Aseptic filling: the ideal solution
Since 2012, PSWRI has at its facility in Bulacan been bottling its Iced Tea brand. Iced tea is a vigorously flourishing niche market on the Philippines, which is evolving into a competitor for carbonated soft drinks. It’s precisely this market that the family firm is targeting, but it wanted to upgrade the quality quite significantly by eliminating the preservatives. The ideal solution for this was obvious: aseptic filling. When Danilo Lua and Daniel Ryan Lua visited the drinktec in 2013, and saw the premiered Contiform AseptBloc on the Krones stand, they were in no doubt: that’s exactly what we want. We more or less fell in love with the machine straight away,” says the technophile proprietor. “Without the drinktec, this installation would never have happened.“
The attraction of the Contiform AseptBloc lies in the full-coverage sterility of the production and filling processes for the PET containers. One of the paramount reasons for the savings in time, energy and sterilising media is the fact that it is not the finished containers that are decontaminated, but the preforms earlier on. Thanks to the significantly smaller surface area involved, and the more even shape of the preforms, media consumption remains substantially lower than with other systems. The Contiform AseptBloc also uses only gaseous hydrogen peroxide, meaning it sterilises the preforms in dry mode, without using any water. This not only reduces water consumption, but also enhances microbiological safety. And the additional kit customarily used in wet-aseptic operations, like a hygiene centre or a sterile-water UHT system, is not required here either. The Contiform AseptBloc is also economical in regard to preforms and closures. It uses the process control system (PCS) to continually compute the precise amounts required, thus avoiding sterilisation of packaging material no longer needed.
Sterile production and filling
Philippine Spring Water Resources has installed the Contiform AseptBloc in a cleanroom with a footprint of 35 times 18 metres in a newly built hall. HEPA filters clean the incoming air and with a top-to-bottom laminar flow ensure a sterile environment. Handling in the Contiform AseptBloc begins with a Kosme preform feeder. The PreformCheck inspector uses a camera to monitor the neck finish, while a Prejet blows dust and dirt particles from the preforms; defective preforms are immediately rejected. The preforms then are passed to the blow-moulder by the Contifeed. In the Contiform 3, first of all the preforms are decontaminated inside, outside and at the neck finish with gaseous H₂O₂. Only then will they be passed to the oven and into the 14 sterile moulds of the Contiform 3.
A small sterile room attached at the rear accommodates the replaceable moulds. From here, the preform moulds can be quickly and hygienically replaced when changing over to a different bottle format. The blow-moulded containers are passed via starwheels into a sterile transfer channel directly to the aseptic Modulfill VFJ filler, whose 66 valves assure microbiological safety through non-contact filling. The fill quantity is determined using a flow meter. Automatic CIP cups support the establishment of perfect hygiene conditions.
Electronic inspection of fill level and label placement
Simultaneously, on the filler’s roof, the closures are swiftly decontaminated using gaseous H₂O₂ at high temperatures. Here, too, an inspector ensures that defective closures are automatically rejected. The bottles are capped directly after the filling process. Outside the Contiform AseptBloc, a downstream Checkmat FM-X then inspects the fill level by means of X-rays, and the closure position. The cleanroom also houses a VarioStore sterile tank, in which the product concerned is buffered in a sterile state. The product itself is created by a Contiflow mixer outside the cleanroom, then thermally UHT-treated and sterilised in a VarioAsept J. The VarioClean CIP system is installed here as well. On the opposite side of the cleanroom is the Contiroll HS labeller, in which, after having been dried in a Linadry, the filled bottles are dressed in wrap-around labels. Following another inspection routine featuring a Checkmat E for verifying the label placement, the finished bottles are passed to a discharge conveyor, from where they are (for the time being) manually packed and loaded. The company buys the requisite adhesives and lubricants from KIC Krones, thus ensuring that its machines function to optimum effect.
Ideally suited for lightweighting
Another particularly important goal for PSWRI, in addition to product-friendly, aseptic filling of iced tea without any preservatives, was to reduce the weight of its containers. The technology of the Contiform AseptBloc, in particular, is ideally suited for lightweighting, because in contrast to sterilising finished PET containers, decontamination of the preforms does not cause any shrinkage. So the preforms can be designed for a lighter weight right from the start.
PSWRI took the opportunity to modify the bottle’s shape and reduce its weight. With the 500-millilitre bottle PSWRI has already achieved lightweighting down to 11.5 grams with the Contiform AseptBloc. The target here is 10.5 grams. So far, the world’s lightest aseptically filled 500-millilitre PET bottle has a preform weight of 12.0 grams. “The prices for PET resin have more or less halved compared to previous years, it’s true, thanks to the plummeting oil price,” comments Danilo Lua. “But, who knows how long this is going to last? In a mass production operation, every tenth of a gram counts and every tenth of a cent. What’s more, by lightweighting our containers we’re reducing our environmental impact as well.”