Aseptic Filling--A Safer And Greener Solution

Family-owned Philippine Spring Water Resources Incorporated desired to upgrade the quality of their iced tea by removing preservatives, and found a safe and green solution through aseptic cold filling with Krones' Contiform AsepBloc. By Peter Buchhauser, head of sales South East Asia/Pacific Region, Krones AG

Philippine Spring Water Resources Incorporated (PSWRI) is a family-owned company that is primarily involved in the packaged water market. Following Typhoon Mike in 1990 that devastated the island of Cebu for months, the company’s founder, current president and chief executive officer Danilo Ryan Lua and his family decided to go into the water business. Since then, the company has expanded and now offers a wide range of different still waters in different PET container sizes.

In 2012, the company expanded its offering to iced tea as well, and began bottling this at its facility in Bulacan. Iced tea is a vigorously flourishing niche market in the Philippines, and it is evolving to become a competitor even for carbonated soft drinks. With the increasing awareness for health and wellness products, and the consequent demand by consumers for healthier and more natural beverages, the company sought to upgrade the quality of their iced tea by eliminating preservatives.

They found a solution to this through aseptic filling, and with the Contiform AseptBloc by Krones.

Aseptic Filling: The Ideal Solution

Early in 2015, the Contiform AseptBloc began bottling iced tea at a speed of up to 32,000 containers per hour, in two different flavours initially, for PSWRI.

Aseptic filling makes an ideal solution as it enables for a full-coverage of sterility of the production and filling processes for the PET containers. The system begins decontamination not in finished containers as other conventional systems, but in the preforms early in the production process.

Due to the significantly smaller surface area of preforms involved, and their more even shapes compared to finished containers, media consumption remains substantially lower than with other systems. Early treatment of preforms further allows for significant savings in time and energy.

The system also uses only gaseous hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), meaning it sterilises the preforms in dry mode, without using any water. This not only reduces water consumption, but also enhances microbiological safety. An additional kit customarily used in wet-aseptic operations, like a hygiene centre or a sterile-water ultra-high temperature (UHT) system, is not required here either.

Further, the system is also economical in regard to preforms and closures. It uses a process control system (PCS) to continually compute the precise amounts required, thus avoiding sterilisation of packaging material no longer needed.

Sterile Production And Filling

At PSWRI’s Bulacan facility, the system has been installed in a cleanroom with a footprint of 35 x 18 m in a newly built hall. The system begins with a preform feeder, and a preform inspector uses a camera to monitor the neck finish while a jet blows dust and dirt particles from the preforms. Defective preforms are immediately rejected, and those that meet the requirements are then passed to the blow-moulder.

Prior to blow-moulding, all the preforms are decontaminated inside, outside and at the neck finish with gaseous H2O2. Thereafter, they are passed to the oven and into the 14 sterile moulds of the system.

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 blowmoulded containers are passed into a sterile transfer channel directly to the aseptic filler, which has 66 valves to assure microbiological safety through non-contact filling. The fill quantity is determined using a flow meter.

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. Another downstream x-ray inspection system then inspects the fill level and the closure position.

The cleanroom also houses a sterile tank, in which the product concerned is buffered in a sterile state. The product itself is created by a mixer outside the cleanroom, and is then thermally UHTtreated and sterilised.

On the opposite side of the cleanroom, filled bottles are dressed in wrap-around labels. Following another inspection routine to verify the label placement, the finished bottles are passed to a discharge conveyor, from where they are (for the time being) manually packed and loaded.

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 system made this possible for them because in contrast to sterilising finished PET containers, decontamination of the preforms does not cause any PET bottle shrinkage. Therefore, the preforms to be used can be designed for a lighter weight right from the start.

The company took the opportunity to modify the bottle’s shape and reduce its weight when they first started using the system in 2015. “People here don’t stock up water; they buy it from day to day, or even several times a day, as they need it,” explains Mr Lua, about the company’s aim for lightweighting.

The previous 220 ml iced tea bottle was a bit lower, but had a larger diameter, and tipped the scales at 9.5 g. With their new but slimmer design to match the shape of the iced-tea bottle, this reduced the preform’s weight to an initial 8.5 g.

“The prices for PET resin have more or less halved compared to previous years, it’s true, thanks to the plummeting oil price,” he commented. While this may be a reason to discourage other companies from looking for lighter weight solutions since everything is cheaper at present, who know how long this might last, he said. “In a mass production operation, every tenth of a gram and every tenth of a cent counts. What’s more, by lightweighting our containers, we’re reducing our environmental impact as well.”

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