MEXICO CITY — A Mexican blow molder and Japanese machinery manufacturer have teamed up to make a unique product: 5-gallon water bottles made of PET.
Fabrica de Envases Valdo SA de CV started production of the first bottles in Mexico City in January, and plans to spend $10 million in the next three years, mostly in equipment.
Pedro Lobo Dominguez, Valdo general director, said the key to the project's success was Nissei ASB Machine, which spent $3 million to $4 million just in direct costs, such as prototype models.
Globally, most 5-gallon water bottles, called garrafones in Mexico, are made of glass or polycarbonate.
Yoji Okuda, general director for Nissei ASB Centro America SA de CV in Mexico City, said development of the process ``was not easy, and we have taken about four to five years, building and destroying both molds and machines.''
Some resin manufacturers and other bottlers doubted that the large PET bottles would work because of the resin's properties.
``To make a container of such a size with a relatively small neck of about 2 inches, the preform wall would have to be about 1 centimeter thick, and if injected [at] that size, as it cools it turns into crystal without being able to blow it,'' Okuda said.
Nissei laboratories in Japan, Mexico and the United States came up with a specially designed injection mold that lets the PET preform remain transparent until it is blown.
The actual blow molding machine is similar to Nissei equipment for making smaller, 11/2-liter water bottles. The machine injects two preforms at once, then heats, stretches and blows them into finished bottles. The process is fully automatic and takes a matter of minutes, depending on the velocity at which the machine is set.
Okuda and Lobo said the advantages of PET bottles are numerous compared with bottles made of PVC, polycarbonate and glass.
The walls of the finished containers are smooth and easily washed, which is important since the large containers are returned and refilled many times, Lobo said.
``Polycarbonate containers have to be washed at high temperatures with a special solvent to prevent degradation or becoming opaque,'' but PET bottles can be washed at a lower temperature using a simpler caustic soda solution, he explained.
The PET walls and bottle neck also are smooth, requiring no post-production steps such as sanding. Nor are there any resin deposits or cavities that can lead to bacteria formation.
Okuda and Lobo also claim that the PET bottle is resistant to falls and lighter than PC, glass or PVC.
Valdo had been producing 5-gallon PVC bottles in the same Mexico City plant, but switched to PET.
``We believe that both PC and PVC container markets will tend to diminish,'' Lobo said.
Valdo had planned to start with a production of 60,000 PET 5-gallon containers per month, and gradually increase after three months to 70,000 units per month. Round-the-clock production stops every eight days for a four-hour maintenance check.
The firm has been active for 10 years in the plastics sector. It also makes polyethylene yogurt cups at a plant in Tlaxcala, Mexico.
Lobo said it was important for Valdo to be the first firm to buy the Nissei machine, to support growing Latin American markets.
``We estimate that we will invest $10 million over the next three years, mostly in equipment,'' he said. Other plans include expanding into the southern United States via associations with other firms.
``We have been promoting the product for 18 months, but focusing on bottling and packaging fairs, such as the International Bottled Water Association convention in May in Puerto Rico,'' he said.
``We are the first now, but we don't expect to be the only ones'' making the bottles, Lobo claimed.