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September 4, 2003

13 Min Read
Bottle markets expand and diversify; machine technology keeps pace

The 60-cavity and 4500-lb/hr capability of Wilmington?s new Series III rotary machines means high output for containers up to 6 liters in configurations up to six layers, as shown. On the small end, the machine range includes single-serve juice bottles. Depending on the product, output can be well over 20,000 bottles/hr. IML, dehumidification, and custom takeout systems are on tap as well.

Thanks to a new internal/external four-cycle cooling system, Husky?s Index preform system?s second generation gets more production from two core sets than the previous four. Rolling out now, the line will have 125-, 300- and 600-ton models that can run molds from six to 144 cavities.

Companies supplying machinery for blowmolding bottles and other packages think the short- and medium-term future looks pretty good around the world, including North America?though it may not be at the top of the list for growth.

The action in the blowmolding market is mostly in PET containers, which should not come as a surprise to anybody. The machine suppliers are quick to mention that this market is distinctly segmented in various ways, one of the most important being production volume. High-volume converters making carbonated soft drink (CSD) bottles sit at one end of the spectrum. At the other end are smaller converters or inhouse operations supplying bottles for specialty fruit and dairy drinks, juices, yogurt preparations, and seemingly dozens of new products coming to market. In between those two is a spectrum that even includes some companies serving both ends with different divisions.

Let?s over-simplify a bit by saying high-volume producers are all about increasing output, running one product 24/7 for long periods, and shaving fractions of a cent off their unit costs. Take a fraction of a cent off millions of bottles and suddenly you?re talking real money. Still over-simplifying, let?s say smaller volume specialty producers need broad flexibility to cover a number of products, quick changeover, and also low finished goods costs. Dilemma? No way. Machinery makers are addressing both.

NPE 2003 showcased the full spectrum of technology innovations. The Husky stand was, as you would expect, packed with new high-output PET preform systems. Husky showed the beginnings of its new HyPET line, which will roll out over the next 12 months. Replacing the long-serving G-PET line, HyPET systems cycle five percent faster, offer wider tiebar space for higher cavitation and larger pitches, and feature reflex platens that allow lower tonnage and reduce mold wear. The new machines also shrink the footprint by 20 percent, reduce energy consumption, offer remote diagnostics, and use blowers rather than more costly compressed air for preform cooling.

The single-step Husky IndexSB is optimized for shorter runs of bottles from 25 ml to 5 liters with neck finishes to 110 mm. Complete tool changes take less than 2 hours; blow molds only 15 minutes. A pair of conditioning stages improve bottle quality and support more aggressive lightweighting

Husky?s PET business was chiefly responsible for the company?s recent growth in sales. Craig Reynolds, Husky?s PET marketing manager, says this is a result of the company?s 144-cavity systems coming to market when pent-up demand broke out. Usually, a converter invests when nearing 90 percent of capacity, but the tightened economy in 2001 and 2002 saw producers reach utilization rates in the mid-90s?then they had to move. At NPE, Husky gave them yet another choice with the new generation of its Index preform system. Cycle times are as good as or better than the first generation, but capital costs are greatly reduced by using two sets of cores rather than the previous four. The new CoolJet post-mold cooling (PMC) device is the magic. Heat is removed externally during four cycles using chilled water. The new system cools the inside surface and gate area with a blower rather than compressed air, and the transfer from mold to PMC has no impact on cycle time.

Husky is well identified with the high-output preform business, but at NPE the company also showed its commitment to lower-volume applications: the IndexSB one-step system. First shown at the K Show in October 2001, the system that went to market in the spring of 2002, specifically the North American market, is targeted at those who make multiple bottle types in shorter runs. Dave Whiffen, Husky?s business manager for the IndexSB, says converters like how the machine flexes from 25-ml to 5-liter bottles with neck finishes to 110 mm. Quick-change features allow complete retooling in 2 hours. Blowmolds can be changed in 15 minutes. It has multimaterial, multilayer capability and heat setting. For high output, the system uses an Index clamp with two core faces that reduce cycle times while providing more on-core cooling time. Husky says cycle time for a given application is 25 to 40 percent faster than other single-stage machines. Two of the six stations on the blowing side condition the preform, which improves overall bottle quality and lets different bottles be made from a single preform. Whiffen says converters also appreciate having increased ability for lightweighting applications. Husky is intensifying its marketing of the IndexSB in markets outside North America.

