In his hit song “The Times They Are A Changin’,” Bob Dylan sang “If your time to you is worth saving, then you better start swimming, or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times, they are a changing.” Although the classic rock song was a testament to the social climate of the 1960s, its allusions to saving time and changing with the times or you might be left behind can be applied to the modern beverage manufacturing market.

Whether it’s SKU proliferation, evolving drink habits or packaging solutions, beverage manufacturers are tasked with keeping up with the latest trends and solutions for today’s operations, experts note.

“A trend we are increasingly noticing as gaining global scale and driving the beverage market is the search for healthy lifestyles and self-betterment,” says Stephane Hacpille, vice president of sales North America for Sidel, Norcross, Ga. “Consumers are looking for products sourced from natural ingredients — such as preservative-free beverages with a low sugar content or naturally sweetened products, and drinks with extra nutrition.”

Among the results of better-for-you beverage trends has been the consumption habit shifts from carbonated soft drinks (CSDs) to bottled water, industry experts note.

“Although the overall growth of the beverage market is more related to population growth than their shifting habits on drinking, the shift away from CSDs is very evident,” says Frank Haesendonckx, head of Sales and Technology at KHS Corpoplast, Hamburg, Germany. “A lot of new flavors enter the market to gain back the margin of CSD versus bottled water. Main brand owners are entering into these new drinks segments. The CSD drinks are repositioned in the market.”

This shift has had implications on the packaging strategies for bottlers. “This leads also to a shift in packaging line technologies. On one hand, increased SKUs drive flexible lines,” Haesendonckx adds. “On the other hand, these new drinks enhance the shift toward filling technologies such as ultra-clean or aseptic, as these new developed drinks are more sensitive and lack the self-protection of a CSD beverage.”

Diversified portfolios have resulted in an increased demand for equipment that can efficiently accommodate changeovers.

“The trend to smaller cavity machines with higher outputs per cavity is ongoing,” Haesendonckx says. “This allows for faster changeover times when changing formats. Format and recipe management is becoming an increased demand inside the packaging line supportive functions and solutions.”

Sidel’s Hacpille also details the need for manufacturing equipment that supports numerous beverage formats and packaging types.

“The growing number of SKUs has significantly increased the need for flexibility in plastic bottle manufacturing, thus influencing our innovation pipeline,” he says. “For instance, the Sidel Versatile Aseptic Combi Predis can produce a wide variety of products — both still and carbonated — efficiently, with increased flexibility, reliability and product integrity. Its modular design allows the future needs of beverage producers to be met, opening doors for the introduction of any new products to easily and quickly adapt to market trends, which are less and less predictable. The same filling valve handles aseptically all types of sensitive beverages with no need of changeovers.”

The aseptic PET filling equipment features dry preform sterilization validated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for low acid manufacturing and commercial distribution in the U.S. market, he says. Yet, it’s the equipment’s versatility that has been helping bottlers with vast portfolios and changeover needs.

“Nowadays, the ability of packaging manufacturing equipment to satisfy output requirements for new products efficiently, while implementing technologies that improve long-term viability, has become vital to manufacturers’ success,” Hacpille says. “The Sidel Super Combi is the next generation solution integrating five process steps: preform feeder, blower, labeler, filler/capper and cap feeder into an all-in-one smart system. It makes life easier for producers of water and carbonated soft drinks (CSDs), via integrated data-driven intelligence, making optimum performance easily and continuously achievable across the entire production process.”

The Aseptic Combi Predis’ capabilities also support natural beverage trends. “Addressing the burgeoning consumer interest for more natural products and healthy formulations — typically falling in the sensitive products category — our Sidel Aseptic Combi Predis merges dry preform sterilization with aseptic blowing, filling and sealing functions within a single production enclosure,” Hacpille explains. “It does that while respecting the fundamental concept underpinning state-of-the-art aseptic packaging rules: producing a commercially sterile product, filled in a sterile zone, in a previously sterilized package. Sales of Sidel Predis have grown steadily as companies throughout the world have recognized the benefits it offers.”

Beverage-makers also are recognizing the benefits of these more flexible machines. Hacpille details how Ontario, Calif.-based Niagara Bottling LLC has benefited from implementing more flexible equipment.

“With many plants throughout the U.S. and Mexico, Niagara Bottling LLC recently upgraded its Salt Lake City facility with a Sidel complete PET line,” he says. “The line features two Super Combis, equipped with the compact ground-level preform feeder, EasyFEED. Since installation of the line, the customer has seen significant OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) improvements, which are worth about 2 percent more produced bottles per year according to their estimations.

“In a line like this, this translates to 2 million cases per year of extra productivity,” Hacpille continues. “Plus, in terms of machine availability, they are running above 98 percent, with a mean time between failures that is more than three hours: this is a big improvement to anything they have seen in the past. The Super Combi is crucial in reducing total costs of ownership for the customer and maintaining a very high level of efficiency: the all-in-one system has improved their overall packaging quality.”

