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Purity pervades Gleneagles' filling process

From natural springs to cleanroom filling conditions, Gleneagles ensures product purity that can be seen in glass-like PET.
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FILED IN:  Venue  > Private label
     

A gravure-printed shrink-type neckband and a slim wraparound label add elegance to Gleneagles' already impressive champagne-shaped polyethylene terephthalate bottles. The Perthshire Scotland-based company fills spring water into crystal clear bottles while its carbonated offerings are packed in a subtle green-tinted version. Gleneagles Spring Waters began to blow mold its bottles in house last year. Sizes range from 225 mL up to 2 L (see p. 52). At Pakex the U.K. packaging exposition held recently in Birmingham England the line of bottled water won a bronze star. The Institute of Packaging in Britain awarded Gleneagles an Innovator of the Year Award for Overall Design. Promoting purity Gleneagles' name comes from a 7-acre estate in the Scottish state of Perthshire town of Blackford. Renowned for its natural splendor national historic significance and golfing heritage the scenic area also provides a valuable source of water. Six of its springs are owned by Gleneagles an Allied-Lyons P.L.C. subsidiary established in 1990 to tap the natural resource. Allied-Lyons known as a distiller purchased an old whiskey plant that Gleneagles renovated to bottle and ship natural spring and carbonated waters. The plant called The Maltings is located in the town of Blackford. Filling water into premade PET bottles commenced in late '92. Bottles were supplied by several vendors which had its drawbacks. Lot quantities had to be ordered which upped costs and used up valuable warehouse space for storage. The primary nuisance however was inconsistent bottle shapes. By having to rely on a variety of vendors Gleneagles was subject to bottle availability from those suppliers. Mold variances differences in base shoulder height and recessed label areas made it virtually impossible for Gleneagles to provide a "family look" for its different bottle sizes. To remedy the limitations of buying from multiple sources Gleneagles researched alternatives then switched to molding bottles in-house from PET preforms. Production began in early '94. Today Gleneagles produces clear bottles for spring water in 225-mL 250-mL 330-mL 500-mL 1.5-L (two versions) and 2-L sizes. Carbonated or sparkling water is sold in green-tinted bottles in all but the largest size. While it was bringing blow molding in-house Gleneagles revamped its bottling procedures to the point where they rival pharmaceutical industry standards for cleanliness. Stainless-steel piping and pumps are used to transport the water from 2.5 to 7 kilometers (1.55 to 4.35 miles) from the springs to The Maltings plant. Cleanroom conditions At The Maltings one line fills the high-volume 2-L ribbed bottle used for spring waters at speeds to 150 bpm. The other line handles all other sizes of both spring and sparkling waters running at speeds up to 333 bpm for the smallest bottle sizes. Gleneagles replenishes stock for each SKU every two weeks by running each SKU for about three straight days. This limits changeovers while it permits production flexibility. An air conveyor transports blown bottles by their necks from the 5-sq-ft molding room to a carousel rinser for internal washing. Ozone gas is used to clean the outside of the bottle. Both of these procedures are conducted within an "air lock" chamber to maximize bottle cleanliness as they continue to one of two filling lines both of which are housed within separate "clean rooms" close to the molding area. John Hamilton Gleneagles' managing director explains "I come from a pharmaceutical background. We designed the filling area so that clean bottles can be brought in to a sterile room. In the U.K. we classify clean rooms according to the quality of air we put into it. In this room we make 20 changes of air per hour using an air handling system that mixes 25% new air with ambient air with every change. "Normally companies fill in a pressurized room but they bring in bottles with dirty air so they can't really call it a clean room anymore." Hamilton says Gleneagles has patented this process which he describes as equivalent to the U.K.'s Class Two pharmaceutical clean room standards exceeding those for water or general food production. As cleaned bottles enter the filling room they proceed through a 2-meter-long stainless-steel tunnel where ultra-violet light dries any remaining droplets of water or ozone gas. In the filling room operators wear specialized clothing and face masks. A Krones (Franklin WI) 62-head rotary filler fills bottles as they index through the machine. After filling a capper applies an injection-molded polypropylene cap to the bottles. MCG Closures (West Bromwich West Midlands England) is a primary supplier of the cap which includes a break-away ring for tamper evidence. Caps descend from a second-level floor top down for UV sterilization before they're inverted for application to the