Long Stroke at High Speed
Bottle-makers, be they independent converters or inhouse operations, are driving the market toward more specialized solutions with the variety of containers they want to run. So says Jeff Newman, VP of sales and marketing for Wilmington Machinery. Therefore Wilmington is coming to market with a variety of new technologies that satisfy needs from small bottles to large jars. Newman says NPE confirmed that direction. Attendance at his stand was good, he says, and the visitors were there with real needs, new products, and looking for ideas on a wide variety of bottles.

At NPE, Wilmington showed new long-stroke blowmolding technology that is in the final stages of development. Aimed at the market for calibrated neck containers and competing against index wheel machines, the RLS-3 is a rotary long stroke offering three stations, rather than the two generally found in long-strokes. The result is an output capacity Wilmington says is 50 percent above most other available systems. Each station is 1100-mm long, and in total, the three have a capacity of 30 containers on 100-mm centers. Dry-cycle times can be as short as 3.5 seconds and changeover time from a 32- to a 48-oz bottle is less then 3 hours. The three stations discharge into a common trimmer so that all deflashing is done away from the machine, eliminating scrap contamination. The system is also designed for easy IML.

Currently in final development, Wilmington?s new RLS Series of rotary long-stroke systems places three 1100-mm stations in a novel configuration aimed at high-speed, calibrated-neck bottle production. IML is easy, the footprint is small, cycle time is fast, and so is full changeover.

Newman says the reception from the industry has been very favorable, especially the combination of high cavitation for output and calibrated neck to eliminate secondary finishing. Wilmington has also developed a new SB series of machines for small bottles (Carbonated is Flat, but Juice is Bubbling
Tony Hooimeijr, president of SIG Beverages USA, is among those saying business is going pretty well, and quickly points out that it is not by any means easy, and it depends on what segment of the PET business you mean. He notes that political and social discussions about people being overweight in the USA could be contributing to the CSD business currently being flat. It also could give the business a shake in the future, though how severe a shake is hard to see at the moment. In general, profit margins in high-volume bulk PET bottles are being squeezed hard.

The bottled-water market is still growing, particularly in single-serve sizes, but Hooimeijr says the strongest growth is in specialty bottles for flavored milk, yogurt, and juice drinks. There is growth in established products, energy drinks such as Gatorade being a good example. Growth is also coming from a fairly steady stream of new products and conversion of existing packages to PET.

Collaboratively developed by SIG and Schott, the first version of the Plasmax rotary coating system is being beta tested in a juice bottling plant in Switzerland. Internal plasma coating at high production speed can be the key to converting applications that want PET?s transparency and high barrier properties. Results so far are promising.

Graham Machinery Group?s HLD 700 is the largest of the Hesta-Graham linear shuttle machines and can be either single- or two-sided. The machines, which can make containers from 5 ml to 6 liters, are now produced at Graham?s U.S. facility, in addition to Hesta?s German factory.

GMG?s new C30 system makes containers up to 30 liters, and is especially well featured for 5-gal PC water bottles. The plasticating unit, head, clamp, trim/deflash unit, controls, and hydraulics were each purpose designed, as well as placed inside a small footprint.

As the shelves fill with new drinks and meal replacements, marketers and their package designers are searching for product differentiation. One place to look is the shape of the bottle itself, and that presents opportunities . . . and challenges. Some bottles may need sleeves for UV protection or simply for decoration, but most need a strong visual identity.

At NPE 2003 SIG demonstrated a high-end model of its recently marketed Blomax Series III line of stretch blowmolding systems. In our NPE Showcase, we told you how the system produces up to 30,000 bottles/hr, or 1500 bottles/hr/cavity. Naturally, with that production rate, you would think this series is going after the high-volume applications, which it is?but that is not all. The low end of that line makes about 3600 bottles/hr and a model to be introduced soon will produce up to 52,500 bottles/hr. There are 12 models between those two.

