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September 2017
Garry Bartecki examines the industries current financial challenges and regulation changes.

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With innovative bottle packing equipment, it's a little easier being green

The effort to be green – that is, reducing one’s overall impact on the environment – has of late gained increasing popularity, particularly in the commercial arena.  Many companies have effectively restructured their corporate headquarters, recycle their paper goods, and have reduced their use of all natural resources--not only because of legislation that requires it but because it makes good business sense.  What’s more, increasing numbers of consumers are now carefully examining companies’ environmental records before deciding to do business with them. The bottling industry is no different; in truth, there is tremendous pressure on bottling companies to be environmentally friendly.  The prime movers are unquestionably the beverage segment, led by the bottled water industry, with the carbonated market close on its heels. Still, maintaining a green profile is not easy.  And in the bottling industry, it is particularly challenging. Witness recent legislation that has banned the smaller sizes of water bottles in some cities in an attempt to reduce environmental waste.  But regardless of the difficulty and expense involved, the insistence on achieving sustainability goes on unabated.  “The message that we’ve received from our customers is, ‘We want to use less material and less energy,’” said Mike Weaver, President and Co-CEO at Standard-Knapp, a leader in the manufacture of innovative packaging machinery.  “Using less material has created a thing that the industry refers to as ‘lightweighting’ of the bottle, in which the weight of a typical PET bottle is driven down as far as possible. “All the water bottles that our machinery works with started out at 18 grams of plastic; now they’re down to the 12-gram area.  They’re less substantial, but they do have a positive impact on the sustainability front.” Of course, there are very few industries where a major modification like decreasing the average weight of a bottle by one-third does not produce a ripple effect on downstream operations.  In this case, the ripple effect encompasses the operation of bottling machinery that packages these products. 

In virtually all packaging machines - tray packers and loaders, case packers, shrink wrappers, and bottle packers - the bottles are moved along on a conveyor belt at a relatively high speed.  In order to collect them up and organize them for packaging, the speed of the machine has to be decreased, which creates a condition called line pressure.  It is a phenomenon that the industry has dealt with for quite a while, but it has been exacerbated by the advent of the lighter weight bottles, which are far less tolerant of this pressure. As each bottle pushes against an adjacent bottle, it becomes pressurized, which can produce one of two results.  First, it can damage the shape, which is obviously undesirable for the end user.  Second, and more importantly, it can cause processing problems, as the bottles can become distorted in their shape.  As a result, they’re harder to divide into lanes and harder to handle and meter. “Think of round bottles that are collected up into a square pattern, like a case of bottled water, four wide by six deep,” said Weaver.  “In between each of those bottles would be a star-shaped space.  That star-shaped space is used to accurately meter the bottles with pins.  If the bottles start to compress, the location of that star-shaped space will disappear or will be in the wrong spot.”

To combat this problem, Standard-Knapp offers a feature called Zero-Gap II Infeed technology for continuous low pressure product conveying.  The Zero-Gap II creates smooth bottle laning, ensuring balanced lines and jam-resistant operation.  Ultimately, it eliminates the line pressure at the beginning of a packing machine and allows the packaging machinery to do a better job of handling the bottles.  Installed between the upstream product conveyor and the original infeed of the machine, the Zero-Gap II Infeed distributes product from a nested pattern into multiple lanes.  As these lanes fill and product accumulates in the low pressure area, electronic population sensors signal the conveyor to increase its speed, maintaining balance.  Each of these lanes continues to carry the product downstream where the lanes begin to narrow and line up with the machine’s individual lane guides.  By monitoring the product lanes and controlling the conveyor speeds accordingly, the Zero-Gap II Infeed allows product to enter these lanes with very low pressure and no gaps. “Certainly, this is something you’d like to have with rigid containers like glass or metal containers, but with these lightweight, compressible products it’s absolutely essential,” said Weaver. The lightweight container world presents additional obstacles to the sustainability movement.  There are many large polyethylene type bottles containing diverse products such as laundry detergent, fruit juice, or milk.  Those bottles are generally dropped into a corrugated case by a casepacker.  Sometimes, however, when the bottles land in the case and suddenly stops, significant hydraulic pressure is created by the liquid.  In the new lightweight bottles, that shock can be sufficient enough to actually create holes.  These holes typically happen in the bottom, or the foot, of the bottle. 


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