bottle. "During validation testing we checked all of our processes" recalls Hamilton. "We discovered that before we began using these cleanroom processes we were getting approximately 45 separate colonies of bacteria per cap. We've been able to reduce that to virtually zero colonies for all our bottles." Capped bottles convey through an air-lock exit that prevents entrance of nonfiltered air. Noteworthy label and neckband Once filled and capped a 70-micron (not quite 3-mils) oriented PP sleeve label is automatically applied over the neck of the bottle. The tube-shaped material is supplied by Bonset America (Brown Summit NC). Bonset sends rollstock to converter Decorative Sleeves (Kings Lynn Norfolk England) for seven-color gravure printing on a matte surface. Gleneagles tells PW that its converter has exclusive rights to the film in the U.K. The label is machine-applied onto the bottle where its bottom edge is caught by the bottle's shoulder. As it enters the shrink tunnel the heat causes the label to adhere to the shoulder area. The bottle revolves to assure even heat distribution from the shoulder to cap. The label shrinks to about 70% of its original size at a point just below the bottle chime. Hamilton explains why this is necessary: "We had to have the print distorted on the band so that once it's shrink-wrapped onto the bottle you can read the 'Gleneagles natural spring waters' type on the material that ends up going around the cap. Also you can see the waterfall that cascades from the bottom of the cap down and around the neck of the bottle." Hamilton says that the waterfall is actually square-shaped on the slit rolls of film it receives from Decorative Sleeves. The PP film is oriented to only shrink in the tranverse or horizontal direction but not in the vertical direction. This gives the proper appearance to the Gleneagles logo and waterfall graphic once the material is subjected to the heat/shrink process. The final neckband label reaches just over the top circumference of the cap then descends approximately one-fourth of the way down and around the bottle. Once shrink-wrapped Gleneagles perforates the neckband along the same diameter as the cap's break ring now beneath the neck band. Why is this done? "We perforate the cap for marketing reasons so that when bottles are sold at a pub the barkeeper can turn the cap open with one hand and hold the bottle neck with the other. As the cap is opened the majority of the neckband including the rock formation and waterfall design remain on the bottle for the consumer to see" explains Hamilton. To perforate the film Gleneagles worked with United Closures and Plastics (Bridge of Allan Stirlingshire England) to modify one of the supplier's capping machines. The machine uses a computer-programmed rotary wheel to carefully perforate the neck band without tearing it. The thicker film also helps prevent tearing. Besides allowing consumers to see the decorative waterfall the neckband also provides a second tamper-evident feature. An automatic labeler applies a label around the 2-L bottle which extends from the shoulder down to near its base. The bottle's rectangular shape and different shoulder configuration make it the only Gleneagles package that doesn't have the perforated neckband. However the wraparound label does use the same waterfall graphics. After the neckband is perforated the bottle proceeds to a wraparound rotary labeler that applies a 47-micron (just less than 2-mils) OPP label from Mobil Plastics Europe (Richmond Surrey England) to the bottle. The label's narrow depth dimension permits a clear view of the water within the bottle. Labels are gravure-printed by Parkside Flexible Packaging (Leeds) in four colors for Gleneagles' brands; six for some private label offerings. This year the company expects to sell 20 million units primarily to grocery outlets and to on-premise establishments. Most SKUs are sold under the Gleneagles brand though bottles are also produced for private-labels including upscale U.K. retailer Marks & Spencer. Nearly 90% of the company's volume is sold within the United Kingdom though its export business is burgeoning. Somewhat surprisingly the Gleneagles brand is gaining a foothold in France which produces a plethora of bottled waters recognized worldwide. "That's like carrying coals to Newcastle" jests Hamilton. The company also exports bottled water to the United Arab Emirates the island of Malta and Russia. And at least three separate Japanese ventures have made serious inquiries. Simple elegance may be the best way to describe label appearance. Spring waters carry a white label with black logo and descriptive information with a silver top and bottom border. Sparkling water graphics are similar though they use green shades to coordinate with the green-tinted bottle and neck band. Copy on the back of the label nicely summarizes the product. "Gleneagles natural spring water is filtered through rocks and flows naturally from a single spring in Gleneagles. In bottling every precaution is taken to ensure that the water remains as pure as the spring itself."

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