machines now also move into packaging of special food products such as soft drinks or dairy products. Twist-off closures provide consumers with a ready-to-use product and offer manufacturers a reduction in production cost since caps for reclosure are usually no longer needed.
Aseptic Blow Filling (ABF)
Aseptic Blow Filling (ABF), developed by GEA Procomac S.p.A. Italy (B09, Hall 07a), is a complete new concept for aseptic filling. The company claims that it’s the world’s first rotary aseptic blow moulding machine with an integrated aseptic filler and capper.
The principle is to sterilise the preform with Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide (VHP) at the exit of the oven. Then blow the preforms with sterile air in a sterile environment and maintain this sterility throughout the filling and capping process. Achieving this minimises the use of chemicals, requires no bottle rinsing, enables a simpler and smaller layout and reduces energy consumption.
The preform VHP treatment sterilises the internal and external surface of the preform using a flow of hydrogen peroxide in vapour phase at controlled temperature and concentration. In the final stage of the sterilisation process, the preforms enter the Sterile Zone, where the blowing wheel is located.
A key design decision was to blow the preforms ‘upside down’, enabling all non-clean components to be located outside the sterile zone. With this solution the neck is easily kept cool by the air flow generated inside the oven by the fans. The heating is performed by infra-red lamps.
After the treatment in the oven, the preforms enter the sterilisation wheel where they are sterilised by VHP treatment. The blowing process of the sterile preforms is carried out with sterile air.
The sterile bottles, after being turned into the upright position, are transferred to the Aseptic Filling carousel without leaving the sterile zone. The blow moulding machine and the filler are synchronized electronically.
ABF is said to be an extremely flexible system that can blow and fill up to 48,000 bottles per hour and operate at different levels of decontamination appropriate for each product. This allows products with different shelf-life, low-acid as well as high-acid aseptic beverages, ESL beverages, water, etc., to be produced on the same system.
My next article will not be a preview, but a report of the exhibition itself. Just one more photo, to ensure that you also enjoy Düsseldorf.