One of the most important requirements for plastic beverage bottles is the option that the bottle can be filled aseptically. The most common procedure to reach that condition is to rinse the bottles, after blow-moulding, with hydrogen peroxide and heat as sterilizing agents for the packaging materials. That still leaves the problem of the intern transport in the machine of the bottles.
In the past I wrote about Serac’s Multi-Neck Universal Clamp for Neck Transfer of Bottles and more recently in my articles about the Interpack 2014 I wrote about the new Aseptic Blow Filling (ABF), developed by GEA Procomac and Serac’s Combox system. Both maintain the blow-moulded bottles fully under control while transporting them from one station to the next, all within a sterile environment.
Controlled handling of empty blow-moulded bottles under sterile circumstances doesn’t make the machinery any simpler. It’s a complicated process.
As an answer to that problem the LiquiForm group is developing a system that combines the bottle forming and filling processes into one step, using consumable, pressurized liquid instead of compressed air to form the plastic containers.
About this breakthrough technology more in a minute, as I want to go back with you to another technology, I wrote about recently, and which seems to be the basis to this new one. I refer to the Bottelpack Blow-Fill-Seal technology of Rommel AG in Germany.
In my article of the Interpack 2014, I wrote about this item, the following:
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.
Thermoplastic material is continuously extruded in a tubular shape. When the tube reaches the correct length, the mould closes and the parison is cut. The bottom of the parison is pinched closed.
The nozzle assembly lowers into the parison until the nozzles form a seal with the neck of the mould. The bottle formation is completed by applying a vacuum on the mould-side of the container and blowing sterile filtered air into the interior of the parison. Using the same nozzle, the patented electronic fill system delivers a precise dosage of product into the container. The nozzles then retract into their original position.
Following completion of the filling process, the top of the container remains semi-molten. Separate seal moulds close to form the top and hermetically seal the container. The mould opens and the container is conveyed out of the machine.
As you can see from the slideshow the bottles are formed by air pressure and, still sitting in the mould, filled with the consumable liquid through the same nozzle.
Although the majority of bottelpack Blow-Fill-Seal machines are supplied to the pharmaceutical industry, these machines now also receive interest from 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.
When we compare the LiquiForm technology with the Rommelag technology we see that the blow-moulding process is almost similar with the exception that Rommelag first has its input of pressurised sterile air and then after the bottle is formed in the mould, the filling with the liquid through the same (air)nozzle, while in the LiquiForm process the consumable liquid (soft drink, mineral water) is forced at high pressure straight into the preform, not only filling, but also forming the bottle.
The result is a filled bottle, ready for capping and labelling and that exactly is another difference with the Rommelag process, where the filled bottle is securely sealed, when it still sits in the mould. I agree with you that the Rommelag bottle has a simple tear-off closure, while the LiquiForm heads for the standard screw or sports cap.
In the LiquiForm process the filled bottle has to be transported to the following station (capping), which always inheres a possible contamination risk.
It is obvious that using the consumable liquid instead of compressed air to hydraulically form and fill plastic bottles on one machine simultaneously, significantly reduces cost and waste.
Amcor developed the LiquiForm concept in 2006 and set up a 50/50 venture with Sidel, resulting in LiquiForm. The LiquiForm Group has signed agreements with Yoshino Kogyosho, Japan’s largest plastic bottle manufacturer, to further develop the technology, and with Nestle Waters, one of the world’s leading bottled water companies, to acquire their intellectual property in this innovative technology.
The first full-scale operation is expected to be commercialised in two to three years.
I’m anxious to see the next step in the development of forming and filling plastic bottles. Don’t think that this is the end. There is much more to imagine. Remember the development of forming beverage bottles from the reel, the so called Roll-N-Blow system by Serac? (see my article: “Manufacturing Bottles By Thermoforming Film Material”)
Ok, I know that the Serac Roll-N-Blow system is a thermoforming process, but at the other hand Serac blows the bottle. The raw material comes in the form of plastic sheeting. This sheeting is then cut into strips, and each strip is shaped into a tube around a blow pipe. Each strip is then welded lengthwise and the resulting plastic tube is heated and blown into a mould, in order to create the bottle.
I expect, in the near future, the manufacturing of bottles with screws caps in the same way as we see the forming of beverage cartons (Tetra, SIG). All in one step, securing the sterile environment of blow-moulding and filling and capping beverage bottles.