Design Diversity
The technology to handle nonround bottles caters to the marketer?s need for design diversity. Equally important on Hooimeijr?s feature list is Series III?s support for hot-fill bottles, another segment on the up-ramp. There are a number of scenarios for hot-filling: In-line up to 85C, off-line up to 88C, off-line up to 92C, then there is pasteurization at 72C for about 30 minutes. Each one has different bottle-making requirements and output rates, and Series III has a model just right for each of them. SIG?s specially developed hot-fill technology works across the entire machine line.

Hooimeijr says SIG also has its sights set on the potential conversion of carbonated soft drinks from metal cans to PET, as well as other applications that need high barrier properties while retaining PET?s celebrated transparency. Collaborating with Schott HiCotec, SIG has developed new internal plasma-coating technology for bottles. The first Plasmax rotary coating machine is in beta testing at a large juice bottling plant in Switzerland, and doing well. There are still development hurdles regarding creep against CSD internal pressure and shipment tests must be done, but the development is meeting its goals.

Signs of Upturn in Chicago
All the blowmolding machinery suppliers we spoke to during and after NPE 2003 said the mood was positive. Not exhilarating, not the buzz of the late 90s, but definitely looking up, especially in packaging and definitely in PET. Joseph Spohr is senior VP of global business development at Graham Machinery Group (GMG). Noting that GMG was at NPE for only the second time as a supplier, the company saw 50 percent more U.S.-based visitors on its stand than in 2000, and they were decision-makers with real projects. The numbers were similarly good for visitors from Mexico and Europe. Spohr said he is still surprised by how many people are unaware of the benefits of the new depreciation formula in the tax code and lower borrowing costs. If they get that sorted out, things could really pick up.

GMG says converters came looking for what you would expect: higher output and lower cost per unit, and much of the action was originating from the food and beverage areas. Nutritional drinks, juice and dairy drinks, and others want solutions that assure economical packaging, that are good looking, and that support secure transport and long shelf life. The U.S., Spohr reminded us, is still the largest market in the world and growing. Much of the rest of the world is also looking strong for packaging.

GMG was ready for the visitors with several new machines. There was a lot of traffic around its new GEC4/600 rotary shuttle. The GEC4 is a four-station indexer with Muller extrusion heads that provide up to eight parisons for a total of 32 cavities. The combination of GMG?s wheel technology and calibrated neck suits many applications. Besides food and beverage suppliers, Spohr says GMG saw a lot of interest from personal care, pharmaceuticals, household chemicals, and auto fluids. He sees a lot of work coming from carton and can conversions, as well as from formerly glass-container applications.

The stretch blown Nivea bottle is as technically demanding as it is pretty. SIG Corpoplast?s preferential preform heating process permits a 2.6:1 width:thickness ratio, and thicker walls on the narrow sides than on the wider front and back panels. The preform is lined up by a positioning cam at the support ring and very precisely pressed onto the mandrel. Untouched again during the process, the preform retains its precise position.

GMG developed its new C30 reciprocating screw system specifically for PC water bottles and other containers up to 30 liters based on the improved machinery line it acquired. The 24:1 L/D reciprocating screw with four temperature zones and heat/cool bands and flow-through die heads yields very high clarity. The three-platen, four-tiebar clamp provides full mold access and has been made faster to cut cycles. The on-board trim/deflash unit sends finished bottles out standing upright or can be retracted from the machine for easier access to the mold, head, and deflashing unit itself. Like the GEC4 and the other GMG systems, the C30 is managed through GMG?s XBM Navigator PC-based control system. This reduced footprint system outputs 120 to 150 5-gal PC bottles/hr, depending on the design.

Oddly shaped bottles
SIGSIG Corpoplast has paid particular attention to the problems of nonround PET bottles and come up with a solid solution. In a nutshell, the problem is that preforms are round, and if the bottle is not, certain areas of the preform have to behave differently during stretching and blowing than do others. SIG?s answer is based on preferential heating and ultra-precise neck orientation. Areas that need to expand less are heated more and wall thickness is reduced in that area. Colder areas keep wall volume for later expansion. Wall thickness distribution of the flat (nonround) bottle can thus be determined. The precise neck orientation that takes place on insertion of the preform, which is never touched again during the process, assures that the differing heat areas are where they should be.

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