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Blow/fill aseptic line—small footprint, big impact

Italian beverage producer Paradiso SpA can now ship aseptically filled PET bottles of teas, isotonic drinks, and other beverages along with its mineral waters and soft drinks.
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At Paradiso SpA in Udine, Italy, a newly installed in-line blow/fill line for aseptically filled teas, isotonics, and other beverages is notable for its compact size. Keeping the footprint small, says Paradiso plant manager Luca Ravetti, was a key goal behind the design and specification of the line.


“We wanted to broaden our line of product offerings beyond the mineral water and carbonated soft drinks we already produce on the three other lines we have in the plant,” says Ravetti. “In evaluating the equipment out there, we weren’t after the highest speeds in the world. More important was being able to change quickly from one product to another, and since that was so important to us, a small-footprint aseptic line made the most sense.”

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Filling and capping on the new line are done by a machine from GEA Procomac. Stretch blow molding of PET preforms is done by a Model SFR 6 EVO from SIPA.


The SFR 6 EVO is the smallest version of SIPA’s range of SFR rotary blowmolders. It’s a 6-cavity system that, though ultra compact, can produce up to 13,800 bottles/hour.


This new machine combines the main advantages of two technologies for which SIPA is well known: its SFL range of linear blow molders and its SFR line of rotary blowmolders. From SIPA’s linear technology come the following:


• The carrier track used to convey preforms from the hopper discharge to the heat and blow stations is inside the machine, which contributes to a compact footprint of 5885 x 2700 cm (193 x 88 ft). In addition to a smaller footprint, it means that the machine can be shipped in a single unit. That makes its subsequent installation much faster. While this treatment of the carrier track is common in SIPA’s linear machines, the blow molder at Paradiso is the first rotary machine SIPA has shipped in this format.
• Handling of the preforms is done by a technopolymer transport chain made of plastic and glass fibers combined. Unlike aluminium alternatives commonly used, this material requires no lubrication.
• The heating oven features great process flexibility and can be used to produce high-quality standard containers as well as hot-fill containers in various shapes.


Servo-driven stretch rods
The SFR 6 Evo is equipped with stretch rods that are servo driven rather than being mechanically or pneumatically cam-driven. This brings great versatility in adjusting machine settings according to container formats because the operator no longer has to mechanically change some cams in order to change the speed at which the stretch rod moves relative to the speed of the blowing wheel. Instead, with the stretch rod now being driven by a brushless servo motor connected to the control system, any change in timing, speed, acceleration, or distance travelled by each stretch rod can be controlled easily from the HMI screen with no measurable impact on output. In practice it means that Paradiso can switch from 0.5-mL to a 1.5-L container with ease.


“This ability to change sizes quickly and easily is important for us,” says Ravetti. “Remember, we are focused on small-batch production with frequent change. Being able to make a change at an HMI instead of physically changing mechanical or pneumatic settings is a big help. We’re only doing two sizes now: 1⁄2 L and 1.5 L. But we are thinking about others.”


Freshly blown bottles are sent immediately into the Procomac Modulbloc aseptic filling system, which is a collection of four key modules: sterilization, rinsing, filling, and capping. Also integrated into the system is a dual cap feeder that is fed by two floor-level hoppers, one for sports caps and one for regular flat caps.


Two auxiliary modules integrated into the aseptic filling system are what Procomac calls the Ecodox, which handles preparation of the paracetic acid used as bottle and cap sterilant, and Ecoflux, which controls steam, compressed air, and nitrogen gas that can be backflushed into the bottle’s headspace to drive out residual ambient air. While not necessary in the case of the teas filled at Paradiso, this backflush of nitrogen gas is more commonly used with fruit juice-based beverages because they are more sensitive to oxidation.


According to Procomac’s Domenico Gambarelli, the advantage of using paracetic acid rather than hydrogen peroxide as the sterilizing agent is that the bottle is subjected to both “mechanical” as well as chemical sterilization. “The mechanical action occurs when the paracetic acid is sprayed at high pressure into the bottle,” says Gambarelli. “This mechanical ‘scrubbing’ does not occur when hydrogen peroxide is used to sterilize bottles.”


Before exiting the sterile aseptic bloc, filled and capped bottles are rinsed with a spray of water to remove any residual paracetic acid that might have attached itself to the outside sidewall, shoulder, or cap. This water is blown off by air jets as soon as the bottles exit the sterile bloc because water drops could lead to a false reading of fill level by the video inspection system just downstream from the filler. The video inspection also examines cap presence and position, and if anything is amiss with the cap or the fill height, that bottle is automatically rejected from the line.


Bottles also pass through two Videojet ink-jet coders. One marks date and batch code information on the cap. The other puts a code on the sidewall that identifies which sterilizing nozzle, rinsing nozzle, filling nozzle, and capping head a bottle encountered.


“This information would be extremely useful if there’s ever a problem with a bottle out in the market,” says Ravetti. “We’d be able to trace back quickly and accurately just which component handled each bottle.”
The next piece of equipment in the line is a new Opera Series roll-fed labeler from Sacmi. In standard roll-fed application mode, it cuts label material to the appropriate length and applies a vertical strip of hot-melt glue to both the leading edge and trailing edge of the label. It then wraps the label around the bottle. This machine is notable because it is also capable of applying roll-fed labels that are pre-glued, a trend that is picking up steam in some beverage packaging quarters.


This pre-glued roll-fed label concept is appealing to CPG companies who buy labelling machines because it means they don’t have to mess with the cost and maintenance of a hot-melt glue system. The potential downside to pre-glued labels is that application speeds may be slightly diminished because the unwind of a roll of label material having strips of glue on it is naturally not as unencumbered as the unwind of glue-free film. Another potential downside to pre-glued labels is that label converters are not exactly wild about having to add a secondary process—the application of two vertical strips of a special glue—to their label manufacturing process.


All the same, at Paradiso Ravetti says there is a keen interest in trying the pre-glued labels some time in the future. Fortunately, the Sacmi labeler gives him the ability to produce in either labelling mode.
Immediately after the labeler, bottles run through a shrink bundler from SMI (www.smigroup.it). Next is a carrier handle applicator from Twin Pack that makes it easy for consumers to carry a shrink-wrapped group of six bottles with one hand. After that, an overhead conveyor takes bundles to remote palletizing and stretch wrapping systems.


Since commissioning the line in February, Paradiso is now in commercial production with a variety of teas and some multivitamin drinks, as well. Shelf life on all of these is about 12 months.


When asked how the installation of the new line has changed Paradiso’s position in the marketplace, Ravetti laughs because he says it’s a tough question to answer succinctly.


“It’s not easy to explain how important this is,” says Ravetti. “A lot of it is about qualtity, because aseptic filling means no preservatives. And we broaden our company’s offerings beyond mineral water and soft drinks, so now our company can capitalize on synergies in distribution. If our water is on a truck, we can add tea or isotonic beverages to that same truck. So yes, this new line means a lot to our company.”

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