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    Coca-Cola HBC opting for cardboard instead of plastic

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    A system recently developed by Krones, backed up by the strong partnership of Coca-Cola HBC and the packaging materials manufacturers involved, was instrumental in launching an innovative, plastic-free packaging solution on the Austrian market.
    • Coca-Cola, Fanta, Sprite or perhaps Mezzo-Mix? Consumers can now buy their favourite fizzy drinks in more sustainable packs. Image credits:

      Martin Steiger

    Curtain up for a world premiere: Coca-Cola HBC Austria has since September been using cardboard clips and bands of kraft paper or cardboard instead of shrink film for producing the 1.5-litre multipacks of their fizzy drinks. That is expected to save 200 tons of plastic a year.

    “The filling plant in Edelstal is the hub of our production operation for the domestic market and as such very closely involved in our sustainability thrust. It plays a significant role not only in our projects aimed at minimising consumption of water and energy but also in implementing sustainable packaging innovations. We make a point of using only recycled PET for our entire portfolio produced in Austria and boosting returnable products. We’ve also used cardboard-based secondary packaging for our can multipacks for some years now,” explains Felix Sprenger, Supply Chain Director at Coca-Cola HBC Austria.

    As a strategic filling partner of The Coca-Cola Company, the beverage manufacturer operates a production and logistics centre at Edelstal in Austria’s Burgenland region, which runs eleven lines and fills most of the Coca-Cola brands and the Römerquelle mineral water brand for the Austrian market, plus drinks intended for export markets.

    Following roughly three years of development and testing, we’re very proud to yet again be assuming a pioneering role in Austria in terms of sustainable innovations. Erwin HächlFelix SprengerSupply Chain Director at Coca-Cola HBC Austria

    A sustainable alternative to film-wrapped packs

    After Coca-Cola HBC had changed over the secondary packaging for their can multipacks, the beverage producer started to examine possible packaging variants for its PET bottles, too. When the company was looking for more sustainable alternatives, the new cardboard-based recyclable packaging solution offered by its long-standing partner Krones caught its attention: LitePac Top enables PET bottles to be grouped into packs without using any plastics at all. Not only is it possible to apply the cardboard clip to different types of container, the clip also boasts a variable design and can be precisely matched to the properties of the containers and packs handled. The LitePac Top Strap is particularly suited for heavy packs like the 1.5-litre sixpacks produced at Coca-Cola HBC because a band made of kraft paper or cardboard provides additional stability.

    LitePac Top Strap at a glance

    • Cardboard clip below the bottles’ neck rings keeps packs in formation
    • Integrated cardboard-based carrying handle for easy gripping
    • Band provides additional stability
    • Can be made of corrugated board or kraft paper, depending on the application involved
    • Fully recyclable
    • Sturdy and secure design for storage and transport
    • Band serves as a functional surface providing information on the product (can be printed as desired) and barcode masking
    • Flexibility in choosing the manufacturer of packaging materials

    The team from Krones Packaging Technology joined forces with the packaging materials manufacturers involved to develop a solution that perfectly meets the customer’s requirements. It was especially important to ensure convenient handling: The packs must be tear-resistant and have high carrying capacity. Moreover, they must be easy to stack for both pallet transport and display at the point of sale.

    Packer smoothly integrated

    For applying cardboard clip and band to the bottles, Coca-Cola HBC is relying on a machine concept newly developed by Krones, which is based on the field-proven Variopac Pro series. In this configuration, a packer and two modules each for fixing in place the bands and cardboard clips have been combined in one machine on a minimised footprint.

    Flexible packaging virtuoso

    The tried-and-trusted modularised range of Variopac Pro packers makes it possible to produce secondary and tertiary packaging on a single machine and is able to process a wide variety of materials: Whether it’s pads, trays or wrap-around cartons, with or without film or “only” film-wrapped – the different models of the Variopac Pro cover a large number of packaging options. The latest one of these is able to process sustainable outer cardboard packaging that does away with shrink-wrapping. The Variopac Pro is also open to future changes in a company’s packaging concept. It can be easily modified or expanded at any time, and also integrated into existing lines without any problems.

    At a glance:

    • Modularised concept consisting of a basic machine, magazine and feed unit for the blanks, pack forming unit, film-wrapping station and shrink tunnel
    • Supplementary modules are available for applying plastic carrying handles, clip elements and bands and for inserting dividers
    • Broad performance spectrum, ranging from 30 to 150 cycles per minute, depending on the machine model and the type and dimensions of the packs handled

    Possible packaging variants:

    • Broad range of models for producing tray packs, shrink-wrapped packs, pad-shrink and/or tray-shrink packs, and wrap-around packs
    • Option for processing cardboard clips and bands made of kraft paper; if requested, also in combination with tertiary packaging

    At Coca-Cola HBC Austria in Edelstal, the new Variopac Pro was to be installed in an existing PET line. “The machine was smoothly integrated, without interrupting production. The big advantage was that the existing line already included a conventional shrink-wrapper and it was thus possible to install the new Variopac Pro in a free space. Thanks to spot-on planning, we managed to avoid any unintended downtimes throughout the project. Foresightful planning carried out together with the Krones team and preparing the relevant interfaces during the overhaul routine last autumn were among the crucial success-driving factors. That enabled us to perform the actual erection and installation (both mechanical and electrical) of the machines during ongoing operation,” says Michael Simecsek, Plant Engineering Manager at Coca-Cola HBC Austria, recalling how the project proceeded.

    And he emphasises: “Our experience with the machine has been very good. This innovation, just like other new packaging systems requiring properly matched handling routines, meant we had to learn on the job, as it were. But the Krones team was always there to give advice, to answer our questions, to help organise training sessions or to optimise the system.”

    During this project, in particular, we’ve come to appreciate the good cooperation with Krones, their team’s mutually supportive and solution-driven attitude, their way of frankly discussing matters and their unfailingly responsive helpfulness. Erwin HächlMichael SimecsekPlant Engineering Manager at Coca-Cola HBC Austria

    Once LitePac Top Strap had successfully passed the test runs, Coca-Cola HBC began to launch the packs it produces on the market in September 2023. The plastic packs in the supermarkets have gradually been replaced by LitePac Top packs. That is expected to produce future savings of around 200 tons of plastic per year. But this is not the only benefit to our natural environment. As a side-effect, less energy is consumed in production because doing away with plastics obviates the need for a shrink tunnel.

    While we are introducing LitePac Top in Austria, we’re also constantly scrutinising new technologies, options and innovations in order to render our portfolio even more sustainable. Reducing the amount of materials used for secondary packaging and increasing the recycling contents in production are further important constituents of this strategy. Erwin HächlFelix SprengerSupply Chain Director at Coca-Cola HBC Austria

    Both Coca-Cola HBC and Krones have committed themselves to ensuring responsible use of packaging materials. The market launch of LitePac Top for PET bottles marks yet another step towards rendering the beverage industry more sustainable since it eliminates plastics from the secondary packaging and significantly reduces energy consumption in production.

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