However, beverages that support a healthy lifestyle are not the only product attribute that consumers are demanding. Consumers also want products and packaging that align with today’s society. “Moreover, an on-the-go, active lifestyle pushes manufacturers to downsize their bottles, adopt drink-from closures, and establish their brands via multiple distribution channels to reach moving consumers,” Hacpille says. “Lastly, the search for best value drives the introduction of simple and affordable solutions, basic and lightweight bottles.”

Broader meaning

Although the impact of lightweighting plastic bottles has been well-documented, plastic bottle manufacturers note that this practice is just a small part of the sustainability ethos for the market.

“Over recent years, more and more food and drink manufacturers have been launching products with increasing claims about environmentally friendly packaging,” Hacpille says. “However, the term ‘sustainability’ is now taking on a wider meaning. From simply referring to packaging that can be recycled, it is now increasingly used as a term that refers to the way any product is made ethically.

“From a packaging perspective, PET is one of the most widely used consumer plastics in [fast-moving consumer goods] (FMCG),” he continues. “The advantages of PET as a packaging material are numerous: It is strong, unbreakable, light, transparent, safe and above all, 100 percent recyclable. As a lightweight material, PET offers considerable environmental advantages in the form of lower transport costs and reduced fuel emissions.”

Hacpille adds that in the past 30 years, Sidel has reduced the weight of a 1.5-liter PET bottle from 42 to 20 grams.

KHS’ Haesendonckx adds that transportation considerations, coating technologies and the usage of recycled materials is playing an increased role in sustainability practices within plastic bottle manufacturing.

“More and more niches use the possibility of bottles manufactured out of 100 percent R-PET,” he says. “The transport distance for beverages where multi-serve glass is environmentally beneficial compared to single-serve PET is cut down constantly by on-site PET bottle production. Developments in biodegradable or materials from renewable sources are constantly growing and start to result in practical applications. Technologies, such as Plasmax coating systems, allow [manufacturers] to maintain the key packaging properties to safely pack, transport and store the product during its full shelf life, at reduced packaging weight.”

Sidel’s Hacpille explains that the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) has allocated research and development efforts to innovations that further the company’s dedication to helping its beverage manufacturers reduce their environmental footprint, including the Sidel Aseptic Combi Predis.

“This is a proven, safe and simple solution in terms of sustainable production, because the dry preform sterilization technology does not require any water and uses only minimal amounts of chemicals in the production process,” Hacpille explains. “The blower oven activates the sterilizing effect of the hydrogen peroxide vapor, injected into the preforms before the oven, thus eliminating the need for additional heating of the preforms, saving further on resources. Moreover, as the bottles are continuously transferred by the neck and are not under any thermal stress traditionally required by the wet bottle decontamination, this offers unlimited lightweighting potential, reducing the PET raw material consumption.”

Since its launch, the Sidel Aseptic Combi Predis has eliminated has 7 billion liters of water and 57,000 tons of PET, while producing 46 billion bottles globally, Hacpille says.

KHS’ Haesendonckx expects that technological advancements in relation to increased sustained packaging will be a focus for OEMs going forward. However, he also foresees streamlined equipment to be just as vital.

“Formfill, in which the forming and filling is combined into one process, is the logical development of blocking two processes into one machine,” he says.

Sidel’s Hacpille also expects these trends to be an integral part of the future of plastic bottle manufacturing equipment.

“Manufacturers who are already embracing an approach to sustainability are seeing that they are able to reduce dependence on raw materials and other resources, better control costs, create a different selling proposition and thereby appeal to an appreciative consumer audience, which is actively looking to purchase products that are environmentally friendly and sustainable,” he explains. “This commitment to sustainable solutions is one of the key changes that are on the horizon for our [industry] but — in fact — for all industries.

“Additionally, in the coming years, as technology becomes more advanced and beverages become more diverse, the needs of our customers will constantly change,” Hacpille continues. “In this world, the key to increasing performance and longevity is a holistic approach to production with a full solution partner at our customer’s side. Today’s and tomorrow’s producers need to monitor equipment efficiency and identify bottlenecks to ensure high productivity; control system performance to maximize uptime across the line; and implement sustainability measures to lower consumption and costs.

With Sidel’s expertise in PET liquid packaging and over 40 years of experience in complete line solutions, we can help our customers optimize the cost and performance of their line at every step,” he continues. “Complete line solutions are, and will be increasingly seen as, the logical choice for the manufacturers. From purchasing, installation and commissioning and, most importantly, throughout the line’s operational lifetime, they can benefit from having a single, expert supplier, fully responsible and committed for the line’s performance and efficiency.” BI